Mike Moloney. Executive Director.
Prison Arts Foundation 1995 – 2013
Artist: Bobby Mathieson.
Drawing presented to PAF by Councillor Sarah Duncan,
Derry/Londonderry Playhouse 10 December 2013.
Mike Moloney was the first Executive Director of the Prison Arts Foundation (PAF) in Northern Ireland. He began as a part-time Development Officer with PAF in the early 1990s, before becoming PAF’s full-time professional leader from 1995 to 2013. In April of 2013 Mike lost his life in a tragic accident at his home in North Belfast.
Mike was born in New South Wales, Australia. His father was a newspaper owner and reporter whose work took him all over the Australian outback. The family moved home on many occasions. Mike inherited his father’s love of the arts including writing and drama. From his native home in a remote Australian township he developed a love of the one big event which came to town each year – the circus. From an early age he started learning the circus skills that he continued to practice all through his life. In the early 1970’s he embarked upon a university course in Theatre and Media studies which also qualified him as a teacher.
Mike completed the Theatre & Media course at Mitchell College of Advanced Education in Bathurst, New South Wales in 1981. He moved to Ireland and on to Belfast later that year.
As a theatre/street performer and teacher, he quickly established himself within Belfast’s community arts sector, working with Voluntary Service Belfast and teaching at the Rupert Stanley College and, in 1985, he founded the Belfast Community Circus School with his close friend Donal McKendry.
BCCS would go on to achieve international recognition as a ‘frontier circus.’ Described by the current director of BCCS, Will Chamberlain, as a ‘visionary’, Mike was one of the first in Belfast to realise the potential of circus performing in aiding in the personal development of young people. He continued this love of circus and exported his ideas to places such as New Orleans, where he performed regularly during Mardi Gras. He also helped set up the Children’s Circus in Sarajevo, shortly after the war, which it is still running today.
Mike was appointed drama specialist for Northern Irish Prisons in 1992, and became Development Officer of the Prisons Arts Foundation in 1995. Rising in 2005 to Director of the Prison Arts Foundation, he led our team of dedicated and experienced professional artists working across the prison system in Northern Ireland. Working with PAF, Mike offered prisoners and ex-prisoners a lifeline, helping them to turn their lives around through the arts. He brought many famous local and International artists into Northern Ireland’s prisons, enhancing the lives of the prisoners and inspiring many of them to work as writers, artists, musicians and actors upon their release from prison. In typical Mike Moloney fashion he established friendly, working relationships with artists in prisons across Europe in partnership with the European Prison Educators Association, which led to PAF exhibitions in Poland, Bulgaria, Norway, Greece and France. Mike also produced a play written by an ex-Maghaberry inmate and took the play to the Milan Theatre Festival in 2010, where the performance received a standing ovation and many requests to bring the play to other cities around the Mediterranean.
At home in Belfast Mike forged ties with the Probation Board, often working closely with probation staff in devising programmes for released prisoners and families of offenders. The work Mike began with female ex- offenders in the community was ground-breaking and something that was very important to him, which still carries on today.
One of his most iconic moments was when he produced the Frank McGuinness play “Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching to the Somme” at the Young Offenders Centre, Hydebank Wood in 1985. The play, directed by Dan Gordon with cast of young prisoners, was screened by BBC Northern Ireland. A documentary film was made about the process of staging the play in prison, which received major critical acclaim in all sections of the media.
Mike was an innovator; he brought modern dance to life-sentenced prisoners in the Mourne House complex of Maghaberry Prison. In early 2013, shortly before his death, Mike hosted an extremely successful exhibition of offenders and ex-offenders artwork at the Long Gallery in Stormont, which was formally opened by the Minister for Justice, Mr. David Ford MLA. Over 120 paintings were included in the exhibition, which was visited by MLAs from across the political spectrum as well as top civil servants working within the Criminal Justice system.
Mike touched many people’s lives and it is hard to sum up in a few words what were Mike’s best qualities but I would like to finish this tribute with a quote from Lee Harvey, the Web editor of Culture Northern Ireland:
‘Mike was a warm, generous and empathetic person, someone who went to work with a smile on his face.’
Watching Mike work was inspiring. He leaves a legacy that will last for generations.