Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Cultural confidence and cash

Many readers will probably nod their heads in agreement at Irish Times arts blogger Laurence Mackin’s piece on the new bustle in the capital city’s cultural hedgegrows of late. Laurence writes about knees-ups and soirees in new venues like the …

Tue, Aug 17, 2010, 10:37


Many readers will probably nod their heads in agreement at Irish Times arts blogger Laurence Mackin’s piece on the new bustle in the capital city’s cultural hedgegrows of late. Laurence writes about knees-ups and soirees in new venues like the Joinery Gallery, Monster Truck Gallery and Centre of Creative Practices. You could also add gigs in city-centre apartments and joints like Space 54 in Smithfield to that list.

As Laurence notes, such irregular gigs and events in non-conventional spaces have brought a new, noticable vibrancy to the city’s cultural scene. “It seems that are dozens of funky alternative spaces opening up for gigs, exhibitions, parties or whatever you are organising yourself”, he writes.

Of course, the conventional venues have not gone away. Far from it, in fact. With The Workman’s Club, Pravda, The Mercantile and a new club venue in Andrew’s Lane Theatre due to open or re-open in the next while, the sector with a bar licence on tap is doing quite well. But there is no denying the growing interest in less mainstream events in less mainstream spaces. In some ways, it’s probably more of a renaissance because we’ve been here before as cultural scenes have always moved and shifted and found new momentum and mojo in different venues.

What will be interesting to see, though, is if the cash will follow this circuit. By “cash”, I mean the grants and funds and bursaries which the various arts organisations still have at their disposal. We have written before about arts funding and how various campaigns have tried valiantly to ringfence what little cash is in the kitty for the sector. But if the audiences are moving, shouldn’t the cash move too? If it’s the case that the events which are attracting audiences and interest by virtue of their work are now happening in non-funded venues and spaces, shouldn’t the Arts Council also look in that direction? Yes, some of the venues listed above are already on the Arts Council radar (Monster Truck, the Joinery), but it takes time for a new space to find its feet, establish its bona fides and make its case to the administrators. By the time it finishes that waltz, the traction has often moved elsewhere.

Arts funding in this country is a hugely political animal and the companies who have managed to get on a rung of the funding ladder naturally do their damndest to make sure they stay on it. After all, they’ve learned how to speak the arts lingo, how to drop the phrases which are in vogue in any particular year (it used to be all about “interrogating” the arts like we were in a Cold War movie) and how to fill out those damn forms. They’ve built and maintained companies and organisations on a shoestring. They’ve fought wars for this.

But there is sometimes a case to be made for better allocation of the cash. A few weeks ago on a visit to Letterkenny’s Regional Cultural Centre during the Earagail Arts Festival, I was reminded of this post where we drew attention to an excellent piece by Guy Barriscale where he talked about an over-supply of cultural infrastructure. While there was once plenty of cash to fund this splurge on fancy buildings and spaces, revenue funding to do actual stuff in the buildings was always under threat. The Regional Cultural Centre is a prime example of this: an amazing space where room after room had been fitted out with state of the art studio equipment, but which is sadly under-utilised because there’s no cash to have people doing stuff in the building. There is also the fact that there is another arts centre, the long established Grianan, located right outside the Regional Cultural Centre’s front-door.

Of course, there are some arts centres which are squeezing as much life into their spaces as they can. Look at the Triskel Arts Centre in Cork and last week’s news story about it is now going to be home to Plugd Records, the Black Mariah gallery and the Corcadorca theatre company. Such a hook-up makes complete sense because each of the entities can bring something new to the party. Everyone’s a winner. Imagine if, for instance, one of the established arts spaces in Dublin had the presence of mind to do a similar deal with a record shop and bring in an audience who might not necessarily be frequenting the centre at the moment. Of course, this opens up a whole new debate about whether a record store necessarily belongs in an arts space and the Triskel obviously feel Plugd is the right fit for them.

But at a time when arts funding is undoubtedly going to get shaved again and when audiences are becoming far more discerning in terms of where they spend their time and money, such debates will have to be had. What’s undeniable, though, is that there’s a huge appetite for new events, happenings and spaces and it will be fascinating to see how the cultural permanent establishment deal with this.