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 Dublin: #LandingExcursion Time Again

As fellow fans of architectural Dublin will know, Open House Dublin fell in the first weekend of October (Friday 4th – Sunday 6th). I’ve mentioned Open House before on The Landing since it’s one of my favourite cultural events. As usual many buildings of architectural merit across a wide variety of age and purpose were open to the public at no charge. Guided tours to buildings such as The Chocolate Factory, the Lighthouse Cinema and the Alliance Française were on offer as well as government, institutional and educational buildings. Some tours were available by public lottery only (such as for Freemasons Hall) but unfortunately I wasn’t geared up enough in time to enter. Maybe next year I will be better organised; I picked up the map and leaflet in good time but failed to follow-up.  Having said all of that, we had a good day of building bagging despite the lack of forward planning and we went home quite satisfied (and very footsore) with our discoveries.

Department of Industry and Commerce

A view of the front on Kildare Street

Our last port of call on a busy day was to the Department of Industry and Commerce building on Kildare Street where we just squeezed onto Open House’s final tour. We were really lucky because the organisers took double the optimum number of people round so as not to leave anyone out. We certainly fared better here than at Earlsfort Terrace where the volunteers were saying they were booked out for the last tour. I couldn’t help wondering whether it would have really hurt them to allow a few extras since they were turning away enthusiastic visitors. That’s one to bookmark for next year’s event I suppose. Anyway, back to the over-subscribed government building tour.

The tour was conducted by Angela Rolfe, an OPW architect who wrote a book to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the building and so is therefore an expert on the construction and features of the purpose-built (completed in October 1942) government building. The building was designed by J.R. Boyd Barrett and the building contractors were John Sisk & Son. It now houses two departments: the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. I have to admit that apart from the interest of seeing the interior features of a building that I wouldn’t normally be able to enter; there is a certain degree of plain nosiness in wanting to peek behind the scenes. Not that you get to see anything shocking, apart from the possibilities of seeing who has the untidiest office and leaves dirty coffee cups around. And in fact, it was all pretty tidy by and large. 

The interiors still have most of the original features, apart from it seems some alterations to facilitate modern health, safety and fire regulations. Sadly, the glossy finish on the Australian walnut panelled walls has been a victim of this since the surface was deemed to be a fire hazard. The panelled lobbies and minister’s corridor are still impressive but the walls must have looked wonderful without the more practical matt finish. The craftsmanship of the whole building was very much in evidence as also was the obvious care with which the building has been looked after during its seventy-one years. The sash windows still function and the specially made linoleum is still in pristine condition. But then it was pretty posh lino in the first place I suppose, no bargain basement stuff here. The building seems to have been well designed for the benefit of the people working there and not just for appearances sake, with attention paid to the quality of lighting, space and ventilation.

Decimal Penny (1971)

Gabriel Hayes’ design

I was interested in trying to obtain a copy of Angela Rolfe’s book (47 pp, Office of Public Works, 1992,) but it seems to be quite hard to track down. The only copy I found was listed on ABE Books as a first edition at €25 which is rather more than I wanted to pay. I might just have a look at the copy in the National Library instead. I can’t find an image of it to post up either so I’ve added a picture of the building and a link to the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage instead, so that you can see a couple of shots of the carved exterior panels by Gabriel Hayes (1909-78). There’s also more detail about the features of the building if you want to read more. Gabriel Hayes had a long career and amongst many achievements, she designed some of the decimal coins, brought out in 1971 (see picture attachment page for more information).

I’ll be back with more Landing Challenge book news soon but I’d love to hear if anyone else in Dublin was touring the city for Open House this year so drop a line in the box if you have any news… 

Picture credits: Wikipedia, with thanks.

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…