‘Speed-dating’ with the best creative businesswomen at Offset

A recent event gave newcomers a chance to learn from some of the smartest women in the local creative industries

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It is a Thursday in Dublin’s Twisted Pepper and eligible creatives are being set up on dates with people who have their own creative ideas.

The idea of the Absolut DIY event, organised in conjunction with the creative conference Offset, is to let conversation and collaboration flow between self-starting people who have proved their worth doling out advice to those who want to get to where they are.

Ready to listen and talk are Sharon Greene of Queens of Neon, Sinéad Bailey Kelly and Deirdre Young of Hunt & Gather, Kim Willoughby of Damn Fine Print and Róisín Agnew of Guts magazine and of this newspaper. Bren Byrne, one of the creative directors of Offset, rings a bell to start proceedings.

There’s always a fascination with those who make their passion their work, especially in times of economic uncertainty, and these women have managed to excel at event production, party-throwing, publishing and printing. Although they work in different disciplines, they are all multifaceted. If nine-to-five work is a closed container, creativity as work sees it leak and spread across several areas.

“It’s kind of a disadvantage to limit yourself to doing only one thing,” says Bailey Kelly, “so at the moment we’re doing venue dressing, event management, event production, window-dressing, conceptional design, parties, boutique festivals, pop-up dinners, kind of a little bit of everything. We’re open to new ideas and collaborations with people all the time.”

For now, Hunt & Gather is focusing on its Nuit Blanche night market. “It’s about bringing shoppers to trade markets, because I know the last while there’s been a decline in people purchasing at them, so it’s trying to make it more an event,” says Young says.


Queens of Neon

Queens of Neon also covers a lot of ground. “We are a creative collective and we focus on event design, creative consultation, we do a lot of festival work; we do large-scale art installations,” says Greene. She also runs the Dublin Flea Market and has a company called Scarfskin, which sells undyed sheepskin pelts.

The recession has changed the capital. You can’t swing an Aeropress or plate of pulled pork without hitting a new coffee shop or chirpy new restaurant. Many people, freed from their nine to fives, decided to take the plunge into creative endeavours. Others just jumped. New visual representations of Dublin smile from prints in small art and design stores, and the festival aesthetic is bleeding into weddings and club nights. Design across several disciplines has improved. Ad and marketing agencies are looking to street artists.


Damn Fine Print

Damn Fine Print is a community printing studio “where a would-be printer can come and use our equipment”, says Willoughby. It runs workshops and courses, does offsite events and produces its own affordable art. “When we set up, it was right in the recession: 2010. I don’t know if we would have set up had there not been a recession, because we were very much subconsciously driven by a DIY attitude, which was the spirit in Ireland at the time, without realising it. We were encouraged by that to set up. We had nothing to lose.”

Agnew is newer to this game. She began her bimonthly magazine Guts after a Kickstarter project saw the publication reach its target in just four days. The magazine focuses on confessional writing, is beautifully illustrated and straddles two things quality magazines need to be: niche and universal. “A lot of the things I know to be very successful, they’re actually not generating a huge amount of cash for the people running it,” says Agnew. “What you end up doing is having to juggle a couple of things because one thing keeps you going financially and the other thing spiritually.”

There is a respectable buzz in the room as the conversations begin. When the first 10 minutes is up and tables are switched, there’s an audible “awww” from those who were just getting into it.

Living the dream isn’t easy. For Hunt & Gather, the most frequent question people ask them is about venues. A curious thing is happening in the city now. Previously disused buildings that were temporarily turned into studios and creative spaces are being snapped up. There is a crisis of creative space in the city.

A quote from Cllr Andrew Montague, who was lord mayor of Dublin from 2011 to 2012, about the council’s Vacant Space Scheme, now rings hollow: “It is in everybody’s interest to have vacant spaces in the city utilised. Leaving them empty leaves a negative impression, while artistic and cultural activities can enhance individual streets, which is something the entire surrounding community can benefit from too.”

DIY creative projects require passion, commitment, help and long hours, but space is essential. Without people convening in physical spaces, ideas become transient and communities dissipate. The frustration in the city among those who want to do something with boarded-up buildings or disused warehouses is palpable.

The authorities might talk about the value of creative centres, but the reality on the ground is one of unreachable buyers locking the doors, and a web of red tape.

Bailey Kelly says there is a “disconnected generation of people who have these places, and it’s almost impossible for a younger generation to have access to said spaces.”

“They could have a space that is sitting there vacant,” says Young. “Rather than have people use it or do something with it, they would prefer it to be vacant, which is mind-boggling to us.”


Derelict buildings

This week, the results of an 18-month audit by Dublin City Council identified 151 vacant plots between the canals, along with 131 sites with derelict buildings left unused. Some 40 sites are made up of dilapidated buildings. Walk down any main street in Dublin – Leeson Street, George’s Street, Capel Street, Parnell Street – and buildings are empty and wasting away, yearning for use.

Back in the Twisted Pepper, this isn’t a convention of dreamers. All the conversations are about business. The advice is to do a start-your-own-business course; have conversations with enterprise boards; get your book-keeping in order; have a proper filing system; work on your business plan; assess the longevity of your project. Passion and professionalism is a good combination and these women have it in spades.

“It’s important to sit back and go, ‘why am I in this? I could be earning money way easier somewhere else,’ ” says Willoughby, “So you have to stay true to yourself . . . I think for me personally, it took me to work in the corporate world to know that’s exactly what I don’t really want to do.”


Offset runs from March 6th-8th at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin. Standard tickets from €70 at iloveoffset.com. See also queensofneon.com, huntandgather.ie, damnfineprint.com and thisisguts.com


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