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Dublin Docklands come alive with an art project that details ships in the port, created by Clíodhna Harmey

An innovative project has ignited the curiosity of Dublin’s commuters, and earned the partners the Jim McNaughton Perpetual Award for Best Commissioning Practice at the 2015 Allianz Business to Arts Awards

Dublin’s port and docklands serve a vitally important role in the life of the city, yet they rarely cross the mind of the average city dweller. But a collaboration between Dublin City Council (DCC), the Dublin Port Company and artist Cliona Harmey has set out to address that. In the process it has helped to bring both the activity of the port and the arts directly to the community.

Through the project Dublin Ships, large digital screens were placed on the Scherzer Bridges in the capital’s docklands (beside the Samuel Beckett Bridge), showing the movement of ships at the port. The ships’ names are displayed in real time on the screens as they move in and out of Dublin.

The project was commissioned by DCC through its ‘Interaction with the City’ programme, and the aim of Dublin ships was to reconnect the work of the port with the citizens of the city.

Although temporary, the response to the project was so positive that it has been extended until November 2015.

Ruairí Ó Cuív, public art manager at Dublin City Council, says Cliona Harmey’s proposal was impressive for many reasons.

“Artistically, it’s interesting and it’s challenging; it really makes you think about the city and how it works. It gives a glimpse into a very important part of the capital – its docklands and port.

“That is where everything we consume comes in, and also where we discharge a lot of our waste. Without it, the city would not work.”

As Eamonn O’Reilly, chief executive of Dublin Port, explains, the disconnection between the port and the city has made it very difficult to get public buy-in for essential development at the port.

“What happens in the port is not generally known about and its importance is, therefore, not appreciated. At the same time, the business through the port is ever increasing and requires us to add more capacity for freight and for passengers.

“From 1979 to 2010, the Port sought permission to expand into Dublin Bay by infill and met considerable public and political opposition. “Since 2010, we have found that the arts provide a means to engage with people whose support we depend on if we are to operate and grow.”

He says the Dublin Ships project was instantly appealing, and the reaction has been very positive. “It has created curiosity and generated conversations we could not have had if we had approached them solely on the basis of statistics and financial numbers.”

Harmey says that, having grown up in the port town of Wicklow, she has always been interested in shipping. She had previously done some filming at the South Wall, and taken underwater recordings of ships coming in. So it was, in a sense, the perfect opportunity for her. It was also a major departure for someone whose work mostly shows in galleries rather than public spaces.

“This was the most ambitious work I have ever done, and the most public,” she says. “The feedback has been quite positive. We did a schools’ programme in the area, and the children really like it. I’ve had some great conversations about it.”

Harmey says the support of business allows artists to take on more ambitious projects.

“Lots of people are seeing this, because it is part of so many people’s commute. I found it really exciting to work in a public space; it was good for me.”

By Linda Daly

This profile first appeared in the Allianz Business to Arts Awards Supplement in the Sunday Independent on 6 September 2015

Further case studies are available at www.independent.ie/allianzbusinesstoarts2015

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