When arts space Block T first set up camp in the Smithfield area around six years ago, there wasn’t an awful lot in the neighbourhood.
“There was no Third Space, no Oscars, no Generator, no Jo’Burger . . . there was nothing really,” says Grace McEvoy, programming director at Block T.
Now, it’s more of a destination, and, for Block T members, that has come with a price: their rent has gone up, and it looks like they’re going to have to move out of their cosy studios by 31 March, and move on to another building.
That’s if they can find a space elsewhere.
There are about 120 creatives — artists, graphic designers, web developers, performers — who work at Block T at the moment and risk being left without a space, says Managing Director Laura Garbatavicivte-Dovn. “The city is exposed with this big problem, now.”
So, they’ll be scouting Dublin to find a new spot. They are open to ideas.
“We’re open for any opportunities, you know,” says Garbatavicivte-Dovn. “We have the understanding that this transition might take us time, and we might have to downsize our activities while we are, you know, revisiting what we are doing.”
An Ongoing Debate
The struggles of Block T are likely to reignite the debate over whether more should, or can, be done to protect art studios and spaces in the city.
Last year saw the closure of Broadstone Studios. Others disappeared the year before: Moxie Studios in Dublin 2, the Mabos Project on Hanover Quay, Market Studios in Dublin 7 and the Joinery in Stoneybatter.
It’s a much wider problem than just Block T, says Garbatavicivte-Dovn. “With the market changing, all these independents, they have to have some sort of assurances about culture remaining in Dublin.”
She wants to see a wider debate and dialogue about the value of culture and art spaces to the city, that would involve all kinds of parties. For instance, from developers who are into their culture, to the tourist office who might want to tap more into the city’s cultural scene more and independent spaces.
Artist-cleansing rent hikes are a problem that Dublin City Council is aware of. It is trying to move beyond just trouble-shooting for individual cases to some kind of wider strategy, said Dublin City Arts Officer Ray Yeates.
As the council sees it, the problem is one of supply and demand, a shortage of space, and so encouraging developers to include space for cultural uses in new developments is key. But even if cultural spaces do add value, given how tetchy developers can be about restrictions on new builds, this is unlikely to be easy.
“It’s tough,” says Yeates. “How much do you legislate for these things? And how much do you just leave it to the market?”
Another route, he says, is to have some kind of cultural letting agency, as they do in some cities. That’d be a company dedicated to sourcing studio space, not too dissimilar from what Rathmines-based The Mart (our landlord) is doing.
Even as they begin to pack up the premises, and sift through the accumulated odds and ends, both McEvoy and Garbatavicivte-Dovn have a vision for how they’d like to continue to evolve in the future.
“Block T isn’t planning to close. It’s planning to move on and move forward,” says McEvoy.
In the last six years, they’ve piloted several projects: from the original warehouse a few doors down, where they started, to the ground-floor cafe and events space, and the programming and studios.
They’d like to bring some of those projects back, knit them together as part of a longer-term plan, perhaps with some crowd-funding along the way if needed, she said.
It’s a constant process of trying new things when you run a space and community like Block T, says Garbatavicivte-Dovn. “I suppose this is just the greatest challenge to date.”
UPDATE (Thurs 28 Jan at 14:00): You can read Block T’s statement, released on 26 January, here.