Dublin – Headspace: an art center

Published On 18 May 2015 | By Milenka |

A lot of squats in Europe are not only squatted, but also attract street art and graffiti artists for a day of painting. Many of these squats therefore look like an amazing wall of fame. Headspace in Dublin is such a squat. It is not just a squat with street art and graffiti, but it also functions as a creative hotspot. But for how long….?

Grangegorman is one of the biggest squats in Ireland. It is an abandoned area located in central area of Dublin and it was invaded almost two years ago. The place has a community garden, communal kitchen, film screening area, and warehouses. It also has an art center called Headspace, which is drugs and alcohol free.

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Headspace was started by a group of friends who had been around in the Irish music/festival/rave/art scene for many years. Coming out the other side of drinking, drugs and parties, they began to focus more on creativity in a safe and nurturing space. ‘Some of the group members squatted the empty houses on the same street as Headspace and while exploring the back sheds we discovered this empty space. It was immediately recognizable as an artist space. We also hold meditations and healings here, so it’s important to have a nice clear space for that’, explain Emily Nayhree (artist and frequenter). She also says: ‘The original idea was to rent a space in Dublin and many were committed to paying rent on premises. We searched and searched, and every place we found was either too expensive to rent, or was somehow unsuitable.’

The occupation of empty places is happening everywhere in Europe and of course in Dublin it isn’t different. The Celtic Tiger caused a lot of changes in the Irish economy, one of the consequences are the high prices of the rent and the increasing number of homeless people. Rent has increased in Dublin by 30% since 2012 and by 16% in the past year alone. For each homeless in this country, it has 76 abandoned houses.

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At the spot where Headspace is now at used to be a place that had been badly damaged by fire: walls, the floor and ceiling were destroyed. The strip lights had melted from the ceiling forming plastic columns and the wiring was melted and destroyed. Emily: ‘We called for the help of around ten friends and we spent a couple of weeks cleaning the place. Bagging rubbish, sweeping, fixing windows, painting, and getting new furniture. We have a lot of donated art materials. So, anyone can come in and chill out and do some art. The council regularly gives us leftover masonry paint from the recycle centers. We can use this to whitewash regularly and give a new artist a chance. We have graffiti pieces, tags, throw-ups, street art pieces, and pieces from crews. A bit of everything really. The squat has 6 residences, Headspace, a vegan cafe, 5 abandoned warehouses and a large concrete courtyard. The warehouses and courtyard are a focal point for graffiti. There is also a 12-foot high wall around the perimeter, which is painted inside and out.’

The place is visited regularly by a lot of artists. Emily: ‘Irish painters come here regularly; I’d say we get on average of 3 or 4 new pieces a week. It is also known as a place where people can come and paint when they are visiting Ireland. For example, we have pieces from LUSH (Australia), SUPE (France), FMK (France), CISTO (Ireland), DVB (Ireland), MELS2 (Hungary), DENEB (Hungary), MINAW (Ireland), among hundreds of other names known in Ireland and internationally.’

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Every few months, Headspace has a Painters Day where they prime one warehouse white, and both graffiti writers and street artists come and paint for the day. Emily: ‘The Dublin rap crew, Conscious Collective, have a recording studio in Headspace, so they provide some live rap music for us, along with other musicians who are around. We have some skate ramps and we normally provide food from our communal kitchen. We can also project a film onto a large screen, and we have a fire burner and loads of couches so that everyone can relax. For Painters Day we normally get a crowd of local painters, friends of painters, rappers, some friends from local dance crews, people from the Dublin art scene, squatters and visiting travelers. Up till now we’ve kept the events somewhat underground. The recent eviction attempts have shoved us into the spotlight.’

An open art center like Headspace may be considered crucial for a lot of artists who live in Dublin or are just traveling around and looking for a place where they can show their works. Places like Exchange Dublin and, recently, the White Lady gallery, shot down. The first one mentioned was a project which gave people a chance to express and develop their creative projects and ideas. And the second one, the only place in Dublin dedicated to street art. “In the art space we have had a couple of art exhibitions from some of the well-known contemporary popular artists in the Dublin scene. Many other graffiti and street artists come here to paint regularly. It’s one of the few places they can go where they will not be moved away by police.

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Headspace formed organically to fill the hole left by the closure of Exchange Dublin and many other creative spaces that have sadly fallen by the wayside. There are not many legal graffiti walls in Dublin. Most of the time you have to travel outside the city centre. There was a place called Windmill Lane, an empty apartment block which became a legal graffiti wall, but they are demolishing it as we speak. There is a pub called the Bernard Shaw that is painter-friendly. Otherwise, there is nowhere legal to spray paint in Dublin City, and police will be quick to impose if you paint illegally. Therefore Headspace is a very important painting spot. The surrounding wall is high and you are safe to paint inside or out. The police have not interfered with the squatters painting the perimeter wall outside, as the neighbors are supportive and happy that it brightens up an otherwise derelict street.’

On Monday 23rd of March the police and private security acting on behalf of receivers for the government entity NAMA (National Assets Management Agency), forcefully entered Headspace at 6am on a Monday morning. Emily said they turned the office upside down ‘looking for drugs’ even though it is obvious that this is a drug-free space. “They lit up cigarettes in the space that we have kept smoke-free for 18 months, they forcefully evicted us from Headspace and most of the complex, and they erected high security fencing. Thankfully with a lot of community support and some strange twists of fate, we managed to take the place back at ten o’clock that Monday night and the police and security left. The entity claiming to own the land, NAMA wants to sell this land at a fraction of its price to developers so that more high rise apartments can be built, when within a two-minute walking radius you can see hundreds of empty apartments left over from the last building extravaganza that was aptly named the Celtic Tiger”.

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The case was back in High Court on  14th May. Until this date, the residents and supporters of Grangegorman are promoting a lot of activities, also at Headspace. “We understand that everything is transitory and we are happy to use this space each day. If that could last longer than one month it would make a lot of people very happy, make a huge difference to a strengthening community and without sounding dramatic would probably even end up saving lives. Creative people need creative spaces. Please help us to save our Headspace”.

Read about recent developments.

Articly by Milenka Salinas.

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About The Author

-- She is a journalist from Brazil and was a dancer all her life. Now she dances hulahoop for fun. She used to work with street art events in Brazil and in PR in advertising agencies. Then she decided to change her life and now she is living in Dublin.