The busyness of the past few weeks meant it was just dawning on her, said Marian Fitzpatrick, on Thursday night. “We’re actually opening an arts centre for the community.”
Roughly 50 people came to the launch of The Space, a new community arts space in the strip of shops at the bottom of the Phibsboro Shopping Centre.
The team behind Phizzfest – the community arts festival now in its tenth year – are running The Space, Fitzpatrick said.
Having a visible presence in the village, and an affordable place for people to meet, is a massive step forward, said Fitzpatrick. “There’s such a shortage of gathering space.”
The community space is one of a few proposals that Dublin City Council’s City Arts Office is backing in the neighbourhood, said City Arts Officer Ray Yeates, earlier this week.
What’ll Be on Offer
The Space is a stripped-out old shop with white walls and wooden floors.
Intimate portraits of locals in their homes hung on the walls on Thursday for the opening. The tailor. The belly dancer. The cafe owner.
Photographer Eugene Langan, who lives in the area, said he’d taken many of the photos as long ago as a decade, for the first Phizzfest event.
Others are more recent, the collection freshened up for opening night. “Once there was a deadline, it motivated me,” he says.
For Langan, Phizzfest has meant a closer relationship with others in the area, he says. “It brought the talent out from people living in the neighbourhood.”
Seeing the festival and group running for so long has been heartening too, Langan says. “I’m thrilled to see they’ve still energy to do this.”
Others have pitched in too. Fitzpatrick said she’s delighted the shop may soon have a sign by sign-painter Vanessa Power. “She’s doing the sign for free.”
Phizzfest are planning all kinds of events here: book launches, Lego jams, exhibitions, and meet-ups of groups like the Phizzfest Stitchers. “Just loads of things,” says Fitzpatrick.
Outside groups can rent The Space for a few hours at a time, too, she says.
Current normal rates are €25 to rent in the morning, €25 to rent for the afternoon, and €35 to rent for the evening.
A Wider Strategy
Yeates, the city arts officer, says the idea for the community space came up during the consultation process for the local environmental improvement plan (LEIP) for Phibsboro.
The LEIP was drawn up as a way to fill the gap in neighbourhood planning after councillors failed to pass a local area plan during a botched and confused late-evening vote at the end of 2015.
“It involves everything from roads and traffic to, you know, culture,” said Yeates.
His team worked closely with Phizzfest on the cultural part of the LEIP, he said. “We looked at different actions, at different things we could do.”
His office has a few actions they’re trying to roll out, one of which was to develop a cultural space, said Yeates. “This would be a community space as much as an arts centre, this is important.”
The lease that Phizzfest has for The Space in the Phibsboro Shopping Centre is short-term, since there are plans to redevelop the site – and nearby Dalymount Park. “Long-term, the hope is that it would be in the new Dalymount development,” said Yeates.
“There is an act of faith in the funding,” he said. The council has given €10,000 to fund The Space so far, and has promised another €10,000 if a review around Christmas finds the project’s going well, he said.
Yeates says that other measures the council is looking at for Phibsboro include reworking the space outside Bang Bang cafe on Leinster Road North as an events space.
“It’s configured in a particular way that’s good for events,” he says. “We’re going to try and develop that.”
Supporting a murals project, recognising railway and waterways heritage, and highlighting the place of Phibsboro in the works of James Joyce are all also on the agenda.
Yeates says the council is working to support arts within different neighbourhoods – he mentions Crumlin, the Liberties, and Ranelagh in particular. Ranelagh Arts was evicted from its home last year.
Part of their work is trying to professionalise groups, he said. “That takes building new capacity and getting used to operating on a more regular basis rather than once a year.”
“A Bright Spark”
“At least, there’s a bright spark here,” said Robert Ballagh, the artist, during his keynote speech at the launch. “That’s running absolutely counter to the way things are happening around this city at the moment.”
Writers, actors, and musicians are among the most low-paid, he said. “Yet as far as real estate is concerned, we are expected to compete with multinational developers for uses, for use of those spaces.”
Dropping down to the strip to buy a burger, he and others will now be able to stop off and see some art or watch a local troupe rehearse, he said. “It will be good for the soul because very few things going on in this town at the moment are good for the soul.”
Ballagh had one suggestion though, he said, to the crowded room. “Could do with a few lights,” he said.
He gingerly pulled out a €50 note, and stepped forward, a big grin on his face. “So could I, apart from launching the space, launch the lighting fund?”
[CORRECTION: This article was updated at 10.46am to correct that amount that Robert Ballabh gave to the lighting fund. Apologies for the error.]