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In some parts of the city, people may not realise that they can get funding for the arts, says Ray Yeates, the city arts officer.
“We rarely get an application from an arts organisation or individuals in the North Central Area for arts grants,” he says.
The Arts Council has spotted the same problem, Yeates says. In 2020 it launched the Creative Places programme in response, aiming to target areas that haven’t benefited from sustained arts funding.
To try to level things out, Dublin City Council funded a participation programme in Darndale, says Yeates, and supported a local youth work organisation, Sphere 17, to apply for Creative Places funding.
The bid was successful. That means funding of €150,000 per year for three years for “Creative Places Darndale” and the appointment of an artistic director. Choreographer Muirne Bloomer got the job.
She is excited and nervous about the challenge, she says. It is a longer stint than usual so the pressure is on to leave a lasting legacy.
“We have certainly got to make a difference in three years,” she says. “It’s amazing.”
At a meeting of the North Central Area Committee on Monday 17 January, councillors welcomed the plans. “I’m very enthused by this programme,” said Sinn Féin councillor Larry O’Toole.
Local people in Darndale have faced a lot of challenges but there has to be more to life than that too, he said. “We need bread but we need roses also.”
Here for You
Creative Places Darndale launched on Culture Night, last September, when local artists including the actor John Connors sang from the balcony of the Darndale Belcamp Village Centre as part of a cabaret performance called Made in Darndale.
There were circus acts, and an opera singer performed too.
While some local artists are already on board, the team is trying to connect with more people. “Whether they are artists, makers, people with an interest, people with a talent,” says Muireann O’Sullivan, the project administrator.
Creative Places Darndale is directed by a group of around 30 people including many who live or work in Darndale, and are involved in sports clubs, youth work organisations, schools and the like, she says. “The community engagement will be part and parcel of the project for the three years.”
Last summer, the group ran Summer Encounters, which meant pop-up performances and workshops, including circus skills, opera, ballet and hip-hop, says Bloomer, the artistic director.
They held performances in the square outside the Darndale Belcamp Village Centre, she says.
“We realised that not everyone goes there, so we went down streets and neighbourhoods and performed for people at their garden gates,” she says.
People asked them what they were doing there, says Bloomer. “We are here for you,” she said.
People came out of their houses to watch the opera singer, John Scott, and some joined him in singing “Molly Malone”, she says.
Bloomer had worked in Darndale before on the Paddy’s Day parade. She says she feels a major sense of responsibility to deliver for the community.
“I feel nervous, it’s such a responsibility in a way and the area has experienced a lot,” she says.
The aims of the programme are “embedding the arts into the community, filling the gaps where it isn’t and supporting it where it is”, she says.
She can’t give away the details of the upcoming programme of events until it is agreed with the group that is advising them, but she hopes to see productions rolled out in the coming months.
“It will be visible by the end of March,” she says.
Leaving a Legacy
“A big element of the project is about establishing and leaving a legacy when the three years is over,” says O’Sullivan, the project administrator.
That could mean upskilling people in artistic do-how, but also showing people how to apply for grants so they can continue to get funding going forward, she says. “The Arts Council project may end but Creative Places Darndale will continue.”
The idea is to build community capacity while rolling out the arts projects, says Bloomer. “The legacy is a massive part of it.”
“A lot of people in Darndale have said that – people come in and they do stuff and when they leave it’s over,” she says.
Yeates says the artists in Darndale should shoot for the stars. “They can collaborate internationally, they can try to make Darndale a destination.”
It needs grassroots community involvement and bringing in expertise, he says.
The arts can transform places.“I think for areas that are under pressure, for all kinds of reasons, the arts become even more important,” he says. “To remind people they are worth it.”
At the moment, there is no dedicated theatre space in the area. “There used to be a space where they put on cabarets in the ’60s and ’70s, but it’s gone,” says Bloomer.
There are big areas of the city with no cultural buildings outside of the libraries, said a recent cultural audit done for the council ahead of drawing up a new city development plan.
It highlighted from St Anne’s Park in Dublin 3 across west into Artane and Whitehall, Coolock, Raheny and Kilbarrack. “This covers large parts of Dublin 3, 5, 9 and 11,” the report says.
In Darndale, “There is a lot of talk out there of trying to create a venue as well,” said Yeates, the city arts officer.
That would be a long campaign, he says, but it has been achieved in Ballymun.