One of the key skills required of an artist is that of observer, looking and interpreting.

Margaret Moore has spent a lifetime inspiring students as an art teacher at Jordanstown the Northern Ireland school and centre of excellence for children who are deaf or visually impaired.

An expert draftsperson she observes and interprets the world around her. On retirement, she threw herself into her passion as a member of Belfast Print Workshop and The Vault.

Like so many, she finds herself part of a sandwich generation, pressed between retirement and caring for a parent with dementia.

Apart from the joyful birds which will delight any twitcher reading this article, she is working on a series of drawings based on her recent experience that she will share with the world when the time is right.  

As anyone who has experienced a loved one with dementia will know, it’s a challenge. My own father had it and I became part of a rota for a number of years of people who shared his care.

It certainly had up and downs but joys in strange places one of which was helping him to find amazing joy connecting to his creative self by making art. He would sit for hours drawing, mark-making and smiling at the glow of colour in his sketchbooks.

If this festive season you think someone might be experiencing some symptoms of dementia, consider how creativity might be of help. Music can be of assistance but it has to be personal. If the person liked heavy metal, don’t try and get them to listen to country music.

In fact, I’m not sure if anyone should listen to country music!

Dancing, singing, all the art forms can work magic with people with dementia. It’s all about joy in the moment. After all, is that not the only thing we have? Margaret is contactable on Instagram.

Is there not a more logical place to social distance than in a gallery? As all the galleries have reopened, I finally got to see Becoming Christine by Amanda Dunsmore at Belfast Exposed Gallery. This exhibition is based on the lived experience of Christine Beynon, and is "not only reflective of an individual finding themselves but also reflective of the enormous socio-political changes that have happened in Ireland and England over the past sixty years" in terms of transgender awareness.

HEY YOU! Artwork by Anna Donovan

HEY YOU! Artwork by Anna Donovan

The photographs themselves were taken over a period of 12 years and offer the viewer an opportunity to quietly reflect on the experience. The sound installation part of the exhibition gave extra insight into Christine herself, what her work colleagues and neighbours think and some personal reflections which add to the visual elements.  

It’s an exhibition which can help the viewer and listener to contemplate this particular transgender experience in rural Galway, hopefully leading to greater understanding. Open until 19 December.

Belfast Photo Festival 2021 is open for submissions and with it an opportunity to have your work viewed by an international selection of curators from the picture editor of the New Yorker, the Tate, and V&A, London, among others.

The MAC felt happy to be reopened. It does say book online, but if you just turn up there are people at the door ready to take your details and explain the one way system in place.

The pre-scheduled exhibitions have turned into a wider focus on artist activities during lockdown. My favourite part was seeing Paul Currie's lockdown reimaged photos of famous paintings.

Boris Johnson’s letter we all got turns into a note nailed to the cross of Salvador Dali’s crucifixion paintings. The viewer is offered a QR code to see the original paintings. I always like to say Paul Currie is a great example of what a good art college education can do for you. He graduated then honed his performance skills at Belfast Circus school and now has a career as a comedian.

He is currently performing on The MAC's Instagram account, but is very much a star attraction at Edinburgh Festival and the Festival of Fools every year.  

Michael Hanna’s intimate photographs of his lockdown experience show the gentleness yet sometimes claustrophobic experience of an artist contained over a long period of time in a small space.  

The upper Gallery is called sign paintings for Belfast a "celebration of communities, cooperating and protest" by Peter Liversidge. He has set up studio in the gallery and has been producing the work onsite, trying to make heard a multiplicity of local voices.

It’s the first time I’ve seen binmen mentioned in an exhibition.  The MAC is just one arts organisation that has had to completely reinvent itself. It's also one of the few organisations that can offer a Christmas experience by linking up with Belfast Film Festival and Movies at Christmas. Some films are sold out but many others still available. Open 9.30-4pm and later when Movies are playing. Galleries open from 10am.

On Saturday 19 December from 11am-5pm, the Artists at the Mill, Top floor at Conway Mill are having their Christmas studio openings.

Artist include Anna Donovan, Dollface Ceramics, Sturdy Ceramics, Karen Day Hutchinson, Ghost and Bonesetter, Marie Louise Gormley, Rachel Julca and Callan Knitwear. Refreshments will be served. Wear a mask and pleas use the hand sanitiser provided.

Ulster Museum has reopened but booking is required apart from the annual RUA exhibition which is usually the most-visited exhibition in Belfast in any year.

The museum is  showing one famous dead artist, Renoir who is being shown in Northern Ireland for the first time with a painting titled  La Loge. It depicts Renoir’s brother Edmond and Parisan model Nini Lopez. Seeing a painting in real life is always a different experience to seeing it in a book or reproduction. The painting is hung alongside other impressionists' works from The Courtauld and will be at the Ulster Museum until April 2021.

Love and Light, Bronagh.