Culture Night: Owt for Nowt?

Brocure Cover

Our passport to culture!

Last Friday evening saw yours truly, accompanied by The Bookworm heading into Dublin’s city centre for some more Culture Night activity. As usual, we had been studying the brochure and marking possible activities. We had decided to more or less stick to the ‘Trinity and South Georgian Quarter’ to be handy for the Luas. In no particular order (as if memory serves me), here is our final tally of venues visited: The Arts Council, Merrion Square; the Pepper Canister Church; the National Gallery of Ireland; and the Science Gallery. We listened to musical offerings at the NGI and Pepper Canister and then explored differing ways of seeing at the Science Gallery. I am not sure whether tea and cake at the NGI counts as a cultural activity, but it was very tasty all the same. We were disappointed that three of our book marked events were cancelled, but it was not clear whether this had any connection to the bus strike or not. Particularly, we felt the loss of the light show at the Royal College of Surgeons as we had planned to round off our night seeing the 3D display before jumping on the Luas to head home.

On the morning after the night before, I scrolled though plenty of tweets from happy, satisfied Culture Night goers and event organisers. However, poet Colin Dardis made the reasonable point that ‘If you loved the free events at #CutlureNight remember to support your local artist and pay for their work during the rest of the year!’ Art practitioners and writers clearly all need to eat and welcome paying punters. One commenter, The Fingal Pimpernel went a stage further and declared ‘Great as I think #CultureNight is it shows up how stingy fuckers will turn up in huge crowds for free but won’t pay their way other 364 days’. I’m not sure whether the latter comment was intended to be genuine or tongue in cheek (such is the peril of Twitter) but as a dedicated Culture Night-er, I felt vaguely miffed at being apparently included under this tag. Confession: I admit to a liking for free stuff to do; after all, what parent doesn’t welcome the opportunity to do interesting (even educational) activities with kids that doesn’t break the bank. Having said that, I am not averse to paying for events etc and I frequently do so during the rest of the year. As a member of the book trade, I try to do my bit by attending (paid) events to hear my favourite writers. Now, I can’t be sure how many other Culture Night visitors fall into that category, but inevitably you are going to get folks who always want something for nowt and will never pay for anything. To some extent, I suppose such people fulfill a function on occasions such as Culture Night, by performing the role of ‘warm bodies’ to help to give the event its air of success.

Nevertheless, I  feel that complaining about ‘stingy f****s’ misses a couple of the great aspects of Culture Night. One of the big attractions for me, (and judging by the queues, I am not alone in this) is the opportunity to view places usually closed to the public. It’s a chance to see behind the scenes, in a way that another great festival, Open House, also offers. In other words, many people are just plain nosy, rather than miserly in their Culture Night activities. For example, one of the biggest queues I saw on the night was to tour Iveagh House, home of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. There is usually a queue of similar length to have a tour of Freemasons’ Hall; to the extent that it took us about four years of dedicated event queue monitoring to nab an Open House tour in a quiet-ish moment last year. One of my regular Culture Night/Open House goals is to add another previously unexplored building to my repertoire.

Culture Brochure

Deciding on our culture route!

Another great aspect of Culture Night is that institutions and charities not directly involved in the business of culture open up and invite visitors to learn something new. For example, Concern Worldwide, The Mendicity Institution, Amnesty International and Focus Ireland were all giving talks and raising awareness of their work. Add to that various community groups such as the Irish Polish Society and the Afghan Community of Ireland and you can see that there is much more to Culture Night than an open invitation to free loaders. It is also worth pointing out that many of the places open, such as the national cultural institutions would be free to visit anyway (though donations are requested). There is the additional pleasure of visiting cultural venues after hours, which can only be good for encouraging people to take the time to browse the exhibits. Visiting places out of hours feels like a delicious treat to be savoured.

I think it is reasonable to suggest that many people who visit places during this events will follow up new discoveries and pay for events or buy a piece of art in the future. All in all, I think that the Culture Night is a positive initiative one which should have a productive knock-on effect over the years. Or maybe that is just my wishful thinking. I admit though, that it is going to be hard to calculate the benefits in terms of hard cash to various arts organisations, practitioners and writers.

I would be interested to know your thoughts on this question…





Open House and Dublin Hotspots

Apart from my literary endeavours, I have also been venturing out from the rarefied surroundings of the Landing Bookshelves yet again. Last weekend was the Open House architectural event so once more my trusty sidekick and I took to the streets of Dublin. We headed along to No 4 Castle Street to take a peek inside the former shop premises and merchant’s town house that is now the headquarters of Dublin Civic Trust. This was taking a second bite of the cherry as it were, as we had recently been touring Dublin’s cultural hotspots for Culture Night. On that occasion, we missed the townhouse due to lack of time. On Saturday morning, the town house was thronging with visitors but we managed to get a place on the next tour of the building.

See Dublin on Foot

Time to get walking..

While we were waiting, we browsed the Trust’s publications and bought a copy of See Dublin on Foot: An Architectural Walking Guide by Julie Craig (for a reduced price of €5), which kept us occupied while we waited. Naturally, I have now discovered several more places to go and visit! If you get the chance, the book is well worth buying even at the full price of €8 from the website. The walking tours are divided into six sections: Oxmantown, Gardiner’s Dublin, the Collegiate City, Administration and Finance, the Liberties and Maritime Dublin. As the book was published ten years ago there will no doubt be some changes found (certainly in some cases perhaps for the better due to work of the Civic Trust) in the cityscape. I will keep you updated on my progress around the city.

The section on Maritime Dublin reminds me of another recent expedition, which was to visit the newly restored National Maritime Museum in Dún Laoghaire. If you are interested, take a look at my piece about it for the Irish News Review (here) where you will also find a link to the museum site.

