If you look up 100 Francis Street on Google maps, you’ll see Liz O’Connor sitting outside. Liz is the heart and soul of the Liberties Breakfast & After School Club. This is a place with a face, although its places and faces are shifting, as it had to move here from its previous premises down the street and, each school year, different kids come and go.
When you look up Dublin Castle, the visuals tell a different story: transient visitors surrounded by the architecture of power. Try to link the two on the map and you realise how short the distance between them is and what a powerful tool this grid can be in the right hands.
So that’s what we did. I called into Liz and her volunteers (distance was no excuse) with a view to partnering with the club on a youth arts project that would use the castle and I put together an application for the Artist in Youth Work Residency grant. Under the guidance of three super-resourceful and ever patient artists, the kids weaved their creative paths, through drawing, painting and other playful (and delightfully messy) interventions in their art room in Francis Street, at the castle and in the streets in between.
The physical distance might be short but other obstacles came our way,that we often overcame through NYCI’s support, which was not just financial. Niamh Dillon often made me see opportunities masquerading as problems and so did the three resident artists, each in their own way: Debbie Chapman delivered the first phase and Mark Connolly with Michael Bruce Weston took over after the summer of 2015.
On a rainy Saturday last June, a bunch of adults gathered in Dublin Castle for a walk entitled ‘Creative Mapping’. The idea was to guide them through the odyssey of the project and share some thoughts and ideas with (potentially) interested outsiders.
In the education room of Dublin Castle, Michael Bruce laid out the grid of the Liberties with the various drawings of the kids overlaid on it and (inadvertently) mapping the city in an alternative way. After visiting the places that the kids used, including the artists’ studios, we reconvened at the castle to experiment with some curatorial interventions with the kids’ artworks. Back in March the children had done something similar with the works of the ‘Methodical Wanderers’, a group of adult makers who have engaged with Dublin Castle since 2014. And the web of exchanges carries on.
So, how does this fit in what we do as an organisation and in how we can connect with others?
The OPW has a statement of ‘strategy’, in which I dig for words to back up this and other future projects: I find ‘sustainable and innovative services’ and ‘greater utilisation of the state Heritage Portfolio as an educational resource’. And yet I resent the word ‘strategy’. It means ‘leading an army’. When business theorists tried to develop a common language, they resorted to the pool of military terminology, which eventually became staple semantic diet for most organisations. This language of warfare does not really do justice to the young people we try to support and to the way they carve out their daily paths. For us, this is not about leading an army along a predetermined grid to a predetermined target, it is about cherishing the unexpected wisdom witnessed and created through a process that involves real people and real places, not targets.
To us, Aristotle matters more than Alexander. This is not a strategy, it’s a philosophy. And hopefully one that will put us on our young people’s map.