Dan Gebski interviews Grainne Powel

“Creativity Is Contagious, Pass It On” -Albert Einstein

This famous quote reminds me of one of the most creative people I know. Grainne Powell, a person full of courage and passion who through her hard work helping families of Newry spending their time together in relaxing and creative way. Thank you, Grainne, for taking the time to do this interview.

DG: Why Arts Grainne? Is it your passion? hobby? Could you tell me more about it?

GP: The Arts are very important.

Dan Gebski with Grainne Powell.
Dan Gebski with Grainne Powell.

Our children learn from the arts, spending time exploring different things helps children learn and develop through play. They also gain communication skills, social skills and creative skills.

I have always been involved in the arts. My family were all quite creative, so I was encouraged from a very young age to participant in the arts.

I suppose I have been very lucky as my parents always encouraged us to read, draw, make things and to question things that were happening around us. My parents always encouraged us to be very independent and to follow our own path. 

 As a child I was known as the creative one, with a very rich imagination which believe it or not did get me into a lot of trouble. I always seem to be coming up with crazy ideas to do something I believed to be wonderful, which did not always end well.

 My imagination has continued to be the source of great inspiration and sometimes great disaster, still causing trouble with my work friends and family.

 So yes, it is my passion, I love having the freedom to create ideas and watch how they develop. I am so lucky that I can do what I love as part of my job.

DG: Are you native of Newry Grainne? Tell me more about your family please?

GP: I am sort of a native of South Armagh, I was born and raised in the townland of Carrickcarnan, one of six children, just yards across the border and went to primary school in Jonesborough.

Living on the border, I went to secondary school in Dundalk and then joined the Tech in Newry. After the Tech I went to London to study Fine Art at St Martins.

I still live at Carrickcarnan with my own family, in a house built on the same land as my great, great grandparents, with my parents, aunt, siblings and cousins as neighbours, so very Irish.

So yes, I am a local

DG:: Let us talk about Sticky Fingers please? Who discovered the title? How did all start? 

GP: It started back in 1998, I was involved in community arts project in Belfast, one of the many projects in Belfast at that time.  It was funded by Save the Children to encourage children who were affected by the conflict to express their experiences through the arts, which I think enhanced loads of young lives.

So, then I came up with the name of Sticky Fingers because at the time, we were working with loads of very young children who were using their hands to paint so the name Sticky Fingers was very accurate or just stuck. 

DG: I know for fact there are loads of families from other countries visiting your Imaginarium. Could you tell me what people from what countries so far have been visiting your Arts Centre?

GP: I think one thing we have tried to do with Sticky Fingers in Belfast was to make the programme accessible to all children from both communities together. This worked very well,  the activities were fun, exciting and breaking new ground but as I am from Newry, I was very aware that very little was on offer for local children, who were missing out on important experiences.

I wanted to provide local children with activities to develop skills through arts and programs in my hometown. I wanted my own children to benefit from these programmes. 

In 2002 there was not much happening in Newry. So, building on our Save the Children training, I tried to establish a program in Newry which was not associated with any community and culture and was accessible to anybody from anywhere and Sticky Fingers was born.

 In 2005 we joined a network called Small Size which involved 15 other countries set up by the EU Cultural Commission. It was all about breaking down barriers and bringing people together from all countries and cultures and was a massive learning curve and a great support to our early days.

Finally, in 2007 we had our first big event in which 10 countries participated. We had people from Poland , Latvia, Russia, Sweden and rest of the Europe, all working and learning together, and the Sticky Fingers international Children’s festival was established with the seed planted for the Imaginarium.

From the beginning the aim was to create a space for all children who can visit together, no label, no difference, just children playing.

 I am very proud that today we have so many different families from different countries and cultures visiting the Imaginarium. All Children sharing their experiences and cultures which makes the Imaginarium a very special place. 

DG: I love diversity and think personally has a lot to offer to our community? Do you think Diversity matters? Is Newry a diverse City?

GP: Diversity is incredibly important. We have to move forward and recognize that we have so many different cultures in Newry today. I think we have still to do a little bit more work on integration and I think more barriers need to be broken down. I think there should be more diversity programs that are mainstream in schools and in community settings and more diversity events/ activities on the streets of  Newry. It is very important to bring people together and start conversations.

DG: If you had to describe Grainne Powell in two simple words. What would them two words be? And Why?

GP: I would describe myself as ambitious and direct.

I do not see limitations or barriers and if I see something to be done, I always will always try to make it happen no matter how hard it is. 

If I have something to say no, I will always say it straight. The people who know me,  know I do not play games and say things as they are, regardless if I get into trouble or not.

DG: As one of the finalists in Newry Inspire Awards 2019 and the winner in Aspirational person at your speech you stated that finally you have been recognized for your hard work and with very little help from the authorities, you are very proud of Sticky Fingers. Can you tell was it hard or easy road to get to the point Sticky fingers is now?


It was difficult and continues to be a challenge, but we have been lucky and received loads of support from outside of Northern Ireland and I am very proud of what Sticky Fingers has achieved.

Locally, it is well known that we do not receive a lot of support from the Council in Newry. 

I think our Council do not fully understand what we are trying to achieve and the essential role of the arts and creativity in building our community. I think perhaps they are suspicious and wary of change and of groups or individual’s who they have no control over. However, this is changing, and some of the new councillors are more open to new ideas and are more confident in trying to do things in a less traditional way.

There are some local councillors who are very supportive, and this is positive for everyone.

DG: What are the plans and projects for Sticky fingers for 2020? 

Could you tell us more about this please?

GP: We have so many plans Dan but our main aim this year is to finish the work on our theatre and get it fully operational. It is also very special year for us because we are officially 18 years  old, so we are planning a big celebration event in October 2020. I think it will be a big street party with our local children. We definitely want to engage with local people and Children and bring some colour to the streets of Newry.

DG: What is your favourite movie and why?

GP: My favourite movie is Darby O’Gill and the little people. I love that movie and watch it constantly. I love the magic and innocence, the silliness and the adventure. I am a big fan of any fairy tales, especially Irish culture and folklore. I love Yeats.

DG: Thank you Grainne for this excellent interview and wish you a very successful 2020 and good health. Dan

GP:  Thank you Dan and the same to you. 

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