‘If Joyce and Beckett were around now they’d be priced out of their gaffs by an Airbnb’

What happens when a city becomes too expensive to sustain its creative community? David Kitt’s remarks about Dublin’s high rents have struck a chord with fellow creatives

Singer and songwriter David Kitt: said he can no longer afford to live in his home town

Singer and songwriter David Kitt: said he can no longer afford to live in his home town

 

This week, the singer and songwriter David Kitt announced that he was leaving Ireland. “I’m being forced to leave the country I love as I can’t afford to live in my hometown any more. I don’t want to go,” he wrote, in a widely-shared Facebook post.

In the post, Kitt explained that the Dublin house he was currently renting is due to be sold. He speculated: “It will be sold or rented no doubt to someone working for Amazon on a base salary of 70k while the people who make this city what it is are forced out to the suburbs or to a city [where] they can afford a reasonable quality of life and where their level of income doesn’t make them feel like a complete failure.”

Kitt’s announcement prompted discussion from many others who identified with his situation, particularly those who make their living as artists. Trying to survive in any capital city as an artist is not a new scenario, but what has changed about Dublin in recent times is both the affordability and scarcity of available accommodation. The era of surviving on a modest, if irregular income, but still managing to rent – or buy – a place in the city via the open market is effectively over.

So why is it important that Dublin needs to continue to make space for its community of artists? What impact is the cost of the capital’s accommodation having on other artists? How are those artists who don’t live in Dublin faring?

Blindboy Boatclub from The Rubberbandits. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins
Blindboy Boatclub from The Rubberbandits. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

‘It’s important that artists remain living in Dublin’

Writer and performer Blindboy Boatclub of the Rubberbandits lives in Limerick from where he broadcasts a successful podcast. He is the author of The Gospel According to Blindboy.

“My profile at this point is big enough that I don’t need Dublin like I would have at the beginning of my career 10 years ago. I’ve shifted 90 per cent of my work online, but my career is definitely shaped by economic choices.

“It’s important that artists remain living in Dublin for our cultural identity. Art and creativity have a value beyond money. Art creates cultural ambience, it fills in the spaces of society with colour. Art is a way to have conversations in a way that words can’t. It’s essential to the collective mental health of a society. The only path to finding your voice is failure. An artist, of any discipline, requires the space to fail repeatedly. You just can’t do that when rent is 1,600 quid.

“Artists can make art anywhere, so they’re choosing to do it in a more affordable country, to the detriment of Dublin and Ireland. We should be asking ourselves if we’re okay with that. We like to think that if we had a Joyce, Beckett and Wilde today, that they’d be welcomed with open arms; free to be filthy, offensive and groundbreaking. They wouldn’t; they’d be priced out of their gaffs by an Airbnb.”

Kilkenny-based artist Medb Lambert. Photograph: Evelyn McNamara
Kilkenny-based artist Medb Lambert. Photograph: Evelyn McNamara

‘The capital is where the lion’s share of audiences are’

Medb Lambert is the artistic co-ordinator and director of KCAT’s Equinox Theatre Company, based in Callan, Co Kilkenny. Their show, The M House, is coming to this year’s Dublin Theatre Festival.

“Of course it is important that Dublin retains its creative people. The capital is where the lion’s share of audiences are; it’s a place where on a whim you can go to a concert or a play or a comedy show or a gig. That’s part of the reason for living in a city. If the cultural life there is dying, you’re killing off what’s making it great in the first place.

“As a rural theatre artist, you’re constantly having these conversations with other rural-based theatre artists: Are we doing the right thing? Would I have ‘made it’ by now if I was living in Dublin? And you’re justifying it to yourself all the time too, trading off quality of living versus the viability of your career. I am part of the national picture of the arts by living in Kilkenny, but maybe a corner of it; not in the centre.”

Writer and journalist Eoin Butler. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
Writer and journalist Eoin Butler. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

‘Living in Dublin was a luxury I just couldn’t afford anymore’

Eoin Butler is a writer and journalist who moved out of Dublin to Mayo three years ago, and then returned to the city a year ago. The audiopiece he wrote and recorded about small town life in Ireland, A Tree Falls in a Forest, is currently on show at the Irish Pavilion at the Venice Biennale.

“By the time I was 30, I was done sharing with friends and random strangers. I got my own apartment in Smithfield. The rent was initially €800 a month, rising to €900, then €1,000. Eventually, living in Dublin was a luxury I just couldn’t afford anymore. My own family home in Mayo was lying empty so I went back and lived there for over two years.

“I knew it would be unwise when in Mayo to broadcast the fact I was no longer living in Dublin. I employed a little subterfuge here and there. But at a certain point, you’re either telling the truth or you’re lying. So I had to come clean. I continued to accept invitations to speak at events or appear on TV or radio. But quickly I realised it just wasn’t worth it for the time and expense involved in travelling up and down. And, of course, when you say no to things once or twice, the invitations eventually stop coming.

“Professionally and personally, the time was right to move back a year ago. I’d been away too long. Virtually all my friends and family were in Dublin and I was in danger of losing touch with them. I also had a major project in the works that required me to be in Dublin pretty regularly, so the cost of driving up and down, at €50 petrol each time, was starting to add up. I found somewhere cheap – albeit much less central than where I had been living before, unfortunately – and I decided to go for it.”

Songwriter and visual artist Carol Keogh: “Commuting kills community”
Songwriter and visual artist Carol Keogh: “Commuting kills community”

‘I felt I had to go as far as Wexford to live like an adult’

Carol Keogh is a songwriter and visual artist who also works full-time. Two years ago, for financial reasons, she moved from Dublin to Bray in Co Wicklow. She recently moved to Wexford.

