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Dublin: 15°C Thursday 28 October 2021

This not-very-pretty shopping centre has helped inspire a movement

We spoke to one local artist about trying to bring change in the area.

IT’S NOT A very attractive building – Brutalist in style, grey, dark and with a smattering of colourful signage on its lower level.

But the Phibsboro shopping centre, in all its concrete glory, has been quite inspiring to some of the people who live near it. Much of this inspiration surrounds how they would like to see the shopping centre, and its environs, change.

It has also given them time to reflect on what it is to live in a city, and in a fast-paced world where you have to carve time out of your day to take stock of your surroundings.

20111207_IMG2009_11_17_0877 Source: Dorothy Smith

One of those who passes by the Phibsborough shopping centre frequently is artist Dorothy Smith, who has a new exhibition of art opening this weekend. She’s also a member of Reimagining Phibsboro, who have begun a new project with architects which looks at reassess the shopping centre, in association with the Royal Institute of Architects Ireland.

The look of Phibsborough – which has been home to people like James Joyce and Iris Murdoch – and how its built environment affects those living there has also inspired Phizzfest, an arts festival that has helped to connect locals in new ways.

It was established to develop an annual celebration of artistic life around Phibsborough, to highlight the rich diversity of culture within our community and to provide a showcase for local talent.

Connecting with home

Smith has lived in Phibsborough for nearly 18 years. Her work used to involve travelling and unfamiliar landscapes, but around 10 years ago she made the decision to “find somewhere near to paint, somewhere that is directly relevant”.

20111019_IMG2009_11_17_0778 Source: Dorothy Smith

She decided to “go look around and see what’s on your doorstep where you’re living, and start engaging more with that”.

Slowly I got more interested in our built environment and how it works and how it affects us, and how it makes a difference to everyday life. When you walk out the door, what’s the experience like, what are the routes you have to take, the ordinary routes and routines.

Smith says living in a place like Phibsborough can be stressful. “Traversing space, negotiating, using the place is actually very stressful in a place like Phibsborough,” she says.

The new Luas Cross City line will bring more changes to the village – but also create new opportunities to link the area to other parts of Dublin.

Putting yourself in the picture

When Phizzfest was set up seven years ago, Smith got involved. “First I thought it was so incongruous, Phibsborough is a place that [was] so disparate, there was no sense of community, [it was a] very fractured place,” she recalls. “So the Phizzfest was started by people who really felt ‘we’ve got to do something here’.”

She ran a number of drawing projects during the festivals, many of which involved taking over derelict buildings.

Then she came up with the project Put Yourself in the Picture. “I put out a public call for people to take a photograph of themselves in a place in Phibsborough that they would like to see changed, to see why they would like to see it changed, and what change they would like to see.”

IMG_1688 (1) Source: Dorothy Smith

Forty four people sent in photographs of themselves in a place they would like to see changed, and described how they’d like it changed.

There were people standing at traffic lights saying ‘I’d like to be able to cross the road’,” says Smith.

Really basic stuff. Or people standing in front of a row of steps saying it’s OK for me, but if I had my bike or a buggy if someone was in a wheelchair, they can’t get into this nice park.

This got more conversations going, which led to Smith and her friend Marian Fitzpatrick discussing issues with traffic at Doyle’s Corner.

It’s lethally dangerous – there are tens of thousands of cars every day because it’s two main roads leading out into the city,” she says. “It’s incredibly dangerous and constantly has cars breaking lights, and parents and kids trying to get to school, it’s awful.

IMG_1691 Source: Dorothy Smith

For half an hour a day over seven days, Smith and Fitzpatrick counted the cars that broke the lights at Doyle’s Corner – and counted approximately 253 cars.

Reimagining Phibsborough

After this, they founded the group Reimagining Phibsborough. So far they have held public meetings, and got 1000 signatures on a petition about the need for a people-centred urban space in Phibsobrough.

“At the moment Phibsborough is all about moving traffic through and it’s the only consideration when it comes to the authorities,” says Smith. They have had meetings with the Minister for Transport and taken Dublin City Council representatives around Phibsborough to show them what needs to be changed.

Though there hasn’t been major change as of yet, they did see one cycle-lane re-routed after they pointed out just how difficult it was for cyclists to use that area.

Source: John Brady/YouTube

A new face

The latest project involves the Phibsborough shopping centre. In association with the Royal Institute of Architects Ireland (RIAI), they are running a design review around the shopping centre and the public realm that surrounds it.

The “top notch” architects working on it will present their ideas in early June.

“I think it’s going to be harder and hard for Dublin City Council and the Department of Transport to actually ignore the urban fabric of Phibsborough and the fact that the people who live there are really not regarded in any way when it comes to decisions that are made about any developments that go on there,” says Smith, who added that the centre’s developers are very open to engaging with Reimagining Phibsborough.

Stop and look

IMG_5720 Source: Dorothy Smith

All of her cycling and walking around Phibsborough has in turn influenced Smith’s art. 

“I think when you actually stop and really look at your surroundings where you are, they are so much more interesting than you think they are,” she says.

Normally when you’re going somewhere your focus is on where you’ve come from or where you are going. But if you actually stop and look at the spaces where we live in and work…

IMG_6508 copy

Her latest work includes pencil drawings of everyday sights for people in Dublin city, like the Luas works.

“There’s some fascinating arranging and rearranging of all the paraphernalia to do with the roadworks,” she says. Taken out of their usual context, the roadworks could almost be an art installation of their own.

Then there is an image of a set of steps just off Dominic Street. “These are the sorts of places that nobody really sees,” says Smith, whose work can reach up to a metre or more in size.

Come and Go

It’s planned that the redevelopment of Phibsborough shopping centre and the nearby Dalymount Park takes place around the same time. What locals like Smith and those of Reimagining Phibsborough hope is that the wishes of locals will feed into what eventually happens to the area.

Made and Considered by Dorothy Smith runs at Darc Space, 26 North Great George’s Street, until 17 June.

Read: ‘The arts are victims of Dublin’s economic recovery’: Block T is forced to relocate>

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