In Temple Bar, your eyes can catch a little colourful shop, The Icon Factory. It is a non-profit artist’s cooperative run by volunteers and artists.

How can we understand art and its impact? The Icon Factory has a good answer for that. While promoting Ireland’s culture, it serves art as an educational tool for everyone by the members of the artists’ creations of Irish icons. Also, those creations are available in many forms like t-shirts, posters and other objects that people can also purchase.

Outside of The Icon Factory, credit by: James Masterson

One of its projects is “The Icon Walk” which enables people to see the artworks of the members of the artist’s cooperative in exhibitions. 

The Circular had a chance to interview with Aga Szot who is the visual artist and co-creator of The Icon Factory and The Icon Walk.

The Circular: What is The Icon Factory? Could you please tell us the story behind it?

Aga Szot: The Icon Factory project started in 2010. It is a small gallery space and the first idea before The Icon Walk. I met my friend over 8 years ago, he had an idea to create a small gallery space and he called it the Icon Factory because he wanted to promote the cultural heroes, you know, iconic people who contributed to an Irish Nation and created the national identity for Ireland. So he wanted to tell people stories about them, but he wanted artists to help him to visualize those icons. He wanted artists to paint the portraits of the famous musicians, famous writers and other people who contributed to the story of Ireland in the last hundred years, so we started to the gallery space. The idea was that every month, we were going to have a new artist on board, we were going to invite the artists to show their works and who never had a chance maybe to show their works before. In return, each artist was creating an image of some figures which we suggested and created a portrait of famous musicians, of famous writers. That was the concept of The Icon Factory. We didn’t know that the area of the black lanes of Temple Bar was badly affected by anti-social behaviour, public toilets and so on.. In the first few months when we started the gallery, we realized that the whole outside situation was not pleasant, we were not going to survive here longer than a few months. So, it’s just our nature, you know, artist to create and come up with an idea, so we came up with an idea after few months to take full ownership of the all lanes and created a project which is called now The Icon Walk.

The Work of The Icon Factory, credit by: James Masterson

The Circular: Could you tell us more about your sister project “The Icon Walk”?

Aga Szot: It is a tourist attraction. It is a story about those icons which we produce here before at the gallery, and we told the story about a nation: What does it mean to be Irish? What’s our cultural identity as humans? How we make it this way from where we come from and who we are and where we are going. The whole story about The Icon Walk is that we saw possibilities that in those few black lanes. Instead of just doing outdoor gallery, we can actually create a narration, create a story which people are going to read, follow and learn about the history of identity and mostly, artists are big influencer, have a big impact on this identity. We saw the potential that we are going to create a story. So, there are 12 sections of the Icon Walk. You have a section 1, section 2, 3, 4, and so on… You can read it like a book. The first part introduces you to the second part, and that is why you go and do the whole story. Along the story, there are images who helps you to visualize the story.

The Circular: How did you manage to collect those artists?

Aga Szot: We started the project 10 years ago, social media was not that popular yet. It was more like different collectives, word of mouth. We just started to project and it was only myself and Barney who was an idea person for this project. Then, I knew some artists, and artists knew some artists. We started to get together. It is a live Project. Artists come and go. It is a volunteer-based project. No one stays here forever. Students are coming and helping us. There is always someone new who comes and participates. Now, when the project is more established, we would like to get more artists. Hopefully, in the future, we can actually create an online version of the gallery so we can reach a bigger audience and have a bigger impact on an informational and educational campaign on culture and identity.

Paul, 0ne of the Artists of The Icon Factory
credit by: Zeynep Alparslan

The Circular: How is the feedback coming from people? 

Aga Szot: Our project became a tourist attraction. There are lots of people who travel to Ireland. Obviously, they are fascinated by the story. We tell them about the project, and they find the story very inspiring. The feedback is amazing. We have no money as a charity, everything that you find online it is because of their feedback because they just love what we do. They rate the project on different social media websites.

William Butler Yeats, The Icon Factory’s Artist
credit by: James Masterson

The Circular: In www.iconfactorydublin.ie, it says, “The culture had changed and for many of us that meant we were on our own.” What is the idea behind that sentence?

Aga Szot: Everything is changing all the time. There are good times and bad times in culture. Sometimes, we are living in difficult times. The world is capitalistic and people care about money. When there is a recession, people care about something different. When there is money, we do not care about art. When there is no money, art can be something which is only left. We want to show people that being a human, being empathic and full of integrity. You can change this like we changed this whole area. It is not about having money or not having money. It is just about an idea. It is about design to be able to create something, share something and do something for other people. That is the purpose of all art. This is our message.

The Circular: Could you please tell us about the upcoming event “Lay of the Land“?

Aga Szot: This is our exhibition on Friday. We are promoting emerging artists. We met Olwyn Colgan a few years ago. We saw her grow as an artist. We thought that we would like to share some of her newest pieces. So, she took a residency on the west coast of Ireland a few months ago. She created some works which were inspired by her residency. You are all welcome at the gallery on Friday at 6 pm!

Address: 3 Aston Place, Temple Bar, Dublin

The Icon Factory’s Bike, credit by: James Masterson