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Reclaiming Space For The Arts In Ireland

15/09/2016 13:50

All cities are different, but what people want are essentially the same. Intelligent cities cherish and cultivate their artistic energy, but often disturb that nutritious force with high rents, intrusive government policies and starvation of Arts funding. Dublin, Ireland, is no exception. In Ireland, the Arts largely get rated based on their economic revenue instead of their social impact. Civilised societies throughout history can be somewhat measured on their success because of their creative contributions to the rest of that society as a whole. From ancient Greece all the way to modern-day New York City.

On a more prudent scale, one might venture something Irish writer Colm Tóibín mentioned in a recent interview with Bridget Hourican, the whole idea of what an Arts Degree is supposed to be. When Tóibín was a student in UCD, he always felt at the centre of things, that the Arts Degree was almost the one that mattered most, and that the Arts faculty mattered most. Tóibín, currently Irene and Sidney B. Silverman professor in New York, where he teaches Literature courses, pointed out that "if a university isn't making it's Arts degree into the great degree, it also falls down in other areas. I noticed in Princeton and Columbia that there is a huge amount of energy put into the humanities, from the level of President down. If you don't pay attention to the humanities, something gets lost in the university's sense of itself and that effects everyone and all faculties. Excellence needs to be felt in every area."

Many projects happening here in Dublin prove to be hideously interesting, not least of all, the project 'IN PLACE'. IN PLACE is a collective of artists from Dublin, Belfast and Glasgow. They are occupying vacant urban space in abandoned lots, and transforming them into galleries. Instead of allowing empty unused 'non-places' to be neglected, they are taking the initiative to transform them. A phenomenon, naturally, that visits many places the world over. It would be initiatives like this, one might suppose, that the government would channel particular concentration on helping to finance.

One of the few consistent voices in the Irish Parliament attempting to draw attention to the lack of assistance to the Arts in Ireland, is Irish Senator Fintan Warfield, who drew up a snappy document entitled 'Creative Communities'. Warfield is one of the few competent young voices in mainstream Irish politics, a constituency of which I have had to endure for many years. Most young people in Irish politics just join a party, say what will appeal to the older members and get, to quote the great philosopher Beyoncé, in Formation. 'Creative Communities' briefly outlined a number of key proposals, including: the reinstatement of funding for the arts, the overhaul of state boards, and safeguarding the right of every young person to explore their creative potential in order to broaden their own perceptions of what constitutes 'art'.

Over the next month IN PLACE will be transforming 12 Tara Street, Dublin, from a vacant office building, in to a functioning art gallery, and will host their final exhibition in September. As a symbolic space, 12 Tara Street is proposed to be testament to the potential of so many empty and neglected spaces within Dublin. It includes many young Dublin artists like Conor Coughlan, Eric Stynes, Stephen Burke, Louise Rowland, Stephen Clarke, and Jordan McQuaid.

Work in progress shot from my grad show work 'Quantify'. A project surveying the vacant land in Dublin.

A photo posted by Stephen Clarke (@clephenstarke) on

Funding an initiative like this could energise Dublin to compete with upcoming art studio based cities. The affordability and opportunity artists' studios provide is a authoritative judge of cultural cache. Edna O'Brien once told me that of all the shops in London during the riots over there, the only shop that had not been looted, was a 'Waterstones' - a book shop. How horrid, she remarked, that a book had not about it the same cultural cache as a pair of jeans. I hope one might not have the unfortunate opportunity to say the same of the city that inspired 'Ulysses'. Three of the pioneering places internationally that have benefitted from the art studio based communities include Havana, Cuba; Hong Kong; and Leipzig, Germany. Even in Brooklyn, the art communities exist alongside the hustle of everything else.

Havana has had a healthy art market since the 1980's. Unfortunately, for non-Cuban nationals looking to set up shop in Havana, a residency visa is hard to come by. It has drawn a lot of artists that were forced out of New York City due to the grotesque gentrification that ousted them from the city they helped build. This cultural erosion was something I discussed with many people while I lived in New York City. Everyone from Punk rock artist Patti Smith to my personal favourite writer, Gary Indiana, journalist Renata Adler and Chelsea Hotel resident and former dancer Merle Lister, all expressed irritation and some lamentation for what New York has become thanks to ignorant foreign billionaires looking to suburbanise their city.

In Hong Kong, they had record crowds at Art Basel in recent times, and they also do not tax on art. Many artists driven out of their cities because of gentrification and rent rises flocked to Hong Kong since the turn of the millennium, making use of industrial buildings left empty by the migration of manufacturing to China. Leipzig in Germany, is largely being heralded as "the next Berlin", a label that works to irritate people from both cities, as each of them have their own very individual perceptions of what they are. The new Leipzig Museum of Fine Arts opened in 2004, and the number of galleries and project spaces keep rising, and there are many inexpensive lots and halls, such as the many halls of the legendary Spinnerei building.

The health of society depends quite as much on the independence of self-determined workers and respect for our own recognized identities that compose it, as much as with that of the society's social cohesion. We really need to rethink our whole approach to the arts in Ireland, including education. As David McWilliams once wrote about The Leaving Certificate, Ireland's secondary school paper:

"The standardisation process punishes other types of intelligence. The standardisation process elevates an academic type of brain. Anyone who has hung out with academics for long knows that this type of training can produce a bitchy, neurotic type of character more interested in narrow gauge point scoring than open ended, generous, general education.

A system like this ensures that there are plenty of reasonably clever people who leave school thinking they are actually stupid. This can stigmatise people for a long time.

More egregiously it also means that there are plenty of quite stupid people who leave school thinking they are really clever! This can elevate these types to positions in the real world for which they are not suited at all."

I could not agree more.

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