By Lisa-Marie Griffith
Last night Exchange Dublin and Temple Bar Cultural Trust hosted their open access culture and the city debate ‘Is this city fit for purpose?’ in Meeting House Square. Considering how wet the evening was I was very impressed with the turn out. The other noteworthy point about the turnout was that 90% of the audience consisted of 16-25 year olds. Surely this proves how eager Dublin’s young population are to have their say in the culture and activities going on in their city. The event, like most hosted in Temple Bar also had a novelty factor; each of the participants was asked to wear a white mask covering their face. The idea behind this, explained by Dylan Haskins of Exchange Dublin and the Debate Curator, was to provide an ‘opportunity for people to say what they really feel as users of the city without worry of who it might offend’. At several points, speakers both objected to the use of masks and offered support to the initiative. Some felt that if the debate was to be an honest one the participants should come together in an open manner that allowed them to get to know each other. Others felt that the masks allowed them to express their opinions uninhibited. I felt mine was made me far too sweaty and uncomfortable so I lost mine half way through. It was an interesting idea and while highlighting that as citizens of Ireland’s largest urban dwelling we can often feel marginalized and anonymous, without a say in how our city is run, it can also be accused of having sidelined the main discussion; Is Dublin fit for it’s purpose?
The question prompted many interpretations from the guest speakers and many answers, the most interesting were from the audience. Like any open access debate there were many rather eccentric, forceful and unpractical suggestions aired, but there were a lot of very interesting opinions aired about youth, culture and the times we live it. The first guest speaker complained that she had attended Smithfield’s festival last week, where there was a disappointingly low turn out and that Irish people did not get involved enough and complained to often that they did not have enough on offer. This theme, Irish apathy, was brought up again and again throughout the evening. I will have to say that I searched online last Friday for a listing of what exactly Smithfield Festival was and found the Dublin City Council site had a couple of vague lines about music and stalls and mentioned they would post a full schedule closer to the event. But I checked the day before it began. That was my excuse for not attending and I will have to say I was disappointed in Dublin City Council who are normally fantastic for advertising their events- It has since been put up I have noticed.
I found some of those who complained that nothing goes on in the city and that not enough people participate quite frustrating to listen to. I have never found myself short of FREE (an important word in 21st century Ireland) cultural events to participate in, especially during the summer when the city puts on a fantastic show of it’s talented and creative citizen’s and draws in national and international theatre companies, artists, musicians, street performers,and hosts a huge number of outdoor events for our entertainment.
Take Culture night for instance: I have gone to culture night with a large group of friends for the last two years. I was amazed last year at how the turnout had doubled from the previous year and how it had become a real family and group event. I remember spotting one frazzeled man on the street last year at ten o’clock trying to round up four children in super hero costumes- this was such an special occasion that his children had dressed up for the occasion and were out late! Ok- it’s not a perfect event. The museums and galleries are not open all night and some street vendors are eager to rip you off but it is a safe and well organised event. Culture night still remains one of my favourite nights out in the year. It always reminds me how lucky I am to have moved to Dublin ten years ago and live in a city like Dublin, small enough to enjoy but large enough to never run out of fun cultural activities.
While many interesting points and themes were raised one of the worrying issues that I found came from the 16-25 year olds who spoke. Intelligent and articulate speakers continual raised the point that there is no civic space dedicated to Dublin’s youth. Where can they go to skate, to graffiti, hang out and be creative without being arrested? Yes- arrested! Without a space for these activities we are stifling our young people. Maybe there are art exhibitions but understandably these don’t alway appeal to Dublin’s teenagers who are desperate to explore and display their creativity. A good example of how we are only half-heartedly catering for them is Smithfield’s Festival last week when graffiti artists were encouraged to display their work on temporary boarding that would then be taken down. This is a clear indicator of how twenty-first century Ireland is smothering it’s young people. The city is clearly not fit for their purpose.
One of the guest speakers talked about her worry for the future of Cultural Dublin. This was something I thought more people would return to. What will happen when so many of our fantastic FREE cultural events are cut? Dublin is fit for my purpose at the moment because we have not felt the budget cuts but will it continue to be with so? What will we loose? And how will this effect our citizens, young and old in the future?