The National Neighbourhood builds cultural projects with communities across Dublin City, connecting artists, groups, and villages with libraries, museums and creative places.
The programme runs all year round and invites individuals and groups to explore, see and make culture in their place with people they know. These new experiences and explorations are the foundation for people to build creativity into their everyday lives, and to stay connected through culture and conversation.
Evan Musgrave, Creative Engagement Coordinator at Dublin City Council Culture Company, has been hosting many of The National Neighbourhood projects, steering groups through their cultural journeys with a steady hand. Below, he reflects on his experience of The National Neighbourhood, and how it adapted to moving online.
Exploring where and who we are
It’s St. Patrick's Day, 2021.
For months, individual days have often struggled to feel distinct, but today has an air of being a definite day. I've got my green shirt on and a smile on my face. The time is 10:58. On Zoom, I can see some names in the waiting room, soon to be transformed into squares, populated by increasingly familiar faces. I grab a glass of water and settle back at the laptop. When the clock hits 11am, I hit Admit All, and they appear. Without prior coordination, at least half of the group are also sporting green. It’s bittersweet. We’d all love to be outdoors, or with family or friends, celebrating our national day. But the absence of a traditional community doesn’t mean an untraditional one can’t form in its place.
So here we are, with my 14 Henrietta Street colleague, Pat Garry, ready to deliver his tour de force presentation, Dublin Street Names. Pat brings us on a stirring tour around the city, highlighting barely ever noticed façade features, etymological quirks, social and cultural lore that switches from hilarious to affecting without a moment’s notice. If we’d planned a virtual parade, it wouldn’t have compared to it. We all depart after the talk united in our thirst to explore our city, in the pride of where we are, and who we are.
This is just one weekly session with one group in my experience of coordinating The National Neighbourhood in an online format over the past year or so. It’s just one example of collective inspiration among many others. Each group forms for a number of consecutive weeks, meeting at the same time slot. Each week involves a new direction, a new angle of experiencing Dublin’s cultural life. From collaborating on narrative interpretations of artworks with Dublin City Arts Office and The LAB Gallery, to discussing plays created during the pandemic with The Abbey, to uncovering the layers of ancient artefacts with the Chester Beatty: each week we get together to absorb, discuss, share and generate ideas.
Working on the coordination of the project has been a learning process in so many ways. Sometimes it’s an intellectual form of learning, sometimes it comes in the form of emotional understanding. What’s been special is that the project has been built on a feedback loop with the participants.
My earliest days in the role involved manning the phones to explain the concept of The National Neighbourhood to interested people. Someone remarked that the name sounded a bit like a security company. I shared a hearty laugh with them. It was a seemingly innocuous remark, but one I’ve often thought back on. In having immediate laughs with strangers, who quickly form a bond through each weekly session, there’s a sense that we’re all bolstering each other. We’re all discovering more, refusing to let a pandemic shore up our options. We look out for each other. We bring the magic of our neighbourhoods into collective appreciation.
Our community exists on Zoom, but we also zoom out from local to wider concerns. The unexpected sense of togetherness continues to surprise, and this gives a sense of security in strange times.
For me, the passage of this conversational remark into a broader framework taps into the essence of what The National Neighbourhood is about - an exciting space for discussion is set up, a moment of magic emerges in conversation, and an idea is born from it.
During a time when it’s been easy to get lost in one’s own thoughts, being part of a new form of community makes all the difference. Though the medium may be new, the enchanting effect of human interaction remains. The more times I hit the Admit All button, the more I saw the friendly faces reappear and engage, and the more in keeping with tradition our new community felt.
Evan Musgrave is a Creative Engagement Coordinator with Dublin City Council Culture Company. Previously he has worked in various tour guide roles in Dublin, including at 14 Henrietta Street. He also dabbles in poetry and visual art.
We are currently running a series of follow on projects that emerged from The National Neighbourhood earlier this year, and will be sharing more information about those soon.
We will be announcing a new open call for participants for The National Neighbourhood in the new year. If you’d like to find out more you can get in touch with the team at firstname.lastname@example.org or sign up to our newsletter.