Doing the state some service. No, really.
Looking through the Programme for A Brave New World Full Of Unicorns, Fluffy Marshmallows and Chirpy Tellytubbies Who Look Like Eamon Ryan and Mary Hanafin, one particular promise caught my eye. It’s down towards the end of this fabulous document …
Looking through the Programme for A Brave New World Full Of Unicorns, Fluffy Marshmallows and Chirpy Tellytubbies Who Look Like Eamon Ryan and Mary Hanafin, one particular promise caught my eye. It’s down towards the end of this fabulous document and, surprisingly, doesn’t have anything to do with the Green Party’s widely held belief that minks are more important than welfare recipients. (By the way, read Fintan O’Toole this morning for more on how the Greens have been reduced to gesture politics)
Anyway, the relevant commitment which is of interest to OTR this morning is: “we will help the economy realise the full potential of the arts in creating employment and economic growth by expanding community arts schemes, provide free physical space for visual artists and community groups to display their work”. There appears to be an “and” missing from the above, but I suppose they were in a hurry to get the programme together for the Greenwash on Saturday and couldn’t check everything unless it had to do with minks and fur.
It’s an interesting proposal, even if, like much of the rest of the document, it is really merely aspirational. It’s more of the nice pie-in-the-sky cuddly politics which will appeal to the people who have lost enough marbles to consider voting Green again next time around. I hope someone has pointed out to the Green membership that furry animals don’t have a vote.
But this idea of “free physical space” is an interesting one, especially as the Irish taxpayer is about to become the biggest landlord in the land as soon as NAMA comes into being. We will then hold the keys and leases to hundreds of buildings around the country which are currently lying idle and will have empowered the current government to be our agents in managing these properties. While the obvious aim will be to make some money from these buildings, it’s unlikely to happen for some time – if at all – due to the Fianna Fail/Green Party partnership’s chronic mismanagement of the economy (bet they’ll love that down in Green HQ).
It’s an ideal time, then, to look at what we have (all these vacant buildings) and look at what could be done with them (see commitment from the programme above). Instead of leaving the buildings idle until there is enough money going around to open a new Spar to sell shit coffee and terrible sandwiches, why not turn the buildings over to arts groups of every stripe? We’ve banged on here before about this lack of affordable and usable space in the city-centre and now, thanks to NAMA, we may have the solution for a whole host of Exchange Dublin-like ventures.
Take Smithfield in Dublin, for example. Every time I go to see a film in the Lighthouse, I remark afterwards on how empty the cinema is and how quiet the whole area feels. Someone working at last weekend’s Darklight fest, which was based in Smithfield this year, said you couldn’t even find a rogue tumbleweed in the area after 10pm. The area is one of the saddest white elephants in the land.
Cometh the hour, cometh the NAMA and many of those currently unoccupied and unlet buildings become the property of the state. Imagine then if you turned these buildings over to people to turn into makeshift studios, galleries, performance spaces or rehearsal rooms. Charge tiny or non-existent rents for the first twelve months, turn a blind eye to some of the more ridiculous health and safety regulations which have popped up in the last few years to scupper other lo-fi enterprises (most of which came about in the first place merely to create non-sustainable jobs and boost sales of high-vis vests) and see what happens.
Give it a year and I bet you’d turn areas which are currently as dead as a doornail into buzzy zones with lots going on and lots of people coming down to check out the activities. And you may also end up with proof that arts and culture businesses can contribute to the economy and don’t have to rely on Arts Council handouts to get off their arse to get things done. Well, some of them anyway. Can’t see many theatre companies having the get-up-and-go to avail of this without some sort of handout.
Crazy? For sure. Full of “buts” and “ifs”? You bet. However, if the government really are serious about all aspects of their fluffy document, here’s one way to test it. To misquote the Sultans of Ping, we don’t like your manifesto, but we’ll put it to the test-o nonetheless.
And no, no need to thank OTR for this suggestion. We’re modest like that. Just give us a seat in the Seanad next time out, alright? I mean, you’re not planning to get rid of that august establishment any time soon to save a few bob, are you? Sure, if you did that, Dan Boyle would have nowhere to go.