‘I wanted it so anyone can see art, not just people who go to museums’

Culture Night thrives as crowds throng Dublin streets soaking up free entertainment

On a corner in Dublin's Temple Bar, pedestrians stop at a shop window to watch an artist working on a painting of man standing beside a shopping trolley.

For Aga Szot, resident artist, being watched is nothing unusual. But Culture Night has brought more curious footfall.

“Sometimes you can have 20 people [at the window] and you can feel in your shoulders that something is going on outside,” she says.

Her art-folded-into-art approach - the view of her working being an installation in itself - is inspired by Francis Bacon.

“The idea is to surprise people; they expect to see a shop window. I am changing, I am eating, I am talking, but I am painting,” she says. “I wanted it so any pedestrian can see [art], not just people who go to museums.”

Szot has captured the spirit of Culture Night, a single evening in which thousands of people across Ireland soak up free late night entertainment, exemplifying the Irish arts. Now in its thirteenth year, it continues to thrive - the crowds wandering Dublin's streets thumb the pages of a bulging programme.

At the nearby Ark venue the focus is, as always, on children. Groups of them are led by parents up winding stairs for a half hour of free mini-concerts, including a toy piano.

“There are two strands in the work that we do: there is the child as performer and the child as audience,” explains marketing manager Al Russell, betraying a sense of the detailed thought on display.

They will finish early to suit their visitors, just in time to avoid the alcohol-free rave due outside.

It is the first time Morning Gloryville will take place at night time, turning on its head the counter-intuitive premise of beginning the day with an early morning rave.

Head organiser William Meara says it is designed to create a conscious dancing environment free of intoxicants, and has been a regular city and festival fixture for the last few years.

“It’s people from all walks of life,” he says. “Traditionally we start at 6.30am; they will go and do some yoga, get a caffeine shot, do their massage, have a rave and go to work.”

After all Culture Night is partly designed to introduce people to things they may not otherwise encounter.

There are queues outside Christchurch Cathedral; at a free concert in Dublin Castle; and taking in tours of the famed Black Church Print Studio. The enthusiasm is easy to find.

"Just to discover Ireland, I suppose," simplifies Aoibhin Masterson, a language student beginning the exploration with her friend Rosemary Llanes (22).

Turists are major beneficiaries too. "It's really a great thing," says Helena Coluccio. "I am from Italy and you have to pay a lot to go to museums. So it's great to improve the love for culture."

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times