Dublin’s Culture Connects’ Engage the City was a series of artist-led engagement projects, creating connections between artists and other Dubliners through a variety of creative endeavours.
In 2017, Dublin’s Culture Connects gathered a group of 10 cultural practitioners to test new and creative ways of working with communities. Through Engage the City, we asked the artists to focus on the process of working with citizens rather than any particular outcome. The artists brought their skills out into the city and the people of Dublin worked with them on sharing their stories in new and creative ways.
Over the past 10 months, through almost 100 workshops with more than 1,000 participants in 33 city communities, we have seen stories shared through drawing, dancing, weaving, maps, music, bells, food, flowers… and even pigeons!
As Engage the City draws to a close, we’re taking a look back at how it all went from the artists’ point of view…
Composer, conductor and music-maker Robbie Blake took a novel approach to gathering stories and worked with communities in Harold’s Cross and Terenure. Over the months Robbie met individuals and groups to talk about the area and share stories of sounds from the neighbourhood. He learned about the “ding” of the tram that used to go through Terenure and the bell of the local church that sits on the ground, resigned to a life of silence, having never made it to its intended belfry. Together with participants, Robbie mapped these stories and sounds and captured soundscapes from the neighbourhood. This project supported Robbie’s practice in developing new ways of progressing and engaging people in really wonderful ways.
Theatre Maker Shane Daniel Byrne explored the experiences of gay men in Dublin, looking at themes of identity, equality and belonging in a post-referendum Ireland. He met young gay men and spoke to them about life in the city for them. He met Bru youth club and Belongto and asked about how the marriage equality referendum impacted them. He walked the city in the footsteps of others, sharing stories, memories, hopes and dreams as they travelled, at what is just the beginning of Shane exploring this aspect of city life.
John Conway, a visual artist, worked with the U3A group Ballymun and together they have explored themes of legacy; looking at items that hold meaning and sharing stories from their past. The flexible nature of the project meant that John was able to embrace what they wanted to collectively pursue while maintaining the artistic integrity of his own practice. Through the project, the group have worked in the National College of Art and Design and have been supported to create their own archive box filled with stories and memories from times gone by; a living legacy of their shared experience.
Niki Collier, a textile artist, worked with young people from different backgrounds and nationalities, exploring themes of identity, belonging and celebration. Niki joined our team at the Zeminar event in 2017, meeting young people from across the country and learning about what culture means to them. A lucky few schools from Zeminar went on to enjoy felting workshops with Niki in Maryfield College and Holyfaith Clontarf. As both a maker and a teacher, Niki’s practice is diverse and this project gave her the opportunity to reflect on her practice and on an artist’s responsibility and opportunity to investigate change.
Architect Evelyn D’Arcy worked with children and youth groups across the city including An Siol, Stoneybatter, Belmayne Summer Programme and Glasnevin National School. In her workshops, the participants learned about architecture, spoke about what home means to them and made models of what buildings they wanted to add to their communities. Reflecting on working with the groups, Evelyn commented that this project has helped her to support young people to realise that they have a voice and gave them the space to explore and use it.
Veronica Dyas, a theatre maker, worked with a variety of groups across the city sharing stories and experiences and highlighting the both uplifting and hard-hitting truth of life in Dublin today. Through drama and spoken word, Veronica led workshops with the Kilbarrack Coast Community Programme, Dublin Simon Community and SAOL Women’s Project. The workshops developed organically over time as the groups got to know Veronica and themes of identity, being seen and having a voice came out strongly. The structure of Engage the City allowed both artist and groups to explore themes in an open and experimental way. Veronica particularly loved the idea of a process-focussed project rather than the potential pressure of ‘production’.
Liz Nilsson has been working through print and textiles with a variety of groups across the city. Working with children in St Ultan’s, with older people in Rialto Day Centre and an eclectic mix of creative and culture vultures in the Lalala Choir and on Culture Night, Liz’s workshops involved investigating food in new ways: really looking at ingredients, drawing them, sometimes even drawing with them! Reflecting on her time on the project Liz has enjoyed the opportunity to meet new groups of people and communities.
Researcher and theatre maker Michelle McMahon worked with the Theatrical Cavaliers Cricket Club learning about how sport can create a community. Not bound by geography or location, this cricket club come together out of love of the sport and a desire to connect with others from creative backgrounds that share their passions. Over the summer months, the team were particularly generous in sharing their stories (and their biscuits) with Michelle. A trip to the National Library with Brid O’Sullivan became an unexpected but welcome highlight of the project as both artist and team delved into the delights of cricket memorabilia in the Maunsell collection. It was a wonderful experience to see the archive come to life as these cricketing thespians read out poems and prose of times gone by. The team truly opened their arms to Michelle and this supported an embedded approach to her work – in fact we think Michelle might just be their next recruit for the team!
Ines Metzner used textiles and weaving as a way to tell stories with participants, including Walkinstown Knitters group and Daughters of Charity group. Using household items such as scraps of material, the netting from lemons, an odd sock or even an old wedding veil, Ines helped the participants to weave stories and create tapestries of their lives. In a unique approach to the project, Ines set up a stall at Dublin Flea Market, with a loom she had made from old furniture and floor boards, and invited the public to join her weaving. Over conversations about everything (as well as everyone!) has a history, holds memory and has a story to share, she showed people how to use old material to make tapestries and rugs and how to use old furniture to make their own looms.
Joan Somers Donnelly linked with groups as diverse as Headway, Men’s Sheds, the Sikh Community, Crosscare and those experiencing life in Direct Provision. Joan has impressively shone a light on the stories of people in Dublin, focussing on the similarities that bring us together, rather than the differences that can cause distance. Many of the participants had varying degrees of English language ability; so working through drama, movement and drawing, the groups expressed their experiences with Joan in a way that transcended language. Joan found the openness of the format of Engage the City to be particularly conducive to working in community contexts, allowing room for projects to grow and change.
Keep an eye out for our Engage the City video, which will be coming soon!0