A five-year cultural strategy for Dublin is to be launched by the city council today. Based on work carried out for the unsuccessful bid to become European Capital of Culture, the new strategy aspires to a broader, more ambitious and all-encompassing vision of culture in the capital.
Dublin was knocked out before the final round of the competition, ultimately won by Galway, to be European Capital of Culture 2020. However, according to council chief executive Owen Keegan, the process ended up being valuable in its own right.
“We put a lot of work into that bid. I’d have to say I was a little bit sceptical at first that it was just another opportunity to blow a lot of money, but in fairness to the arts people, they made a very good case as to why it was worth doing,” he said.
“A lot of our public engagement is very sterile – that whole model of engagement needs to be refreshed – but this was an extraordinary, vibrant process and it certainly convinced me. We got a great response across all areas of the city, and businesses got involved. It demonstrated that there’s great energy around the idea of culture. We didn’t win the designation but we did feel we shouldn’t just go back to what we were doing.”
Up to now the council’s definition of culture has been very narrow. “It was a series of very worthy projects but the total effect was just the sum of those projects,” Mr Keegan added. “We want to get beyond just doing worthy projects towards broader goals.”
What this means in practice is a number of concrete initiatives. The National Neighbourhood Project brings together public libraries and council agencies, in partnership with the national cultural institutions in the city, to work with artists in areas from Finglas and Artane to Ballyfermot and Drimnagh.
The council is also carrying out a detailed audit to identify cultural resources, both “hard” (such as buildings) and “soft” (networks and organisations). The resulting database will allow a cultural map to be created which will inform planning decisions and support development. New supports for organisations seeking funding are also being put in place.
Mr Keegan said the strategy had been allocated €1 million this year. “There is enthusiasm but we’re coming from a very constrained economic situation.”
The council’s main infrastructure project remains the planned relocation of the central library from the Ilac centre to Parnell Square. “We’re very keen on the Parnell Square project,” Mr Keegan said. “The failure of O’Connell Street reflects the failure to develop any sort of a magnet to draw people to the northern end of the street. The library will be an enormous magnet.”
Increasingly, as cities shift to a modern, knowledge-based economy, urban culture and quality of life became key elements in defining whether a city was successful, Mr Keegan said, and Dublin was a success.
“The impression here may be it’s a complete shambles and nothing works, but I go to lots of other cities and I meet many people who regard Dublin as a very successful city.”