BITS AND PIECES? A HISTORY OF CULTURAL QUARTERS IN DUBLIN
As the Labour Party pushes for an Educational and Cultural Hub in Drumcondra, based on the proximity of DCU, St Patrick’s College and the Marino Institute of Education, you could forgiven for wondering if any small cluster of vaguely creative spaces are hubs-in-waiting. The history of Cultural Hubs proves that it’s not always plain sailing.
Running alongside the Liffey, Temple Bar was set to be a bus station. Cheap rents, and stalwart tenants, including the Project Arts Centre and the Temple Bar Gallery and Studios, led to artists moving in, though judging from experience, their “bohemian” life was pretty damn cold in the winter. Group 91, a consortium of architects, won the competition to recreate the area as a Cultural Quarter in 1992. While today Temple Bar is frequently in the news for superpubs and stag and hen parties, don’t forget it still houses cultural hot spots including the original TBG&S and Project, the Gallery of Photography, Smock Alley Theatre, the Graphic Studio and The Library Project.
Back in the days when the Irish Museum of Modern Art was just a twinkle in Charlie Haughey’s eye, the large glass-fronted warehouse space known as Stack A in Dublin’s Docklands (DDDA) was one of the options for Ireland’s new museum of contemporary art. Alongside the founding of the Dublin Docklands Development Authority came a cultural levy of IR£1 (¤1.27) per sq ft of office space to subsidise the creation of a cultural space in the area. The levy was never applied, IMMA went to the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, and Stack A became CHQ, now home to EPIC, the Irish Emigration Museum.
Alongside the Grand Canal Theatre in the Docklands, there was talk of the Abbey Theatre moving to George’s Dock, and a 48 metre AntonyGormleysculpturewascommissioned but never concluded. With all the building going on in the area, the DDDA had the scope to become a major player on the cultural scene, and initially things looked like they could be good. Their 2008 Docklands Masterplan had, as its primary policy, that they would “ensure that arts and culture become an integral part of the Docklands’ identity…” The document also noted that “the development of affordable live-work accommodation and studios/ workspaces for creative practitioners including craft workers should be encouraged and promoted in the Docklands.” Today, The Green on Red Gallery at Spencer Dock is one of the few cultural outposts in an area where galleries and other creative facilities could easily have been knitted in from the outset.
Elsewhere, Smithfield looked as if it could become interesting, with The Lighthouse Cinema as an anchor, and the artist’s collective Block T taking on a huge disused warehouse on the Square, which they configured to include 70-plus studio and workshop spaces. But as Smithfield finally began to thrive, the Block T artists were forced out when a commercial tenant eyed up their building. They have since decamped to Dublin 8, where doubtless they’re considering any further potential gentrification of their new area with a wary gaze.
The experiences of both Dublin Docklands and the artists of Block T prove that whether the cultural element of a regeneration project is top down, or grassroots, it is generally the first to suffer when things take a turn for the better – or for the worse.
While today Temple Bar is frequently in the news for superpubs and stag and hen parties, don’t forget it still houses cultural hot spots