On Friday, the aptly titled annual Culture Night returned to Ireland, providing a new and imaginative way for people to participate in the country's diverse cultural life. The Culture Night National initiative, co-coordinated by Temple Bar Cultural Trust (TBCT) and supported by the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism, encourages hundreds of venues around the country to showcase specially selected cultural events.
During the evening, much of the formality surrounding the arts is abandoned as a wide range of art forms is presented, including visual art, architecture, dance, music, poetry, street performance, painting, lectures and theatre. Rather than targeting this programme at a cultural elite, organisers aim to be as inclusive as possible. Venues stay open until midnight and artists, curators, and the public mingle. Best of all, the events are free.
In Dublin, 124 venues opened their doors to the public. Highlights of the night included dancing to La Vie en Rose in the Civic Offices Atrium, a 50-foot inflatable whale in Wolfe Tone Park, the Discovery Gospel Choir on Exchequer Street, a martial arts performance, a barbershop quartet in St Stephens Green Park, Cuban drummers on Henry Street, Thai dancing in Ranelagh and a multimedia show in Meeting House Square.
Many residents changed their usual Friday night routines in order to seek out new cultural experiences. "Culture Night has once again been the ultimate platform to showcase Irish cultural treasures that are accessible to everyone," said Grainne Millar, the head of cultural development at TBCT. "In these times, it is more important than ever for Culture Night to connect with families and strengthen the relationship between culture and the public ... so that we can imagine a different future where culture is recognised as an intrinsic dimension to our development and growth as a society," Millar said.
The growing popularity of the event pays testament to the potential of this vision. Launched in Dublin in 2006, Culture Night initially attracted an audience of 40,000. Friday's event, which marked the fourth year of the initiative, spanned 11 cities and drew a crowd of over half a million people. The accessibility and imagination at the heart of the project also encouraged some of the world's most exciting contemporary galleries to join in the festivities. London's pioneering Open Gallery presented a unique visual experience through video painting (a new form of video art created by the Artscape Project) exhibited work at Dublin's Mill Street Studios.
"We were attracted by the strong sense of creative community pulling together to do something unusual and, ultimately, great fun," said the gallery director Will Smith. "We are doing something genuinely new and different," he said. "We believe elements of what our artists are currently exploring hold significant ideas about the future shape of not just video art but also the rapidly growing digital visual space. As such, we want as many people as possible to see our artists' work and to ignite discussions of their experience of it. Culture Night gave us a magnificent opportunity to unveil a very recently completed collection of video studies by one of our most promising young artists, Gabrielle Le Bayon, in front of a large and unusually varied audience. We'll be back next year."