“Dublin has been through the ringer the last couple of years in seeing how spaces come and go”
During my four years of college in Dublin, I’ve witnessed the city’s cultural spaces vanish in an increasingly alarming disappearing act. Some spots such as the capital’s beloved nightclub Hangar have shut down completely, while others like Dublin Digital Radio and Hen’s Teeth have been forced to relocate in order to survive. With COVID-19 forcing the closure of bars, clubs and studios, there is a very real threat that this erosion of the capital’s culture will accelerate rapidly.
Whispers of Jaja’s uncertain future in Stoneybatter had been circulating for the last year and the owner’s interest in selling the properly was confirmed earlier this month. While the pandemic didn’t directly cause this eviction, the unfortunate circumstances are putting the housing crisis under a microscope. A growing number of offices, social spaces and cultural hubs are now being left to try and find new locations while dealing with precarious cash flows. It’s an unfortunate trend that looks increasingly more common, highlighted by the heavy-handed treatment of Nick’s Coffee Company’s storage area.
Having been based in Stoneybatter for almost a decade, Jaja studios have hosted an average of forty events a week ranging from film screenings to meetings for activist groups. Now facing eviction and inspired by the successful Dublin Digital Radio campaign to raise funds for a new permanent studio space, Jaja have launched their own GoFundMe campaign with the target of making €20,000 to secure a “new, better, and permanent space.”
Speaking to multi-disciplinary artist Katie O’Neill over the phone about the campaign and Jaja’s ethos, her passion and enthusiasm is immediately obvious. Having been a member of the collectively run studios for seven years, she’s vocal in her pride of the hub’s achievements and continued presence in the local community.
Katie, who focuses on sound art, is a member of the band Alien She who recorded most of their debut album in Jaja, which is home to a recording studio, low-cost practise room, and gig space. Katie laughs that in the early days it was “ramshackle and chaos,” born out of “a spirit of creating an anti-capitalist creative space” envisioning a centre where people could create and organise without, “feeling like you had to sell a product.” She mentions that one of the early members and a fellow musician, Tommy Foster was inspired by the left-wing ethos of centres such as Spraoi in Jigsaw.
I mention the other spaces in Dublin which have had to shut or adapt, sometimes becoming more commercial or divorced from their radical origins.
“We want something better for Dublin,” she replies “somewhere outside of the capitalist spaces – somewhere we can be creative and make friends without that bullshit”.
“Dublin has been through the ringer the last couple of years in seeing how spaces come and go,” she recounts, emphasising the importance of “learning the value of those spaces.”
When looking at not just the number, but the types of events that the studios have hosted, the value of a space like Jaja is obvious and despite becoming more organised, it still retains its DIY co-operative ethos. Exemplified by a friend of mine holding the first of his Follain multimedia exhibitions in the space showcasing local art, music, and film-making.
Importantly it has also been used to fund-raise for services such as the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, with activist groups such as Refugee and Migrant Solidarity in Ireland relying on meeting spaces in Jaja to organise and fundraise. RAMSI shared the fundraising appeal commenting that “it would have been impossible to do a lot of our projects over the last few years without their help.”
For an arts culture and communities to thrive, creative and meeting spaces are necessary. With Dublin’s current property crisis being exacerbated by the global pandemic, these spaces are increasingly under threat and Dublin’s creative and cultural scene risks being hollowed.
“A space like that is gold” Katie states proudly, “we are trying to fight for our space… you have to go out fighting.”