Niche culture is being squeezed out in what has become a survival of the richest. The newer offerings feel like synthetic commercialised experiences, transforming Dublin into yet another faceless city.
In the last year we lost the Tivoli Theatre to apartments and the Bernard Shaw closed its doors on Richmond Street. These, among other culture-rich venues, are closing for a variety of reasons but the controversial trend seems to result in building sites for new offices, apartments and hotels.
That’s not to say it’s all bad. New spaces bring with them upgraded facilities that can cope with modern living, however, many of the new venues introduced to Dublin are indistinguishable chains who offer as much culture as an IKEA showroom.
I do love ‘modern’ and superficial elegance is a guilty pleasure. I’m not oblivious to the desperate need for more accommodation, residential or otherwise. But fixing one problem shouldn’t result in creating another. This influx is resulting in the trampling of the very same culture that made the city attractive in the first place.
The situation could be solved with better protections and proper planning. The Temple Bar model of the 1990’s was successful in protecting places of historical and cultural importance. One thing to note from that was it was an area-based policy which is easier to regulate unlike ‘ad hoc’ venues which are more vulnerable to greater forces. The thing about Temple Bar, however, is it has become somewhat of a tourist extravaganza, which brings me to another form of culture stripping where, instead of venue closures, you have a transformation into overly commercialised venues that strip out both the authenticity as well as the regulars.
Take our best known LGBT+ venues; constantly invaded by hen parties and/or those on girls’-nights-out seeking respite from the straight male gaze. A futile exercise, for inevitably they are trailed by lads on the prowl. Normalisation in LGBT+ culture has made us victims of our own success with our social venues becoming mere tourist attractions.
The indigenous patrons are been driven away because we no longer feel comfortable in what are supposed to be safe havens. Some of us end up feeling more like the entertainment than the customer.
LGBT+ venues are more than places of entertainment. They serve as a place of sanctuary where we can be ourselves without fear of heckling or judgement. They also serve as a way to make it just a little bit easier to ‘find someone’ in a world where we can’t assume someone we like is on our side of the fence.
LGBT+ culture being open to everyone is an integral part of the normalisation process into wider society, so there is no solution to this other than by educating our non-LGBT+ friends to understand that by occupying our limited number of venues, they are taking away space from those of us who actually need it. Those of us who are there shouldn’t be made to feel like performers or feel intimidated for flirting; being single is hard enough!
Finally to the culture cravers out there, it may feel like authentic venues are an endangered species; but what makes authenticity is not the venues themselves but the patrons who make them their own. Ireland is unique in that it can be slow to change but when it does, it takes leaps, which result in fast transition periods that many of us were not expecting.
Niche cultures can make these shiny new venues authentically their own, it’s just about giving them the time and love to find their identity.