Weekend At City Arts: Series of Talks and Workshops

Come down to the Old City Arts this weekend (friday and saturday) to discuss public space, nama and the university!


What do we want?

On Monday the campaign for the old city arts had an open meeting to discuss what we want to do with the building when we get it. Up until this point most of our energies have been channelled into the ‘campaign’. A large part of this process was meeting up with a wide variety of people to tell them about the campaign and gain their support. The hope was that by keeping the future open in terms of what we would do with the building a space would be created that could allow others to feel included, to put forward their own projects and desires. While this worked to some extent it was thought that we also needed to think about what we wanted, to remember that we were not just ‘campaign organizers’.

Those who came to the meeting suggested what they were personally interested in doing with the building. There were several suggestions for educational projects that were explicitly in opposition to the forms of teaching and research that currently prevail in schools and universities. These included critical pedagogical and research methods that sought to learn from concrete, everyday experiences and problems, learning and researching with people rather than at distance; holding regular and ongoing courses on subjects that were not usually taught or available to people and workshops or collaborative projects, including, for example, a hacker space. Related to these projects was the idea of using the building as a resource or archive, such as a library, but including recordings or records of various events that took place in the building. Also as a place to generate publications, zines etc.

A specific project called ‘Radical Love’ was proposed to take place from the 13th-15th September. This would take the form of an ongoing seminar involving up to 30 people presenting their various work.

Following on from the recent emergence of people’s assemblies in North Africa, Spain and Greece, and now in Ireland through Real Democracy Now, it was suggested the building could be used to hold regular and ongoing assemblies for people in the city. There are not many indoor spaces in the city where this kind of event can happen. The assembly would be a place for people to meet, to voice their problems and angers but also a way to generate political projects.

Other suggestions were more general in terms of how the building could be a place to support other projects: a roof garden or community garden; a cafe; language classes.

The question arose again, a question which had defined the discussion from the start: how much was the building to be defined by us and our desires and how much by others?

On one hand it was argued that it is more important to fight with people than fight for them: that it is better to put forward our own problems and needs in the hope that they will resonate with people rather than setting up a  building to ‘facilitate’ other people.

On the other it was argued that the building could quickly turn into another ‘independent space’ which was full of ‘our’ creativity and desires but had no impact politically in terms of creating some sort of counter-power to the state and market. The danger in this situation is that the building becomes another ‘island’ with no concrete support from beyond its limited circle, no political potency. In order to become a stronger force, more than just a building, requires strong connections of solidarity to be formed with other communities and individuals around the city.

Rather than being two opposing sides a common idea is that there needs to be something concrete and real in our demands for the building (something more than just getting an empty space) but these demands need to be universal not just specific to us.

But there has been a concrete demand that has resonated with people from the beginning: a frustration and anger at the way our collective lives are being constantly undermined and destroyed by a present and future ‘reality’ which the government and other ‘experts’ tell us is unavoidable. The campaign for the building came out of this anger, and a desire to do something to challenge it- by claiming a building. This anger has the capacity to resonate.

Autonomy was suggested as a term or concept that seemed to encapsulate much of what we had been talking about. Autonomy from an ideology that tells us we can’t do anything on our own: whether that be a ‘reliance’ on state funding (community development, arts, university) or a ‘reliance’ on keeping the market happy (austerity, commercialization of education). The building is an assertion of our autonomy. Within it people can pursue what they want as an expression of this political statement of autonomy. This seemed to overcome the problem of labeling it ‘educational’ or ‘cultural’ or ‘social’ which can, especially now, tend to be generic and meaningless. At the same time autonomy can suggest ideas of self-reliance which is the opposite of what is intended in terms of the building being part of the generation of a real, concrete counter-power in the city and country. But concepts are not static. Having a term like autonomy at least allows us to develop some common understanding of what we are doing, or feel we are doing.

We ended by deciding to hold a series of events over three days at the end of August (Thursday, 18th- Saturday, 20th) outside the building. These events would be a demonstration of the things we would like to see happen in the building. By doing something, with people, we also leave the comfort, and sometimes frustration, of only thinking in meetings.

If people have ideas for the three days please come along to our weekly meetings, Mondays at 6pm in Seomra Spraoi, or else email campaigncityarts@gmail.com.

For those who missed the launch of the Campaign for the Old City Arts Building on June 11, here are video of talks which took place.

In part I Sandy Fitzgerald talks about the history of City Arts:


Part II features Mick O’Broin describing what the campaign is all about:

‘All power to the free universities of tomorrow’

The Copenhagen Free University began in 2001. It was an attempt to reinvigorate the emancipatory aspect of research and learning, in the midst of an ongoing economisation of all knowledge production in society.

It operated for six years out of an apartment. The question they asked themselves was:

what kind of university do we need in relation to the everyday?

This is in sharp contrast to the prevailing model, increasingly removed from the lived conditions, needs and desires of most people in society.

