The inclusive new art market that hopes to make art more accessible
I stumbled upon Unform Dublin the way most creative endeavours are found in 2023: through my Instagram ‘suggested following’ list. I was intrigued by it’s name and eye-catching logo, designed by Alice O’Connor, which depicts hot pink jelly-like text on a slime green background. It feels bold, a little jarring and, most refreshingly, new.
Their bio states that Unform is “an equal, accessible and collaborative event for all types of creators to share or sell their work.” With just a few posts on their feed, a quick scroll taught me that they are launching an artist’s market on August 27, and that at the time of writing they currently have an open call for artists. I decided to reach out to them to learn more about their plans.
One of the first thing the co-organisers told me is that they would prefer for their identities to remain anonymous. “This is not to focus on us, but to focus on the people contributing to the event. We’re no more important than the other people involved,” they told me.
They added: “Everything is a statement. If we’re just Unform, no one has any preconceived notions about that. If you see our names, there [could be] politics attached to that. Unform is nothing.”
What I can tell you about this mysterious new event is this: the co-organisers met while studying Art History in college and bonded over their shared creative aspirations. They sought out to work in the arts, but quickly found the art world in Dublin “alienating, not very welcoming, and very exclusive.” They both moved abroad, carving out careers in separate industries in locations such as Berlin, London, and China.
Their experiences working abroad gained them a broader perspective of the arts industry and solidified their desire to create something new in Dublin. “When you move abroad, you kind of feed into this mythology of Irishness – ‘sure it’s fantastic at home, everyone smiles at you, everyone’s happy to talk to you.’” Unform reflected.
“But then you come home and it’s like…this. We’re very happy to welcome rich tourists, but who else are we welcoming?” They questioned. “That’s a shock to return to after many years abroad; to see that Ireland has changed and not always for the better. We are cautious to establish something here, but we definitely want to try.”
The pair brainstormed ideas for a creative project for several years until one of the co-organisers moved home to Dublin in 2023, which sparked the beginning of Unform’s story. The name, they tell me, was a “cool accident.” They were trying to come up with a name for their idea when one of them said the word Unform, mistakenly thinking that was one of the options on their list.
“I really like the weirdness of words, so Unform looks a bit like ‘uniform’, which is not at all what this is about, but I love that juxtaposition,” one of the co-organisers mused. “Dublin is a thing that is very solidly formed and [Unform] is a thing that is trying to be a little bit different. That’s not true to form – to Dublin’s form.”
Drawing from their involvement with art markets overseas, they knew they wanted to bring a new kind of art market to Dublin: one that is accessible, inclusive, and low-cost.
“Young people, students, and people in general are being priced out of Dublin. In art markets you have to pay fees and often see the same faces at them. We’re trying to give people who might not have had an opportunity to do this before a free opportunity.”
They are doing this by charging no fees and taking no commissions for work. “100% of what is sold goes to the people who make it,” they stated.
They posted their first open call for artists on June 9 and have received a positive response so far. The application form has a box where creatives can inform them about any additional barriers they might face. “Some people have told us that they have never had the opportunity to do this before. For some markets, a table fee on the lower end is only 20 or 30 euro – but for some people that’s still money. It’s still something that some people will not have easy access to, and that’s something we’re eliminating.”
Unform hopes to create a diverse community of artists for their market, which will take place in Juno, Dorset Street Lower, on August 27. They told me that choosing a venue was another decision they put a lot of thought into. “These types of things are generally centered around Dublin 2, or South Dublin in particular,” they noted. As well as being an established venue in the local community, Juno is an accessible space, something that felt crucial to Unform’s ethos of inclusivity.
Unform are keen to welcome artists from different backgrounds as well as different age ranges, with the aim of bringing together people who may not have met otherwise.
“We want to reach people who won’t have seen it by just scrolling Instagram,” they told me. They have done this through posting targeted ads at audiences outside of the 18-35 demographic, the age range that creative events are typically marketed to, as well as putting up posters around the city to draw awareness.
The co-organisers then linked up with their friends who run Shorter Stories, a platform for writers to both display and read work for short reads under 3,000 words. They have ran multiple successful nights in Dublin for writers to read and perform their work in an audience setting, with all genres and styles welcome. Shorter Stories will be taking over a section of Juno for Unform’s launch event.
“By bringing multiple things into one space with Shorter Stories, encompassing spoken word, music, poetry, and more, we are trying to introduce people who might not necessarily have encountered this before. If you are going to buy a print, you might stop and listen to a story, or vice versa,” said Unform.
One of the key intentions behind the event is making art more accessible. “We want to not only encourage people to sell their work, but we also want people to feel comfortable buying their first something. Maybe they had never bought art before. We want to create a space for them to do that.”
To do this, they plan to set a cap on prices for work, aiming for under a hundred euro. “We want everyone to be able to get something, even if they only have a fiver to spend.”
Running any type of community event in Dublin is an ambitious task, and the pair told me it has been equal parts fun and stressful. What is clear to me, however, is that their intentions are borne out of an experience many can relate to – trying to forge a career in a city that is becoming increasingly more inhospitable to creatives, particularly those from underrepresented backgrounds. Unform is borne out of equal parts frustration and ambition with the current state of the art world and a desire to carve out a new future for Irish creatives.
“Unform is an event that hopes to present a microcosm of Dublin. Not just young people, not just a certain part of society that gets to be represented,” they told me.
Most of all, they tell me, they want their upcoming event to be welcoming; a far cry from the industry they experienced as fresh graduates. “We want to bring people who may have felt alienated into a space that feels open and inclusive. We won’t make them feel like they’ve stumbled across something they weren’t meant to be at.”
Unform takes place in Juno on Dorset Street on Sunday August 27.
Words: Kerry Mahony