One of the most revolutionary ideas I ever heard was in a classroom in Coolock at the tender age of eighteen.
“Culture is how we live our lives”
It was basic ‘sociology 101’ type stuff but it blew my mind. I was a naturally creative child, who grew up loving art, music, drama, and dance. Yet with the exception of music, I never felt like I belonged in any of these worlds. I didn’t know how to access the artforms and felt instinctively that the places where artwork lived were simply ‘not for me’.
I studied art for my junior and leaving certificate yet had never stepped foot inside a gallery. My favourite subject was English and I buzzed off reading O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock, awakened with the idea that theatre could be about a world that was somewhat familiar to me – yet I had never stepped foot inside a theatre, least of all our national theatre. I did my transition year work experience in the National Concert Hall, a fantastic experience – yet I felt a sense of intimidation about it’s grand design and its programme – which seemed to a 16-year old me, like a foreign language.
‘Culture’ was almost a dirty word in my estate. It was for ‘them’. Not us. The crisis of everyday life marked culture as a luxury we couldn’t afford. An almost secret thing, kept for the privileged and the well educated.
So there I am in a classroom in 1999 and I hear that culture is how we live our lives. I thought back to Juno and the Paycock. To the trad sessions in the pub on a Sunday with my granny. To my mam’s cooking, and the recipe book she used which was mainly notes from her mother, in a hand which only she could understand. To the football matches I played every Saturday, the chants and banter we shared on and off the pitch. The songs we’d sing on the bus on the way home. My beloved Levi 501’s, tattered now from years of service – ensuring I blended in with the others. All of us in our uniformed coolness, thinking we were expressing some sort of unique identity. And my local corner shop, the source of my Levi-wealth. Earned during after school shifts where I chatted with lonely people and learnt about stories and what makes us so unique, yet connected.
Culture, I have learned, is not for everyone.
Culture is everyone.
It’s our DNA as a collective people. We grow together around it, up and through it. It’s how we unfurl ourselves. It’s the tendrils we twine around each other to co-create meaning and connect. Culture is our collective beating heart, made up of a billion tiny pieces. Each one unique.
These days my cultural confidence has grown and I’m more of a regular at our city’s theatres, galleries and venues. I know that our national cultural institutions are absolutely for me. I also know that, just as culture is classical music, ballet and opera, it’s also my grandad’s long running joke of singing in a high pitched voice ‘I’ve- got – a – pain- in – my – bellyyyy’ whenever he saw a classical singer on the telly!
If you want a cultural experience just pause and look at yourself – you’re already doing it. Become aware of the value of your story. Reclaim the poetry of your life. Then unfurl. Stretch out. And connect with a lifelong journey of cultural growth.
Linda Devlin was a project manager on Dublin’s Culture Connects’ The National Neighbourhood 2017-2018. With those projects now completed, we look back on what he said when asked “What Does Culture Mean to Me”…
The National Neighbourhood spans the Dublin City Council region, and brings together the Public Libraries, the area offices, the City Arts Office and Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane, in partnership with National Cultural Institutions, connecting Dubliners in significant ways on projects that are relevant to their expressed concerns. Each project has evolved from a series of conversations and are harnessing the appetites of particular groups for cultural engagement.0