Quite a while back I wrote a post about places to write in Dublin. More specifically I was whinging about the poverty of writing spots. Sure, Dublin is home to hundreds of cafes, and if you’re willing to spend twenty or more euro a day, and able to write in frequently noisy, hectic environments, they’ll do in a pinch. But, more than a year after I asked the question, during the (pretty ironically titled for a variety of reasons) Dublin Writers Festival, the city still lacks a cheap place to write. There isn’t a single venue thats a) open in the evenings (when most people in full time employment are free), and b) actively tolerates (let alone supports) writers.
I’m in an incredibly fortunate position. I’ve made a modest living from my radio work for the past couple of years, and it’s meant that I’ve been able to afford to dedicate a room in my apartment to recording and editing radio programmes. Still, I find it almost impossible to get real creative work done at home. Editing, sure, blogging, certainly, but writing? Not a chance. Instead I’ve found that I write best in my old college library. This is an incredible facility, and one only available to those fortunate enough to have graduated from Trinity or be a post graduate student of another Irish college. Alas, like most Irish college’s, TCD’s library is closed in the evenings all Summer long.
That’s why I’m chomping at the bit at the news that the A4 art collective are offering cheap work spaces in Dublin. Starting from €50 a month for access to a shared workspace, A4 will let writers, musicians, performers and visual artists work cheaply in Dublin city centre. The importance of this cannot be overstated for the cultural life of the city.
Two things give a city a real creative life – a population with spare time, and low rents. For a few years, when the current Irish recession was at it’s worst, falling property prices and high unemployment satisfied both criteria. This led directly to the birth of a plethora of non-profit creative spaces in the city. Mabos, Exchange Dublin, Space 54, Subground 43, Supafast, the Complex, the Factory, Blue Bottle Collective and more, all grew out of the inability of rentiers to make money from commercial uses of their buildings. All allowed artists to create new work and the public to enjoy the fruits of that work, most often for free. They helped rebuild something Dublin had lacked for a generation, an artistic culture. They allowed thousands of young artists and performers to develop their talents, without the necessity for them to be immediately profitable.
To resort to business speak: As a creative professional starting a career without experience in a ‘sector’ with very low margins, there is literally no chance I’d be able to do the work I do today, without those spaces having existed, and without inspiration, camaraderie and support of the volunteers who gave life to them. They are all now gone. Not one failed to pay their rents, find an audience, or ran out of steam. Each was wholesale slaughtered by a Dublin City Council that has shown active distain for public arts; and developers eager to cash in on the faint flickerings of growth in the property market. In their place we have high priced private arts businesses, like Block T and the Centre For Creative Practices that have their place, but through their financial burden serve to cut the arts off from the life of the city.
The volunteers of Exchange Dublin, Halloween 2009
One new arts space isn’t going to solve all that. But it does at least sort out the thorny issue of where to write in Dublin. Writers are poor. For many even 50 euro a month will be too much. The the rest of us, lucky enough to be able to live off our work or skating by on day job wages, finally have somewhere we can create!