Post ‘Celtic Tiger’ Ireland has more than its fair share of challenges. One being the endless amount of vacant space across the state. The Phibsboro Karate Club provides one possible solution. Barry Healy caught up with one of the projects founders, Eric, to find out more.
No, it’s not an actual karate club, but a collectively run space providing; rehearsal space for bands, a training and break-dancing area, a film club, an info shop and a screen printing workshop.
Back in 2007 there was growing interest in establishing a collective space amongst Eric and other like minded people. Two of Eric’s mates had started a space in Drumcondra. ‘It didn’t last because of the landlord’s demands for obscene rent back in the boom times’ he explains. Wanting to emulate this but on a bigger scale ‘a larger collective got together and started a new space in North Dublin, renting a 1000 sq ft. Industrial unit. It just started from there’.
As one can imagine there was quite a heavy workload involved in turning an industrial shell into a workable space.
‘We had to build the room from scratch as cheaply as possible, source all the materials and do the work ourselves. You’re talking lots of plastering and work with fibreglass, timber frame construction and not a chippy among us’.
They began by building a sound-proofed room, over the years adding new things bit by bit. It was not only the construction work which posed a serious challenge but also getting the money together. It was never going to be easy as Eric points out they “started with a smaller group and getting the rent together when everyone working minimum wages jobs, students or on the dole isn’t easy”.
The group persevered, doing “a lot of fundraising gigs. We were all involved in the punk scene so it wasn’t hard to find bands and venues. Bohemians FC were really accommodating giving their bar for pretty much nothing so we could put on gigs. This provided a good chuck of the money to keep going”.
The running of the space has been an ongoing learning experience especially as it and those who use it has grown. Most involved came from punk or anarchist backgrounds so wanted to do it completely independent from government funding.
“It’s run collectively. We have meetings and an online forum where issues can be raised and we try to run the space on a consensus basis. Everyone has the same stake and we try to completely eliminate any hierarchies. It is a work in progress you know? We’re trying to run it that way and learning as we go.” Seeking government funding is not ruled out completely, citing the connections with The Warzone centre in Belfast, who receive much funding from arts grants. Eric believes their situation is somewhat different.
“Up there they are more likely to get funding because it is a non-sectarian project and its seen as a positive thing” while “down here it seems from talking to others who’ve applied for grants there’s a lot of conditions that go with it and you have to start looking at liability insurance and official bureaucracy’s that come with it.
The space has been in operation since 2007 and continues to grow, especially over the past 12 months. Eric attributes this to the ongoing growth of the punk and independent music scene in Dublin and “the more desperate things becomes the more people want to be creative. We have actually had to put a cap on membership as we’re at capacity. We have had to introduce more rigidity in how the space is run.”
Even with all the trials and tribulations that come with such a project Eric believes firmly in the need and importance of such space explaining, “They are absolutely essential to any kind of counter-culture. Space is really important. I think now more than ever, I mean look at the state of the country and the amount of empty buildings. Once the space is provided that gives the scope for everything, to organise from or escape all the things frustrating you in the real world“.
Only time will tell if we shall see the emergence of similar spaces throughout Dublin or Ireland? For now the Phibsboro Karate Club is a shining example of what can be achieved through collective action, dedication and hard graft.