Block T is of course only the latest victim in the Dublin art scene. Last year, Broadstone Studios were unceremoniously evicted from their Harcourt Terrace location, leaving a good number of Ireland’s best known artists without studios. Which is crazy in itself. The building is apparently still empty (of course). The Joinery closed in 2014. Market Studios also.
Of course, the recession created a situation where it was a bit cheaper – but, let’s be honest, not that cheap – to get things open, and to innovate. However, it was nonetheless people that did this, mostly self-funded, with little or no help from a (neutered) arts council or Dublin city council. Artists pay for their studios. OK, a ‘vacant-space’ scheme was initiated, but this is vastly oversubscribed, and leaves artistic groups completely conditional on an economic upturn. If and when that happens – and artistic groups help to make that happen – these groups are sent on their way. (Thanks for doing our job for us, lads.)
Also, is it the role of art to fit into the gaps made vacant by commerce? I know it’s practical, and that art organisations are of course enthusiastic about it – it’s something, after all – but shouldn’t art have more than a conditional space? And shouldn’t there be provisions made for this?
Of course, the other side is that art is a gentrifier. Let’s look at Smithfield/Stoneybatter, where Block T is, and where the Joinery was. When I first moved to Dublin in 2004, it was – to put it mildly – somewhat run-down. But it had character and cheap rents, and most of NCAD lived there. All the parties were in dingy terraces off Manor Street. It was a place where people were able to live and to make art, even – somehow – in the heights of the boom. Artists and artist-run spaces make places, like Smithfield, more desirable to live in. They create value. But regardless, once that role has been performed there must be some kind of system of state support there that allows them to stay put. Having created value, mostly on their own backs, it seems wrong-headed to push them out and make them suffer on the back of their success.
At the risk of sounding melodramatic, I’m wondering at this stage what Dublin has going for it. I moved out of there two years ago, but it appears to me as though it’s becoming increasingly like London – but without the culture – or the wages! – that makes its ridiculous prices more tolerable. More to the point, no governmental body seems to care about this.
This is a worrying state of affairs. If the art we want to see is only that which is found in (a) public galleries, or (b) commercial galleries, then the messy middle and provisional bits of art get lost along the way. The preparatory performances, conversations, the accidental. The things that often count as much as the finished product. Also, and on a much more obvious level, where the hell are artists going to make art? Their bedrooms?
Anyway, I really hope Block T can find a new home. Here’s a great article by Nathan Hugh O’ Donnell on these issues, which says a lot more than I have, and in a much clearer and more rational way: http://www.wearedublin.ie/dublins-disappearing-art-spaces/.