I have been bowling merrily along with Cloud Atlas (David Mitchell) lately (and feeling terribly virtuous for reading my book club novel to boot) and have still made no further progress with The Go-Between. I certainly need to give myself a stern talking –to about said lack of progress. The trouble is that whenever I set myself a blog reading task, something else inevitably pops up and demands my attention. That is how it seems anyway; perhaps the truth is that the next book that comes along just easily distracts me. The cover is always brighter, perhaps?

Fire and Ice

Fire and Ice, Spindrift Press

To some extent, I can plead that competing interests affect my reading plan from time to time. The prime example of this is my book group as I feel that I owe it to the other members to make an effort and not just plead lack of time (well not too often anyway) to read to the book. I also read a certain amount of titles with my bookseller’s hat on, either to write a review or just to be up to speed on our stock. In the former category, I have been reading Fire and Ice, a Cold War thriller by John Joyce on which I have written a review this week for  The book is due to be launched in Hughes and Hughes Booksellers, Dundrum on 26th October, so of course I had to push it up the reading queue a bit.

Now after my Open House exploits, it’s back to my cosy Landing nook for a little more reading…

The Past is Another Country: Culture Night

I am truly sorry about the miss-use of  that quotation in the title and have no excuse except that it just popped into my head and it seemed a shame to waste it. Just for the record, I have not yet actually begun to read The Go-Between and am still reading Bring up the Bodies. Anne Boleyn’s downfall is edging closer as I write so be prepared for copious amounts of bloodletting. And now on to a snapshot of our Culture Night’s activity…

As I said in my last piece, I was itching to get out and about to catch up with a few as yet unvisited cultural venues. At risk of sounding rather like a cultural box ticker, I did manage to cross three places off my list of ‘I must it do sometime’ activities. My brochure was a mass of ticks by Friday evening so I knew that there would be no hope of doing everything on my list. As it turned out, the first port of call for my fellow culture vulture and I was a late entrant to the event, not even mentioned in the brochure (though listed on the website) so that counts as a bonus point.

Assembly House

Dublin City Assembly House

Our bonus venue then, was the former City Assembly House in South William Street, which is due for a restoration programme by the Irish Georgian Society in partnership with Dublin City Council. I have long wanted to have a peek inside the elegant looking building but have never seen it open. Sadly, the interior fabric desperately needs attention from some dedicated craftspeople to restore its former glory. According to IGS’s literature, the group is looking to raise a staggering €2,000,000 to finance the restoration. When finished, the building will be the headquarters of the IGS and is also to be restored to its original function as a venue for exhibitions and other cultural events. The plan is to have the restoration completed in time for the building’s 250th anniversary.

Abandoned Mansions

Tarquin Blake’s first volume

The building dates from 1765 and was the first purpose-built public exhibition gallery in Ireland. Wandering around the still gracious rooms, we could mentally step back in time and imagine how they must have looked. The double height octagonal exhibition room (once the city assembly’s meeting room) featured a collection of Tarquin Blake’s photographs of abandoned mansions of Ireland. He has recently brought out a second volume of images published by The Collins Press (see the illustration taken from the publisher’s site). It seemed strangely apposite to be viewing pictures of ruined buildings in this venue, which while not a ruin itself, clearly needs the planned intervention to prevent it becoming one. These images of ruined mansions and castles attest to a past that was indeed a very different place. Some of the mansions simply fell into disuse and became ruined while others were actively destroyed. Either way, looking at the pictures produces very mixed emotions. The owners of these houses lived very privileged and protected lives unlike the vast majority of people. Having said that, the house would have been a source of employment in the area and was a whole community in itself.

Abandoned Mansions II

More brilliant images…

I will follow the restoration process of the City Assembly House with interest and I hope one day to stroll around an exhibition in the finished rooms. If anyone is interested in the Irish Georgian Society’s activities, follow the link here and to check out Tarquin Blake’s gorgeous books click here.

And now, I’m off to read for a while…let me know what you’re reading at the moment!

Planning Culture Night: Landing field trip

Culture Night is still a few more days away and already I am anticipating an evening of cultural entertainment. I do realise that the Landing Eight Reading Challenge should be my paramount concern, but Culture Night comes but once a year (just like Christmas only less expensive) and is not to be missed.

Culture Night 2012 Logo

It’s that time of year again..

I have been scanning the programme and trying to work out how many items I can feasibly fit into the evening (allowing time for refreshments of course). High on my list of priorities is a tour of the Freemason’s Hall, which is one of the decreasing numbers of yet unvisited places of interest in Dublin. I tried to get to see it last time it was opened to the public but the queues snaked down the road and round the corner. I am quite clearly not the only nosy (I mean cultured) person in Dublin.

I was thinking of sticking to the South Georgian Quarter this time round, but who knows what might happen when I get the cultural bit between my teeth once again. It did occur to me while planning this year’s activities that I had written a short piece for the Reader Review column of the Independent newspaper (UK) in 2007 when Culture Night was still in its infancy. I managed to dig out a photocopy of the newspaper cutting to scan into the blog (my technological skills increase with every passing day). It is clear from looking back to 2007 how much the event has grown in five years, even spreading far beyond the confines of Dublin.

text of review

Review from the Independent (UK) (2007)

I wrote a piece this week for the Irish News Review about the up-coming 2012 event in which I mentioned that this year sees 134 venues participating in Dublin alone. It is a tribute to the hard work of all of the institutions, venues and organisers involved that this event has gone from strength to strength as it has. I will be out doing my bit to support the event on Friday evening (with a book in my bag of course!).

There will be a return to book talk for the next Landing post, but if you do get out and about for Culture Night, wherever you are, drop me a line and share your culture fix.