The pavements through the main stretch of the Liberties should, if all goes to plan, look different this time next year.
A bit more like the pavements around the Civic Offices on Wood Quay, which are decorated with golden Viking arrows by artist Rachel Joynt, or the route between Abbey Street and Kildare Street, where you can follow Robin Buick’s Ulysses plaques.
Dublin City Council and Fáilte Ireland are offering a public-art commission of €75,000 to the artist who can come up with the best idea for a project to liven the grey ground from High Street to James Street.
“I think one of the things that kills some art commissions is the fact that people are too prescriptive but what we do envisage is a trail,” says City Council Public Arts Manager Ruairí Ó Cuív.
To be more exact, the trail in question stretches from High Street, near Christ Church Cathedral, through Thomas Street, and concludes at James Street.
It’s part of the Dubline trail, and the art works along the stretch “should enhance this route by providing a series of engaging sculptural flagstones to be placed in the paving at various locations along its length”, according to the brief.
Ó Cuív says the application process is open to anyone, from the amateur dabbler to the established sculptor.
“Obviously there’s quality of work and track records,” he says. “But anybody who is basically able to do permanent work in pavement is eligible to play.”
And while the brief does offer suggestions — liberty and Liberties, trade and commerce, water — there’s no set theme.
”My understanding at present is that one artist, or one team of artists, would get the whole commission,” Ó Cuív says. “I think you’d need a consistency of approach because geographically and location-wise these will be spread along a line of a street and I think to have coherence would be logical.”
Lace and Fish
Those in the area have plenty of suggestions for what they’d like to see.
In Tom Kennedy’s pub at the bottom of Thomas Street, Louise Kavanagh suggests works that nod towards the area’s history of distilleries or lace production.
“Even little plaques of these,” she says. They might illustrate the neighbourhood’s history for people passing through, and add to the street art already around.
Georgina Nugent was headed up Thomas Street and said that the art might be good for tourists, but probably wouldn’t change her experience of the neighbourhood much.
“People abroad, now, when they go away from around here, they sometimes can’t find anywhere that they used to know,” she says. “So maybe it would be good for them.”
In the Liberties since 1959, she laments the loss of the smaller shops found in the area when she was younger. “It’s changed completely, but not for the better,” she says.
Further along Thomas Street, Cathleen Farrell has lived in the area all her life and works as a street trader. If some art works on the pavement encourage people to pause, to look up at the architecture above them, that would be something, she said.
She’d like to see the old fish and poultry traders of the area depicted, a recognition of the well-fedness they brought to the area before their decline. “The children of the Liberties is after missing out on great energy and good solid food for their system,” she says.
The judging panel will also take into account how easy it might be to keep the art looking fresh and clean.
“Obviously we want high quality, low maintenance,” says Ó Cuiv. “The reality of life is that you can commission things very easily but you have to look after them.”
The deadline for the first round of applications is 9 June. In September, the applicants will be short-listed. The commission is due to be installed in Spring 2017. There are more details here.