“Commuting kills community. For a long time I’ve held down a full-time job as well as being a painter and musician. For a short while, I held onto a studio space at MART in Rathmines but couldn’t continue to pay both home and studio rents and found myself, by degrees, commuting further and further distances out of Dublin. This year I felt I had to go as far as Wexford to live like an adult and have my own space. So I’m staying in Dublin with family a few nights a week and that leaves me even less time for my artistic work than ever.”

Author Julian Gough, who now lives in Berlin. Photograph: Alan Betson
Author Julian Gough, who now lives in Berlin. Photograph: Alan Betson

‘The crisis for artists is the crisis for all low-paid workers’

Julian Gough is a writer for children and adults who has been living in Berlin for 12 years. His latest novel is Connect.

“I didn’t particularly want to leave Ireland. But when the Celtic Tiger came along, that was it. I was evicted on New Year’s Day 2006. I drew up a list of cities that were affordable, and a list of cities worth living in. The one city on both lists was Berlin. So I ended up in Berlin. Rent was less than half what it was in Ireland, and you got far more for it.

“The crisis for artists is the crisis for all low-paid workers in Ireland. Writers are the least important part of the problem here, because they can go write in Budapest or Leitrim. It’s cleaners, it’s student nurses, it’s the guy who is working as a security guard but sleeping in a homeless shelter that are really suffering. Workers create the value but don’t automatically share in it.

“Artists are banjaxed if they have kids, because they will not be able to afford to live in Dublin, or Galway, or Cork. It happened to me and my family. But the same goes for hundreds of thousands of workers. And most of those workers, unlike novelists and painters, can’t bring their job with them to Roscommon, or east Berlin.

“If your average Dublin rent is higher than your average earnings as an artist, then in what meaningful way are there any “opportunities” for artists in Dublin? The “opportunity” to play a couple of gigs a month, for a couple of hundred euro, while paying €1,200 in rent to live in a cupboard? Dublin, as a city, has never looked after its artists. It’s unlikely to start now. Why would you bother staying there? Out of loyalty? Loyalty to what? A city run by landlords, for landlords?”

Donal Gallagher, artistic director of Asylum Productions: “Dublin has an international reputation as an artistic city”
Donal Gallagher, artistic director of Asylum Productions: “Dublin has an international reputation as an artistic city”

‘You need an audience to sustain your work’

Donal Gallagher is based in Co Kilkenny and is artistic co-director of Asylum Productions. Asylum has been commissioned by the Abbey Theatre to develop Thomas Kilroy’s novel The Big Chapel as a major site-specific show in Callan as part of the Kilkenny Arts Festival next year.

“I’ve worked as a creative artist for 19 years. I did consider basing myself in Dublin, and lived there briefly, years ago, before starting work in theatre, but all that effort to pay for the larger-than-average wardrobe I was forced to call home? No thank you. And at that time I even had a proper job.

“Dublin has an exceptional reputation internationally as an artistic city, and that’s what attracts a lot of visitors. The whole Temple Bar phenomenon happened when a bunch of artists and independent thinkers found an abandoned corner of the city and bought it back to life. That energy has been largely swallowed up and hollowed out.

“I agree that artists can make work anywhere, but with theatre it is a little more difficult. You need an audience to sustain your work, and it’s certainly easier to find that in a city. Being in Dublin would mean greater access to work opportunities, and to an audience.

“I do miss my peers, and when you aren’t in Dublin as an artist, you are out of sight of the establishment. But I’m constantly badgering people to come stay with us, and, as for the establishment, isn’t it part of the job of an artist to raise two fingers to it?”

‘I’ve realised that I won’t be spending much more time here’

Lorcan Rush is a recent graduate from the National College of Art and Design

“I have lived in Dublin for nearly four years now. It is where my livelihood is. I have made relationships here. I see this city as my home. As a recent graduate, I am already coming to the horrible realisation that I won’t be able to spend much more time here.

“Rent anywhere in Dublin is usually minimum of €600. I am only 20. The average salary for a junior intern in a design studio is €250-€350 a week, if you’re lucky. Which means in order to pursue my creative endeavours, I would have to take up a part-time job. However, if I were to live abroad, perhaps in Rotterdam or Berlin, I could live comfortably as there is cheaper rent and a cheaper standard of living.

“There is nothing more I would like to do than stay here and hope to give something back to the city that helped shape me both as a person and a creative. But alas, I don’t see that happening any time soon. It’s Ryanair to a new creative hub or back to Co Wexford to wash dishes or wait tables.”

‘We were forced out of Dublin due to the panic of the housing crisis’

Aoife Scott is a folk musician who was based in Dublin and moved out last autumn.

“I moved out of Dublin last October due to the housing crisis. Before that, myself and my musician partner lived with my parents for three years as we couldn’t afford a flat in Dublin. We live in an old gate lodge now, but we spend a good chunk of our wages on travelling to work gigs in Dublin daily. My partner doesn’t drive and for him to commute in and return home from Dublin, he has to get a bus to a large hub, and then a taxi 12km to our house, which costs roughly about €30 each way.

“We spend hours in the car to get to small gigs, but at the moment it’s the only way we can live. We were forced out of Dublin due to the panic of the housing crisis. Originally we were looking for studio flats at €1,400 a month; something we would have really had to work hard to pay. No one answered our emails, no one answered our calls. On the one time an agent answered our calls, we told the agent we were full-time musicians, and we never heard from them again. The judgment is unreal.

“We work hard as musicians but the reality is we were lucky to find this house in the countryside, and we are very grateful to live here now. Even with the long commute and very little access to public transport we feel like one of the lucky ones. But who knows for how long, and what will happen then? We shudder thinking about it.”

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