Re-Purpose, Re-Imagine And Re-Generate: PrettyvacanT Dublin Talks About A New Model For Business
There is a new movement led by grassroots DIY organisations, the cultural sector and social entrepreneurs who accomplish monumental feats with scarce resources. They are fuelled by a Big Idea and a strong collaborative ethic. As hinted in my last post on re-purposing vacant space, SMEs And Start-ups have a lot to learn from this sector as they too grapple with the same challenges and motivational forces.
It is a movement characterised by community building, innovation and sustainable living. This article explores a few examples from the city I live in and delves into the mind of one such visionary in an interview with PrettyvacanT Dublin.
- Exchange Dublin: A new collective arts centre re-purposing a vacant unit in the city centre holding discussions, gigs, visual arts and performance. Most projects originate from the autonomous “Exchange Groups” that use the space as a hub. The Collective programmes and coordinates events in the space. All work is voluntary and no one is paid.
- Fieldwork & Strategies: have a project that turns a strip of wasteland along the city’s tram line corridor into an outdoor art gallery using crowd-funding. The “Art Tunnel” project is twofold, involving the realisation of an outdoor gallery for the inner city area, and secondly as a micro- neighbourhood park also providing for a biodiverse wildlife habitat.
- Block T: An organisation that provides a platform for visual and performing arts, as well as fostering philosophical, creative and social innovation, locally and internationally whilst re- purposing derelict space in the inner city.
- UPstart: A community initiative building a Pop-up park in Dublin city bringing together a diverse range of community, voluntary and professional sector bodies. The collaborative aims to showcase the best in local design talent by temporarily converting one of the city’s vacant spaces into a thriving visitor playground. They will reinvent an abandoned city eyesore and provide a safe and socially inclusive space for rediscovering the urban landscape.
I delved into the mind of one such organisation as I interviewed Louise Marlborough, a visionary user of vacant space from the Cultural Sector. She is foremost an artist, photographer and more recently Founder and Co- Founder and Director of PrettyvacanT Dublin with Philip Rowley . To date, they have organised 11 exhibitions across locations, worked with over 60 artists and received thousands of visitors.
What is PrettyvacanT Dublin and what does it do?
It is an initiative that re-purposes vacant properties as temporary exhibitions spaces for artists. We make vacant premises more aesthetically pleasing through dynamic use of space:
- To create vibrancy and activity around the property and surrounding area thus creating a halo effect
- To attract visitors and potential customers for existing businesses
- To bring art to a wider audience whilst also providing an alternative exhibition platform for creatives and artists.
What was your motivation for this social enterprise and drove you to do it?
Early in 2009 I returned home to live in Dublin to find a changed urban landscape filled with countless numbers of vacant properties.
Where others might have seen them as a blight on the landscape, I saw opportunity. With a background in Fine Art I decided to utilize some of these vacant properties as exhibition spaces and so PrettyvacanT Dublin was born. PrettyvacanT Dublin was not set up as a commercial enterprise but more a philanthropic gift to the city; a small but positive step to making Dublin an even better place to live.
Why is PrettyvacanT Dublin relevant or beneficial to the business community? What kind of people do you find solutions for?
PrettyvacanT Dublin provides a win-win situation for all parties involved.
- For the property owner we bring life, activity and positive endorsement to the otherwise empty space and by acknowledging their support we provide a free advert for the building.
- We deliver art in a more accessible and exciting way to a wider audience and the artists get the opportunity to showcase their work in a new environment and some great exposure.
We have worked in a diverse range of properties including a former supermarket, disused travel agent, an abandoned office and a number of potential retail units. Consequently we have worked with a variety of property owners from the ILAC Centre and Clerys to Smock Alley Theatre to Dublin City Council
How do you promote yourself since you are a Social enterprise with no Marketing budget or resources?
PrettyvacanT Dublin has a strong digital presence which includes our website and Social Media channels (Twitter, Facebook and YouTube). These channels are free and open and we use them to promote both the PrettyvacanT Dublin project and our events.
- At our digital core is the PrettyvacanT Dublin website. In addition we have extended our digital presence through the use of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.
- We also use these forums to lead the digital conversation on the use of vacant space. Social media is perfect for building a community around a burning issue e.g. uses of empty space.
- Twitter is a useful tool for both contributing to the digital conversation and sharing articles and links relevant to the community. Twitter is also immediate – it allows us to post pictures almost instantly, which helps communicate a real sense of “now”.
- YouTube allows us to spread our very own content and enables people who didn’t see the show to be present virtually, and to get an understanding of what PrettyvacanT Dublin has achieved.
- Facebook’s intrinsic virality helps spread news of our upcoming events through its inbuilt calendar, which signals people’s attendance to friends and then, when clicked, friends-of-friends.
I have been following the growing relevance of collaborative partnerships – have you used this to great effect and how have you made collaborations work for you?
- PrettyvacanT Dublin is by its very nature collaborative. Each exhibition is a unique once off event, never to be repeated. When organizing and curating, we respond to the space and collaborate with property owners and artists in order to bring the exhibition from conception to delivery.
- We are part of an existing grassroots, DIY arts movement that uses empty properties and we believe by making new connections we can further extend our reach and raise our profile.
What have you learnt on your journey so far (the pitfalls & challenges)?
- Shows are more effective when they respond to the space. Our Hidden Currents exhibition, highlighting the near-invisible movements of commodities around the globe, was held in a disused travel agent, and to great effect.
- Cities are a hotbed of artistic talent. You just need a beacon – such as PrettyvacanT Dublin – to illuminate and guide that talent to a place where they can be seen.
- Just because you are arts initiative, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t act like a professional. When dealing with the businesses like the ILAC Shopping Centre and Clerys Department Store, you must be punctual, reliable and deliver on your promises.
How do you envision the future of the organisation?
- For the future we envisage PrettyvacanT Dublin being firmly embedded into the cultural landscape of Dublin. For the future we are looking to explore further partnerships with other arts and cultural organisations in Dublin
- We hope to become a recognized and collaborative solution for empty properties in the city. Our strengths lie in our mobile, flexible and reactive approach, and so PrettyvacanT Dublin wishes to evolve, sustain and continue to excite.
And here is the last question: If you could change 1 thing about the way business is being done here what would it be?
If I could change one thing about how business is done in Ireland I would say improve the level of coherence and connection between existing groups and organisations. They seem to operate independently rather than pooling resources to solve problems collaboratively. Organisations operating in parallel are less effective than organisations operating in partnership.
My Key Takeaway from this movement?
Social Entrepreneurs often pave the way when it comes to approaching business with a fresh eye. The key qualities that allow these organisations to develop creative models and opportunities are: collaboration, imagination and thinking out of the box as they grapple with very little resources at hand.
Long term I believe community focused approaches such as these will become sustainable models for doing business in the private sector too, in an increasingly challenging and austere economic environment let down by old business models.
Have you any Guerrilla ideas to add from your Own Business Experience that utilize collaborative thinking? Or are their organisations you know of in your locale, who have made great creative use of vacant property? Tell us .
Stay tuned as we update you with more edgy community led events and guerrilla ideas in the posts to come.