Photo by Caroline Brady

Last Friday, three Irish cities were shortlisted for the title of European Capital of Culture 2020. Dublin wasn’t one of them.

After a two-day meeting in the city centre last week, Dublin was the only applicant the judges eliminated. Galway, Limerick and the “Three Sisters” – Waterford, Wexford and Kilkenny – made it through to the next round.

This will be the third time Ireland has hosted the event. Dublin hosted in 1991, and Cork took a turn in 2005.

Labour councillor Rebecca Moynihan, chair of Dublin City Council’s arts committee, says the panel made its choices based on the bid book submitted as part of Dublin’s application. But she also feels there was another factor.

“Dublin already had a capital of culture,” she says. “I think that went against us.”

Whatever the judges’ reasoning, we lost, and that leaves a question to be answered.

Dublin City Council put aside €1 million in its 2016 budget for the Dublin 2020, in addition to the €500,000 it put by this year.

Now that the bid has come to an end, what will happen to this hefty sum?

Where Should the Money Go?

The first round of the Dublin 2020 bid cost the council around €476,000. That includes €165,000 spent on consultants.

Moynihan said on Tuesday that she doesn’t know exactly what the €1 million in the 2016 budget for the Dublin 2020 bid will be spent on now, but she presumes it will go back into the council’s arts office.

That’s what Ray Yeates said, too. He is the council’s arts officer, and also director of Dublin 2020.

Yeates believes the council will plough the €1 million back into the city’s arts and culture scene, but he’s not sure of the details yet.

At the moment, they’re picking through the Dublin 2020 bid book to work out which ideas should still be brought to life.

Yeates says he knew the risks of putting forward a bid for a capital city. A capital city has not won in five years, because it is difficult to unify and rally the people there, he says.

But he is happy that the bid helped bring culture into city life, he says. “There’s a real sense that we are starting afresh.”

As part of Dublin’s bid, the Dublin 2020 team put together a draft culture strategy, which was passed by councillors at the arts committee earlier this month.

Now that the bid is lost, will those plans still move forward? Yes, if the strategy is passed at December’s monthly council meeting.

When Yeates was explaining the European Capital of Culture 2020 application process to councillors, he told them that “a legacy will remain, win or lose”.

The impact of Dublin’s losing bid will still be felt through this new cultural plan. Says Moynihan: “It left us with a lot of infrastructure in place.”

Bridging the Divides

Dublin 2020 asked more than 3,000 people for their ideas in the first stage of the bid. There was one concept that emerged and inspired the culture strategy: Dublin is a divided place.

Children said they wanted to play football with other children from different backgrounds. Though there are no physical barriers between them, they don’t do it, says Yeates.

He also came across people from Ballymun who don’t go to the south side of the city. “Where was that learned?” he asks.

The city is divided historically, economically, architecturally and physically by the River Liffey. The culture strategy aims to increase cultural participation and to bring people together through culture.

That’s why 80 percent of Dublin 2020’s events were in the public domain and free of charge.

The strategy also foresees a “cultural audit” of each area of the city. Yeates wants to see national cultural institutions united with disadvantaged areas.

One idea he had for Dublin 2020 was to connect the Muslim communities living on the South Circular Road with the Chester Beatty Library, which has one of the most important collections of Qur’ans outside of the Middle East.

“Our differences are what make us rich,” Yeates says.

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