At a recent “One City, One people” conference hosted by Dublin City Council, Ash Amin argued against the politics of catastrophe and for the politics of hope. His words struck a chord with many of those present. It’s probably fair to say that large numbers of us are increasingly despairing about the unrelenting and hope sapping quality of much of the current media coverage. Good news stories are few and far between. But there are many stories out there that demonstrate the capacity of people to act in creative ways, to be resilient and to make good things happen in their localities.
Last week I attended the Wexford Opera festival, which has been running every year since its foundation in 1951. What an imaginative leap for a small town in Ireland to come up with the idea of staging opera, recitals and concerts over a two week autumnal period. Undoubtedly, the originators were considered half mad at a time in Ireland when we were still shrouded in De Valera’s insularity. Over the years the festival has garnered loyal audiences and festival goers come from all over the world. The festival put Wexford on the international cultural map long before sociologists began writing about the potential of culture to re-invent urban economies. During the weeks of the festival the town of Wexford is alive with people. Restaurants and bars are buzzing, established galleries show a wide range of contemporary art and “flash” art galleries pop up everywhere. Wexford happens because of the blend of state support, private philanthropy and the efforts put in by hundreds of volunteers from within the local community. This partnership has been working for the last 59 years and looks set to continue into the future. It is a template of excellence and a model of how a good idea with the right support can turn into something with economic, cultural and social value.
Elsewhere, another initiative albeit on a smaller scale, demonstrates the dividends to be reaped from people working together creatively in their local context. On Sunday, October 31 the Dublin Mountain Partnership (DMP) which was established to improve the recreational experience for users of lands in the Dublin mountains opened a new trail 43km long which stretches from Shankill in the East of the City to Tallaght in the West threading through some of the most spectacular scenery in the East of the country. Coillite has worked alongside the local councils and with a team of volunteer rangers to develop this amenity which is literally on the doorstep of many of Dublin’s newest suburbs. Volunteer rangers act in a stewardship role and patrol the mountains at weekends offering information and advice as well as assisting in emergencies. They also lead walks and special activities for newcomers to the hills. See www.dublinmountains.ie. The DMP also operates buses from the Luas at Tallaght and Sandyford to the mountains. So, if you’ve had enough of the gloom and doom during the week do yourself a favour and go climb a mountain at the weekend.