Dublin City: Supporting social and cultural inclusion through festivals and events
In recent decades Dublin has become increasingly culturally diverse and is now home to more people of non-Irish origin than anywhere else in the state. The city has undergone significant transformations, driven largely by ‘technological advance, demographic shifts, and by new forms of social participation and expression’ (Dublin City Council, 2016: 5). Through a series of partnerships crossing public, private and community domains, the city is actively strategizing to meet the challenges and avail of the opportunities that these transformations afford, and engagement, inclusion and integration are key underpinning principles. To this end, investing in festivals and events is one of the strategies that the city has prioritized in recent years. Every year, the city’s events calendar is increasingly filled with events that seek to simultaneously serve a range of urban renewal, place marketing and revenue generating aims as well as social and cultural ambitions.
It is against this backdrop that the Dublin FESTSPACE researchers position their work. The team, consisting of Dr. Bernadette Quinn and Dr. Theresa Ryan, recognise that while festivals and events have much potential for promoting cultural and social inclusion in Dublin, little is actually known about their impacts in this regard. Their research addresses this knowledge gap by exploring the extent to which festival and events staged in public spaces across Dublin: influence sense of identity and belonging; facilitate encounters between diverse groups of people; play a transformative role in making and remaking public spaces in the city, and inform the way in which attendees interact and connect with the city post event.
The research adopts a number of methods including short ‘go-along’ interviews with festival and event attendees, surveys, observations, photographic material as well as in-depth interviews with key informants in both the public and private sector. Key to the research are the Associate partners; Dublin City Council and the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, whose support for the project facilitates not only access to the festivals and events, but also key insight into policy decisions and plans regarding festivals and events in the city.
To-date, the team has undertaken research at a number of festivals, including the Dublin Festival of History, an annual, free event organised by Dublin City Libraries and held in libraries and other public buildings across the city. Of particular significance to the researchers is the fact that some parts of the 2019 festival programme commemorated the War of Independence (1919 – 1921), a momentous event in the emergence and evolution of the modern Irish state. This provided an interesting backdrop for investigating notions of inclusivity and identity among attendees at the festival. Working closely with Dublin City Libraries, interviews and surveys were undertaken at Dublin City Library and Archive’s exhibition on ‘The War of Independence in the City’, at talks in six local libraries across the city, as well as in the Printworks, Dublin Castle.
The team has also been gathering data at a number of festivals and events staged in outdoor public spaces across the city. The selection of spaces was influenced by Dublin City Council’s 2018 event strategy, which identifies 8 spaces in the city where ‘events are encouraged ‘ these include: 3 squares (Smithfield Square, Meeting House Square and Barnardo’s Square), three parks (Merrion Square Park, Mountjoy Square Park and St. Patricks Park); one street (South King Street) as well as Wood Quay Amphitheatre, a public amphitheatre located in Dublin’s Civic Offices. Within these spaces a number of festivals and events have been the focus of the research including, for example, the Hotter than July festival, a free, one day ‘family friendly world music festival’ staged in Smithfield Square, an area on the north side of the city that has seen dramatic regeneration and development in recent years. Additionally, Culture Night, an annual celebration of art, culture and heritage in the city, provided an opportunity to undertake research in Meeting House Square in Temple Bar, an area in the city best known for its lively nightlife, variety of bars and restaurants and for playing host to crowds of tourists. As part of Culture Night, Dublin City Council staged a free children’s event in the square, and findings emerging from the data gathered provide important insights into how festivals and events can animate and transform public spaces, in this instance from a space primarily perceived as a tourist and nightlife hot spot into a more family friendly space.
Additional fieldwork involved two outdoor events staged by Dublin City Council in Merrion Square on Dublin’s south-side, at the ‘homecoming’ event celebrating the Dublin football teams’ (both men and women) reign as All-Ireland football champions; and in St. Patricks Park at ‘Stokerland’ a family festival held as part of the city’s Bram Stoker festival. Again, the researchers engaged with people attending the events, encouraging them to talk about their identify and connections with public space, and about how the events under study affect their use of the spaces.
Moving forward, the team plan to revisit these city spaces, as new festivals and events take place, exploring how different events impact both the spaces and those who attend. Research is also continuing through interviews and discussions with city officials, planners, event organisers, architects etc. as the project continues to understand the ways in which festivals and events align with the city’s plans for making Dublin a more inclusive city.