The potential for the arts as a way to connect to people has always resonated with me. Growing up in the rural midlands, I was a bit of an outsider and didn’t exactly thrive in the limited and somewhat intimidating social opportunities that were available to me; there’s no place for Whitney Houston chat at a GAA match!
It was art classes and other creative spaces that introduced me to a whole different type of person. From there on, the link between the arts and social connection is something that I have found real value in and I do not take for granted. The artworks created in an art class can often pale in comparison to the relationships built there.
This ethos formed the basis for Drag and Draw: a life drawing class with drag models. The concept came from a conversation with my friend, Ailbhe O’Connor (who teaches a lot of our sessions). Ailbhe had been telling me about a life-drawing session she had heard of where the models were pole dancers.
As we discussed the benefits of this from a drawing perspective, I wondered if a similar format could work with drag performers. This, I thought, could provide an alternative social activity for the LGBT+ community whose social opportunities, at times, can be quite limited and somewhat intimidating.
Once I thought of the name, the rest quickly fell into place. Street 66 happily came on board as our venue, the luminous Pixie Woo stepped in as our model and we held our first class to a great response. Drag and Draw has grown in popularity since then and we can proudly say we’ve been at full capacity at almost every class.
Since our coming out, we have expanded beyond our first home and collaborated with organisations and numerous arts institutions. We have a waiting list of performers who want to get dragged up and be drawn out.
We‘ve evolved a lot along the way; adding the multi-talented artist Áine Macken as another in-house teacher, while taking time to recognise issues of accessibility and connectivity. Last year, a group of people turned up to a class who were all hearing-impaired. This emphasised to us that the LGBT+ community is intersectional; a collection of communities within a community and since then we’ve had sign language interpreters (Alissa Dunksy and Emily Reynolds) available at each lesson.
We’ve also gone on the road, taking Drag and Draw to Westport and Waterford, making our classes accessible to rural-based LGBT+ people (who may be in need of their own space for Whitney Houston chat!) while hopefully demystifying drag along the way.
Since COVID-19, our plans have been scuppered slightly. We’ve taken Drag and Draw online and have hosted numerous drawing sessions via Facebook Live. This has brought new challenges, but also its own value distinct from our ordinary classes. Although the same feeling of community from our sessions doesn’t quite translate to an online realm, our reach has definitely grown, with people tuning in from Manchester and the US. We’ve also designed the class to be screen-friendly, by taking the opportunity to try out fun drawing ideas that wouldn’t be possible in real-life classes. Attendees have shared their drawings on their social media, which is always great to see and still allows for interaction between participants.
My biggest hope, more than anything else, is for Drag and Draw to become a platform for social value and inclusion. We always have a lot of interaction between audience and model which often results not only in discussions on the concept of drag but also experiences of oppression, breaking down stereotypes and LGBT+ identity in general.
Although we’ve got a dedicated group of talented teachers, the sole purpose of this class is not to make you an amazing artist. But if you want to draw in a comfortable, non-threatening environment and you want to interact (albeit online at the minute) with like-minded people… I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
For more information check out @draganddraw on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.