South Studios, Block T, Mabos, The Joinery, Moxie Studios and Monster Truck Gallery are just six spaces that Dublin city’s arts and culture community has lost as places for art to be created, facilitated, programmed and witnessed in the last few years. The shuttering of creative spaces (which is also echoed in Cork at the moment) is all too commonplace, as developer needs are prioritised over the cultural needs of our cities.
Running a space for arts and culture requires meeting building and fire regulations, health and safety, and those things require the capital that most arts organisations don’t have access to. While the aforementioned spaces largely did what was required, their closure was beholden to the market and the owners of their buildings, which saw a greater value in the property than the art that was being made there. It’s an all-too familiar story.
D-Light Studios on North Great Clarence St on Dublin’s northside is one of the last places of its kind in operation and its recently opened up to more public events including gigs from promoters such as Homebeat, Young Hearts Run Free and bands such as Rusangano Family and James Vincent McMorrow.
Having seen all those other spaces close and having spent nearly nine years “patching and fixing” the building, Agata Stoinska and Stace Gill, director and creative director respectively, decided to put the building to more use.
“It’s expensive to keep a place maintained,” says Stoinska. “A lot of places have closed. It made us very determined. We made sure everything was legally sorted and that we the documentation and all the legal necessities in place.”
Polish-born Stoinska says that her meticulous filing of documentation around the rental and its location gave D-Light Studios an advantage.
“When they go back to kick us out it was too late, because we were we were already here for six years at the time,” explains Gill.
Stoinska, a trained architect and photographer, passed the building nine years ago and enquired about its rental status. Not being familiar with the area, she couldn’t believe it wasn’t already snapped up.
“It was used as a garage,” says Stoinska. “That’s why it has a spray room and a big ramp into the centre of the building. It was packed with cars, building material and the roof was falling apart. Everything was falling apart. But being an architect, I could see potential in it.”
Gill, who had worked with disavantaged areas as a teacher, also saw the potential in the space and what it could do for the local community when she hired Stoinska to take pictures for her band Ocho. Gill ended up playing the opening night and became actively involved. It took the locals a little longer to warm to the new neighbours.
“The teenagers would throw stones, break in and run around, ” Stoinska remembers. “I think that the breaking point was that kids from another street came and were throwing stones at the building and kids from those street starting protecting it from them.
Nowadays the locals are more likely to use the D-Light for workshops, meetings and markets, and the relationship has been helped by the appointment of Joe Salam as business and sales manager, who also operates as a community liaison manager. Salam was formerly involved in Block T, which helped Smithfield become known as a more cultural and artistic hub, before their original building was sold and they moved to Dublin 8.
“Joe realised that this could be another opportunity for him to help out to make an area better and to change the perception of an area that people would have been reluctant to come into,” says Gill.
While D-Light houses a dance studio, a recording space, a web design and development company, a fashion magazine, a fine-art magazine, it did take longer for it to develop as a public event space, mainly because Gill and Stoinska were busy keeping the building operational, but also because of its location on the northside, which wasn’t that appealing to developers or people looking to use it.
“When Nama took it over a few years ago, an old Woollen Mills near Sheriff St wasn’t that attractive to sell so they focused on other properties of a greater value,” says Gill. “Economically, it’s why we’re here because nobody would have taken this building.”
The maintenance of the building kept the team occupied. The two rooms used for public gigs are too cold from October to March to use for most events. Gill and Stoinska estimate they need €500,000 to fix the roof. They’ve not had any luck with government grants, which are time consuming and have been unsuccessful. They are considering a crowdfunding campaign and are hopeful Dublin City Council’s plans to regenerate the area will help.
“There has to be money which could be invested in those because this is this good for city,” Stoinska says. “Whatever we make, we put back into the building and that’s not good enough.”
Instead of struggling, they decided to open up the building to more artists so more people can see its potential. The D-Light Artist residency programme is another strand of the space’s new-found openness. Applications are open until July 14th and the winning application will get to use a studio in the building for free for six months.
“Any creative can put in a proposal whether it’s a musician, a painter, a scientist, an inventor or whatever for what they want to make here. The only thing they have to give back is we want them to do something for the local community.”
It's the live events that have really helped spread the word about D-Light in the last year or so though, particularly Homebeat's events. When James Vincent McMorrow, who Gill knows, recently used the space to live stream a performance of his new album True Care across the world (Gill's boyfriend Ross Dowling also engineered the record), Gill saw the show as a milestone.
“I didn’t go and ask him, you know, he came to me. That felt a little bit special because he chose the space that I have been breaking my heart over for nine years, and it was streaming to the whole world. After that, we just relaxed a bit as it was a confirmation of what we were doing here.
“People are having amazing experiences here which is giving us the extra energy we need to not have our hearts broken on a daily basis with the leaks and the cold.”