The Creative City

Posted by Dylan Haskins in Campaign Diary

Coming from a creative background, I’ve seen firsthand the positive impact the arts and creativity have on our city, our communities and all our lives.

Dublin is brimming with creativity, but unfortunately, lots of good ideas and initiatives are slipping through the net, unsupported and meeting too many obstacles to survive.

We saw the interest people have in the arts at the National Campaign For the Arts hustings at Project Arts Centre on Monday, which was packed, with people queuing up the stairs and craning their necks around corners to hear what representatives from the main parties had to say about their arts policies.

There’s often talk about ‘making’ Dublin a creative city. But you can’t do this from the top down. It has to happen from the bottom up. And in order to do that, the people who are actually engaging in cultural and creative activity at a ground level have to be facilitated. This is the difference between manufacturing creativity, which you can’t do, and facilitating what’s already there to allow it to expand and inspire other projects, which is a much more practical and realistic way of harnessing the creativity already existing in our city.

Our city is inherently creative, it’s just that there are blockages to creativity due to the levels of bureaucracy that people have to go through to turn their ideas into real projects. We need to reduce the bureaucratic barriers to a creative city.

When there’s less money available we need to concentrate on providing resources. Those resources don’t necessarily need to cost a tremendous amount. Often people are just looking for a space, which is where my initiative to address Celtic Tiger-era zoning that over-emphasises the need for excessive commercial space in ground floor units, and frees up vacant space for cultural and community projects comes into play.

To help kickstart creative projects that are struggling to find any funding at all, I will establish a Creative Investment Fund by donating one quarter of my yearly TD salary. At a local level this fund will support Creative Partnerships in research and development between arts, culture, education and enterprise organizations that focus on innovation and creativity.

This will provide a competitive ‘creative challenge’ to support new products and services from creative entrepreneurs. The fund will be tailored to the specific needs of the creative and cultural sector and adopt a sustainable seeding and venture capital model.

More funding can be sought by forging connections with the Corporate Social Responsibility funds of the many large corporations based in the constituency. There are also many large international corporations who are currently taking advantage of our extremely competitive corporate tax rates along with the skills of our highly educated constituents as their staff. I envisage that this Creative Investment Fund would be an attractive prospect for them to direct increasing CSR funds.

We don’t need more buildings for artistic initiatives, but we do need to open up existing ones that are disused. There doesn’t necessarily need to be a physical headquarters for creative projects either. If there are many small ideas and small initiatives happening, that creates one overarching buzz of creativity. Creativity begets creativity too. The more that’s going on, the more that’s likely to follow.

We also need to address the rents spaces are charging. Most creative, cultural, and artistic enterprises aren’t going to rake in money in the same way that a packed commercial unit would. But what would be more beneficial for a community, another Spar or a studio space run by a collective? Another mobile phone shop, or community arts workshop?

But it’s not just about space. It’s also about general resources, from staff to equipment. It’s easier to get capital than current expenditure, but there is no point in an arts centre being set up, or a project started, having money allocated to it and then not properly resourced once it’s up and running. That’s a recipe for failure. We need to see through ideas beyond their inception, and support their fruition.

The bureaucracy involved in setting up a new project is another obstacle to the creative city. Luckily most of this bureaucracy arises from our public institutions – so it’s something we can remedy. If you’re an artist, you mightn’t be well versed on the complicated vocabulary of fire certificate applications, health and safety requirements, planning regulations, dance hall licenses etc. These processes stifle initiative and if you manage to eventually get over all the hurdles you probably won’t be as enthusiastic about the core idea as you were at the beginning.  Those application processes need to be easier to figure out. We would be better served to introduce a liaison framework to explain the processes better to those making applications. We need to get rid of the obstacles that prevent people from getting things done, and the thing is, many of these blocks are completely unnecessary and are simply the result of years of red tape tying itself in knots. We need to untie those knots.

We’re constantly told about the economic benefits of the arts, but this isn’t just about tax breaks or tax exemptions, or grants, or people buying into Ireland or visiting Ireland because of our reputation with the arts. Sure, those things are important, but the arts aren’t just another economic asset. The arts are about us. It’s how we express ourselves, how we tell our stories, how we contextualise where we are right now. It’s how we draft history, how we share experiences, how we have a good time, how we reflect and project and satirise and comment. We need to develop a creative city here, and stop exporting our artists to cities that are more encouraging of their ambitions and more accommodating to their needs. We need the release that art and creativity offers, more than ever. And we need to support those who are making it happen.

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