In 2010 a law was passed in Denmark that forbid the use of the name ‘University’ for any Institution other than those authorised by the state. The reason was to stop ‘students from being disappointed’.

Below is a statement against his law from those who were involved in the Copenhagen Free University. While their project stopped in 2007 the need to resist the ongoing colonisation of our thought and learning is more urgent than ever.

“We call for everybody to establish their own free universities in their homes or in the workplace, in the square or in the wilderness. All power to the free universities of the future.”

Read the full statement here.

Launch of the Campaign for the Old City Arts Building- Take back the city!

Saturday June 11th, 6pm at Seomra Spraoi.

Campaign launch with talks by campaign members and Sandy Fitzgerald, former director of Dublin City Arts. Followed by Food and Party. 3 euro suggested donation after 10pm.

Join us on June 11th for the launch of the Campaign for the Old City Arts Building (COCAB). Our aim is to take back the Old City Arts building, 23-25 Mosse St (near Tara dart station) which has been abandoned for nearly a decade and is now part of the National Assets Management Agency (NAMA). We want the building to be opened up for use as an educational and cultural space, managed collectively by anyone who wants to take part, independent of private or state institutions. We also want to broaden this by demanding that the NAMA legislation be changed so that all disused NAMA buildings can be used by the citizens for social and cultural projects, social housing or (in the case of undeveloped land) community gardens. It is clear that the politics of ‘elected representatives’ has completely failed in the context of the crisis- only people power and direct action can bring real change.

NAMA, which is the largest property owner in Europe, has been a key part of the state’s strategy for managing the crisis, a strategy which has unashamedly prioritized the financial system and property speculators above all else.

The crisis is also being used as a pre-text for destroying public services. Any public service that promotes equality has been attacked with increasing intensity over the last two years. Sectors such as the university and community development have seen their funding cut, and at the same time are being strangled by bureaucratic control. The message is clear- the state only values narrowly defined economic activity, in other words, it only values what investors value.

With unbelievable cynicism we are told that the state simply does not have the resources to fund public services- that equality is a luxury we can’t afford. Yet the state’s lack of resources is a direct result of pumping our collective wealth into the bailout of the banks, the speculators and the financial system. The irrationality of this is revealed when we consider that while the state claims to have no money for public services it has effectively bought an empire of empty buildings. That is one resource the state does have.

But NAMA has been set up on the basis of the same narrow economic objectives that define the state’s overall strategy. First of all, NAMA has bought the toxic debts (at inflated prices) rather than the buildings themselves. The vast majority of these debts will never be paid yet the speculators who own them still have a say in what happens to those buildings, while the citizens do not. In fact, NAMA is not subject to the Freedom of Information act and as such we’re not even able to access basic information about an agency which has gobbled up billions of euro of public money. Likewise, NAMA is limited to a few options in terms of the buildings it controls, each more irrational than the next and subject to the agreement of the developer in question. It can destroy a building, sell at a much reduced price or hold onto the building in the hope that we will return to the insanity of the property boom.

This is a con. We don’t want to see public resources bailing out speculators and we don’t want to see a return to property speculation. Dublin has been used as a casino for long enough- it’s time it became a city. NAMA buildings should belong to everyone.

There is no justification for maintaining empty publicly owned buildings while the state slashes public services. We want to use the old Dublin City Arts building for independent educational and cultural projects open to everyone. In particular, we believe that because the university is being undermined, we need a space where education is based on equality and open to all, where teaching, learning and research can become a force for change, and where the bureaucracy, competition and corporatisation of the university are replaced by a collective, participative and empowering educational process. The project will be run collectively and democratically by anyone who wants to participate and will provide space for any projects who want to organize educational or cultural activities. We are especially hopeful that the space will be a resource for those excluded from education and from the city in general.

The NAMA legislation was made by the Dáil- but what the Dáil does the people can undo.

The ‘porous’ university

There is a growing consensus that we need to find new ways of generating wealth. Sites and activities we may once have cherished as ‘independent’ or ‘autonomous’ become willing or unwilling agents in evolving mechanisms of capture and appropriation. One area where this is emerging is the university. Previously understood as the ‘ivory tower’ it was sheltered from the shifting demands of the market. As resources decline and global competition grows it must now find ways of situating itself within new networks of value. What is quietly transpiring is a fundamentally new type of institution. As the university slowly adapts as a hub for the ‘creative’ economy it must develop new relations with the city it once rejected.

In 2009 Dermot Desmond launched his new ‘philanthropic’ project: ‘Cultural Odyssey: Creating a Global University for Culture and the Performing arts’. Desmond proposed a global university based in Ireland which would become a hub for culture and the arts. It would be connected by the internet, and thus open to all, but based in a number of affiliate institutions that could hold events and real-world encounters. The online manifesto states: “Our ambition is to make the expertise and experience of universities in Ireland and around the world accessible to greater numbers of students. Equipped with the intelligence and reach of the Global Hub, we will broker the provision of modules from existing higher education providers. We shall do so by identifying demand and matching it to suppliers. This will provide new streams of income and new markets to participating institutions.

