All art institutes and cultural bodies need a combination of factors to survive and thrive. They need of course a source of creative talent and material to promote and promulgate. Then there are the passionate individuals who maintain, foster and administer the particular body. But they also need that latent reservoir of visitors, punters, consumers of culture, call them what you will – recipients of their disseminations. This will be their sustainable revenue stream in the parlance of contemporary business-led culture. But what if you build said institute and no one comes? We have seen that with the proliferation of local art establishments created in our booming economy in recent years. Many did not have a sustainable pool of public from which to draw revenue. The Visual Centre in Carlow is perhaps unfairly presented as a prime example of the lack of a sustainable indigenous catchment cultural populace to allow an institute thrive and survive.
So all cultural bodies in the new leaner competitive period we live in have to get out there and get people moving through those imaginary turnstiles. Leverage all potential revenue streams. Work all the available channels.
So it is with the recently held annual Culture Night. Ostensibly it is means for people who wouldn’t normally do so to ‘Explore, Experience and Enjoy’ their city in a new invigorating way or to simply re-engage and see things in the new light of an evening encounter. The concept proved a success elsewhere and over its eight years in Dublin it has grown into a veritable smörgåsbord of culture. There is always too much to see and do. Cultural fatigue sets in endeavouring to tick off venues on a cultural menu like some obsessive cultural twitcher.
At the core though should be the quest to encounter something new or overlooked or unforeseen. All experienced in night-light starkness. To feel that exquisite frisson that adheres to uniqueness and authenticity. I’ve experienced this most years at Culture Night. Travelling with fellow stumbled-upon punters these happenstances usually emanate from the random and wonderful encounters with experts, amateurs, enthusiasts and passionate devotees. This is what is captivating about any city. Over the course of several Culture Nights I have been enthused by many intriguing and wonderful buildings and situations. I have made it a self-mission to make sure I include something that one would not encounter on a regular stampede through the cultural undergrowth. Seeing small children transfixed and hyper in equal measures in a spookily lit Natural History Museum is a joy. Getting to eat poshed-up versions of nineteenth century gruel in the Mendicity Institute (http://www.mendicity.org/about.htm), discovering quixotic books tucked away on the library shelves in the Masonic Hall on Molesworth Street or sitting in the original benches from Grattan’s House of Parliament in the Royal Irish Academy to trying out my graffiti creds at demonstrations in Francis Street have all been fun experiences.
Culture Night has grown over the years and thankfully become embedded in the cultural calendar.
But why just one night a year? I have been to many art institutes in other countries after dark, all legitimately I hasten to add, but with the promise of something specific to that night and not to be seen on an average Sunday afternoon cruise for a culture fix.
I have always felt a desire to see something completely unique to Culture Night – a bespoke and one-off event or performance primed for that night only. I long for the uniqueness of say Manchester’s International Festival (http://www.mif.co.uk/). A simple diktat – that everything staged, must be original and new. Such a concept is of course not possible or indeed necessarily appropriate to Culture Night in Dublin, Cork or Limerick. There is always the requisite musical and dance performances at many venues and locations for Culture Night and indeed site specific art installations too. But I do long for that something special. The idea that I have ventured out of my comfort zone as a cultural consumer and that I am being challenged in some way with a creative event that is for one night and one night only. Something that is specifically designed for Culture Night and that you will not experience on any regular visit.
I crave a Culture Night where I am amazed and dumbfounded – something a little more audacious. I seek the Shock of the New.