WHEN ARTISTS KEVIN Bohan and Aga Szot start their shift volunteering at Dublin city centre’s Icon Factory, they have a number of daily tasks to undertake.
But at the gallery space and retail store, they don’t just have to deal with stock, artists and visitors – they also have to deal with syringes, human waste and piles of discarded rubbish.
The Icon Factory is a non-profit volunteer artist cooperative located in Temple Bar, one of the capital’s main tourist areas, and helps to promote Irish art and culture.
But being based by Bedford Lane, Aston Place, Price’s Lane and Bedford Lane, it is not just right in the heart of a historic part of the city, but one that is frequently used as a toilet facility by people in the area.
Bohan told TheJournal.ie that at Icon Factory they don’t judge those who have to use the laneways as toilet facilities, because there are no public toilets in the area.
However, he and his fellow volunteers would like more Dublin City Council cleaning staff available to help clean up the area, and more policing.
Their situation demonstrates the problems experienced by business owners in Temple Bar – but also how it is possible to work together to bring about change.
At the Icon Factory, they have seen some changes since they first set up in 2010, bringing local businesses and hotels on board in helping keep the area clean.
Hotels have stopped leaving their bins on the lanes and the council has equipped the Icon staff with safety bins for syringes and grabber sticks to pick up dangerous or dirty items.
The Icon Factory is behind the Icon Walk, which was imagined by the factory’s founder Brian O’Fionn. This walk features huge murals on Temple Bar laneways’ walls and tells the cultural history of Ireland from 1922 to today.
All the contributing artists did the artwork for free and the point is to inject culture into the forgotten laneways of the area.
Even the Icon walk has not escaped being targeted by anti-social behaviour:
The Icon volunteers have gotten to know the DCC staff, litter wardens and community police, said Bohan: “They were all great with us and very helpful, but they are under tremendous pressure themselves.”
The issue is there is no facility in the area, no public toilets, no facility for people with drug and drink problems nearby. People are using the laneways for that.
He said that it is “not just drunks and people coming out of pubs at night” using the laneway.
He regularly has to hose down the area – “It’s not something I enjoy doing” – and syringes are a common find.
Icon volunteers are in regular contact with DCC, but sometimes it can take up to three days for cleaning crews to arrive.
I have gotten to know a lot of the lads and girls who drink down the lane. We don’t judge those people. I find most of them to be fairly decent people. Some of them now clean up their cans and they will stop any of the usual teenagers from tagging on the artwork.
On a number of occasions, Bohan has had to call for an ambulance for people who have taken hard drugs and ended up needing medical help.
“In the short term we would like more cleaning runs done, and we’ll help out ourselves,” said Bohan. “It’s not like we’re standing there saying ‘clean it up’.”
We’re starting to get local businesses on board a lot more so that’s good. We would like more continued help from them.
“I’d love to see proper facilities put in place. I can’t believe there are no public toilets in Temple Bar,” added Bohan. In addition, they are also looking for an increased garda presence near the lanes.
“People love [the Icon Factory] and so many people say to us,’you’re not in a great area’, but we are in a great area – we’re just a little bit off the main strip of Temple Bar, off Fleet St. If the laneways were cleaned up and lighting put in, it could be something like Dame Lane. I don’t see why this area can’t be used more positively to promote culture.”
When contacted about the issues raised by Bohan, a spokesperson for Dublin City Council told TheJournal.ie:
“Dublin City Council is currently arranging to review options which would address these issues. We will then discuss these with local stakeholders and work towards agreeing proposals”.
Reclaim the lanes
One potential solution to some of the problems being experienced is to ‘reclaim’ the lanes. That is the focus of a project being worked on by the Studio at Dublin City Council, the South East Area Office and the Temple Bar Company.
Martin Harte from the Temple Bar Company told TheJournal.ie that they want to rethink these forgotten spaces, and create new innovative public spaces in the lanes, showcasing art and culture. There could be pop-up parks and festivals, art installations, and even open-air theatre or cinema.
It is a multi-disciplinary project that would require “significant” investment, said Harte, but would help to reinvigorate the lanes.
Initial meetings have taken place but the official details of Reclaim the Lanes have yet to be finalised. The fact that this project is being worked on is an example of how positive solutions are being found for city-centre issues.
If the lanes are reclaimed, we could see an end to some of the anti-social behaviour in Dublin’s Temple Bar, as well as a new face for the area’s laneways. Until then, Bohan and his fellow volunteers in Icon Factory will continue to work to create culture amidst the rubbish in the capital.
All photos by Kevin Bohan