An Interview With The Joinery: “Staggering On Is Not An Option.”

In Blog, Culture, Interviews, Politicsby Rashers Tierney3 Comments



This pioneer of Dublin’s independent arts spaces, that now dot the city, is facing a tragic closure. Unless of course, people reach deep and get behind them. We caught up with two of the founders over email.

Firstly, what is The Joinery? How did it start up and looking at the project now, is it in a place you’d have seen it evolve to when setting out?

The Joinery was set up by us (Miranda Driscoll and Feargal Ward) in 2008. We were looking for a space to work from and to share with other artists. We found a great space that sort of dictated the rest; gallery, project space – for music performances etc. We are pretty happy with how it turned out. In many ways it has exceeded our expectations.

When The Joinery opened up a few years ago, it was one of very few places that was experimenting with BYOB gigs, and taking advantage of the downturn in property for creative and social enterprises. At that time, were there models or spaces in other European countries, that you guys looked to and went “wow, we really should try do that here?” Being involved in the arts and sometimes travelling to other countries definitely had an impact on our thinking. It wasn’t one specific country or scene that influenced us as such. Being able to walk into a city building where you weren’t hassled or had to buy something or throw your cash behind a bar was a big incentive for us in setting up the Joinery. In a country obsessed by money at the time, it felt relevant to be engaged in a project that ran counter to this, but it did evolve in a very ad hoc way at first.

Someone I know on Facebook mentioned the campaign for you guys, saying something along the lines of “people should get behind this because so many ‘firsts’ happened here. Can you let us in on what sort of acts or artists had their early gigs there and perhaps went on to bigger and brighter things?

We try to support local artists as much as possible and, yes we have seen quite a few acts and artists develop their practices over the years. It’s always good to see people explore new working methods and we have been lucky to work with some great people over the years. Many of the music acts who played the Joinery in the ‘early days’ are still regular performers; Cian Nugent, Thread Pulls, Sean MacErlaine, Patrick Kelleher to name but a few. What we have tried to achieve with the programming of the Joinery is to create a space where visual art and music performance can meet. You might come to see the performance of an improvising musician from Cork trying out a new collaboration but end up remembering the video works of a Belfast artist in the connecting gallery space.

There’s a lot of online chitter chatter about Stoneybatter as something of a hipsterville, right or wrong, people do tend to see spaces like The Joinery as part and parcel of the gentrification process first come the artists, then the property prices shoot up. How do you guys feel about this? Do you link in with the more traditional residents in the area at all?

This is a fairly standard cycle that often occurs during recessionary periods; rents go down, artists move in, housing and rents go up, artists move out and look for somewhere cheaper. However I don’t think this gentrification idea currently applies to Dublin, and hasn’t since Temple Bar in the 80’s. This happens in Brooklyn and Berlin, but not really here right now, but who knows what the future holds. A myth that has arisen is that loads of buildings and spaces have become available and are opening up as artist-run spaces etc. But in reality this hasn’t really happened in a significant way. We still have rent to pay and we are paying the same amount of rent that we were five years ago. Properties are still prohibitively expensive to lease and landlords are largely happy to sit on empty stock.

In terms of linking in with more ‘traditional residents’ as you put it, well yes of course we do our best to keep everyone informed about our programme and what is coming up; we try to be inclusive but you can’t make someone walk through the door, you just have to make it as welcome as you can when they do.

What’s hindering The Joinery staying open? Is it just a general withdrawl of grant funding and so on as austerity bites down?

The Joinery is completely run by unpaid volunteers. Any sporadic funding we receive helps to keep the doors open and programme the gallery and performance space. Funding is becoming ever harder to obtain and we need it more than ever before. There has to be a limit to the good will and the unpaid assistance that the Joinery has received from the many artists, musicians and volunteers that have helped make it what it is.

Is it hard to run a space like The Joinery? Us rabblers have heard nightmare reports from various venue operators about just how strict health and safety is here, like it’s almost overly bearing. Do you think issues like that stand in the way of spaces being able to survive, say through running more regular rent parties and the like?

Of course it’s hard; long hours, no money, fast turnover of events etc; you need a lot of energy and you have to constantly think on your feet, especially when it comes to paying the bills. We have no issues in terms of health and safety and we don’t rent the space out for parties. We learnt long ago not to do late nights so that’s probably one of the reasons we are still around.

With rabble, we’re trying to etch out a rather critical voice that is partially a response to recession. We have a line somewhere buried in our about us that runs something like “many naively celebrate the creative side of the recession and utter non-committal grumbles about how we got here.” As people, who are far more involved and aware of the underground arts and music scenes in the city – how do you feel it has responded to recession? Have you seen the emergence of any common themes or forms of address that suggest something of a movement developing? Or are people just quietly doing their own thing?

I think that there is certainly both an appetite and a mandate for both more politically engaged work in contemporary art and that this is a reflection of the times we live in. But change is slow. There is certainly an atmosphere of ‘re-looking’ or looking back, but occasionally that can veer too close to nostalgia. This is still an incredibly conservative country, we can see that in how our arts are funded. In terms of the arts thriving in times of recession; while there are exciting things happening here, it is dangerous for the arts to celebrate its resilience in the face of recession as in the long term it will only damage itself and allow government bodies to justify massive cuts in funding.

Can you let our readers know what you have in store should this go through? If you don’t make the deadline with it, what then? Will you close up or just find new ways to struggle along?

We need this Fundit campaign to succeed in full in order to continue. Without it we will have to close. If successful we will enact our most ambitious programme to date, involving a range of incredible artists whose work challenge and subvert the status quo. To stagger on is not an option.

Get behind their fundit campaign here.


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