Desmond’s proposal is to ‘disrupt the current model’ of university education. What dictates this shift from the ‘traditional’ university to the ‘porous’ university? Desmond’s analysis, as usual, is accurate: the current university model is not sustainable. Even before the state decided to re-channel resources from public institutions to banks and speculators the writing was on the wall. Demand now far outstrips supply. The cost to a heavily burdened state of providing ‘traditional’ university education in Ireland alone is 428 million euro a year. Already the government and the universities have accepted the necessity of re-introducing fees as massive cuts to core funding are set to continue. As ‘traditional’ education becomes obsolete, new demands and opportunities arise. Currently these opportunities, and precisely how they can produce value, are hard to quantify: knowledge and creative output are not as easy to gauge as the production of cars or grain. One part of the institutional shift is the need to develop more efficient ways of identifying and capturing the wealth of ‘untapped’ creativity that flows through the university and the city.

What makes Desmond’s university for the arts and culture so special is that it is a not- for- profit organisation. Unlike existing universities that are being attacked for the re-introduction of fees in order to ‘survive’ Desmond can present his model as a benign, philanthropic charity encouraging the ‘best of humanity’. Fees will not be charged, state of the art facilities will be free to those who qualify on merit of their work. Money will be generated through the creation of a new brand. The aim is to create an institution like RADA or Julliard and from this brand to create connections and alliances with other institutions, spaces, activities and resources so as to build a thriving network of creativity; a constant circulation of ideas and innovation. Income will be generated by spin off projects that are be promised by such a rich concentration of creative thinking matched by the growing demand for new ‘experiences’.

Already this year, backed by artists, writers and academics, the project has a proposal to acquire the Grangegorman buildings as part of Dublin Institute of Technology. Taking up a permanent place in Bolton St. would allow the centre to develop vital connections with other institutions (including other universities) in the city and the country. Suggestions for the use of heritage houses and empty spaces (after the collapse of the property market) are made in terms of regenerating the area and developing on the already rich and successful tradition of residency programmes. These alliances would give the “incentive for the creation of a new bohemian quarter around Bolton Street and Henrietta Street, spreading towards the Liffey like a slow tributary tide, spawning galleries, studios, workshops, cafés, meeting places, exchanges and interactions of all kinds.”




Desmond is not the only one exploiting new possibilities in the provision of education and the economic value associated with it. Trinity College and UCD have been fomenting relations for several years now as they harbour ambitions of developing a united university ‘brand’. A central part of this is the idea of the university as part of a ‘creative ecosystem’ within the city.

Last year Trinity commissioned a report, ‘Creativity, the City and the University’ which identified the ‘knowledge’ city as the bedrock of the ‘smart’ economy. A ‘Cultural Policy Research Group’ is examining the ‘role of student extracurricular activity and its potential links to the university and city’, with a report due in May. A new post of ‘cultural co-ordinator’ has been established to develop and strengthen links between the university and other cultural institutions in Dublin. The example they are hoping to imitate is Columbia University in New York which had the mission of making ‘all of Manhattan our campus’.

University managers have been complaining for years about the difficulties of maintaining quality and competitive third level education without any new investment. They have been amongst the first calling for the re-introduction of fees as the only ‘rational’ thing to do. As blame for the abandonment of third level education is placed at the feet of an incompetent state these institutions are already thinking within a global context, fighting to ensure they can hold their own in an increasingly desperate struggle for resources: competing for quality lecturers who bring the promise of research funding, for international students who pay inflated tuition fees, for funding from the state, the EU and private investors, for contracts in the development of commercial knowledge for industries such as pharmaceuticals and gaming technology. The consensus that the market is our only reality becomes evident when our education is subordinated to this constant demand to ‘adapt’ to the irrationalities of global competition.

‘Creativity’ has the benefit of appearing as universally positive and benign. But it is clear that it is an intrinsic part of an emerging consensus on the future of the university, the city and the economy. The ‘creative’ university, in the ‘creative’ city, is not just the avant-garde of capitalism; it is also the emergence of a new form of institutionality, one that makes familiar distinctions between the ‘inside’ and the ‘outside’ impossible. When students stormed the university walls in 1968 their mission was to liberate new desires, to create a university open to all. Now we are faced with the prospect of a monstrous institution that is attempting to do just that. The institution becomes the instrument of market logic, enclosing more areas of the city, extending the consensus.

But our creativity remains our power, emerging from our thoughts, our desires and our relationships. Creativity is our commons. The question is how to turn this power into counter-institutional power, resistance that works against the consensus. To begin with we need to stop thinking so positively. We need to refuse the happy consensus on creativity. We need to resist being part of the solution. We need to develop a new counter-culture borne out of a negation of the emerging status quo. We need to claim spaces and activities of antagonism, ‘unaesthetic’ alliances and collaborations that challenge the limited and exclusive vision of the ‘creative’ city.

P. Bresnihan