The Ark offers a unique experience for children
DUBLIN— A man hobbles across the road decked out in the type Irish-wear you can only find in tourist shops. His shorts are embellished with an Irish flag, and are the cause of his brief stumbling. His friend, who just yanked down the Irishman’s shorts, laughs and jaywalks behind his comrade. He is joined by a group of men in their late 20s.
Welcome to the bachelor party scene of the Temple Bar area in Dublin.
For some tourists the main attraction to this cobblestoned area is the pubs and drinking—but beyond the florescent signs, stumbling tourists, and Guinness, culture too grows here. It can be found only a block away from this bachelor party and their antics, in the form of The Ark.
The first sign that The Ark isn’t your average cultural centre greets you at its door, where brightly coloured wooden animals stand, and footsteps line the carpet that guide you to the stairs. The welcoming decor is suitable to The Ark’s niche audience, since it is the only cultural centre dedicated to high quality programming for children in Ireland.
The Ark’s inception 17 years ago came as part of a project aiming to regenerate the Temple Bar area from its gritty beginnings. The centre offers children a theatre with 130 seats, a small gallery space, and a workspace. Its projects are constantly changing and it advertises a different experience with every visit.
Avril Ryan, The Ark’s general manager, explains that The Ark is a constantly transforming centre, with little rest period in between programs. Its next project, Awakening Curiosity, is a three-weeklong endeavor where art meets science. They have brought in a scientific advisor and aim to encourage children to explore biodiversity through the creative process. Each floor will have an art piece inspired by nature or science—such as a piece shaped of as a fish made from used cans.
When the program opens to schools they plan to give a facilitated tour, and then offer the opportunity for the children to work with an experienced artist. Eventually the program will be open to the public on weekends, and although it will be more free flowing, they will still try to engage participants and offer a drop-in creative session.
“Everything about The Ark that we do is about quality and producing the very best. As far as we are concerned a child is entitled to see a piece of theatre that you’d see in the Abbey or any other venue of excellence,” explains Ryan. “We don’t do face painting, we don’t do throw them in the corner with a couple of bits and they can do it themselves.”
Ryan says the idea of The Ark is to create a very intimate introduction to the arts for children and young people, so they walk into a comfortable space rather than an overwhelming gallery or theatre.
She explains that the pitch to create The Ark came at a timely hour since the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child had come into force in 1990, a year before the regeneration of the Temple Bar area started. The convention is a big part of the founding principles of The Ark, explains Ryan, as they firmly believe children should have the same cultural access as everyone else.
The programming at The Ark may have changed over the years, but the admission price for schools has stayed the same for the past 17, and even been cheaper depending on the project. To help keep admission steady, The Ark receives money from private donors and companies, through fundraising, and draws income from their box office sales. The Temple Bar Cultural Trust also supports The Ark by allowing them to not pay rent.
When the cultural regeneration of the Temple Bar began, the Temple Bar Cultural Trust was created and given the job of overseeing the project. It took about ten years, and today they still exist and are committed to supporting culture in Temple Bar area, but their efforts are sometimes outshined by the stories of bachelor, and bachelorette parties.
Wendy Grace, the director of communications and events at Temple Bar Traders, explains by email, that the perception some tourists have about the area being chiefly a drinking destination is a common misconception.
“Temple Bar is a thriving cultural quarter and each year the cultural organisations see thousands of tourists walk through their doors. We have worked hard with the Irish media to set the story straight and now the majority of stories that are published are positive and reflect the true nature of the area.”
The Temple Bar Traders is an independent organisation that represents a broad spectrum of businesses, organisations and resident associations. The company’s mission statement is ‘to promote the arts tourism, trade and commerce in the Temple Bar area.’
Grace explains that The Ark draws in children and families for Temple Bar events such as the TradFest, where children engaged in music, dance, workshop and craft, which is just another example of The Ark bringing new audiences into the area and leaving them with a positive experience, convincing them to come again.
Ryan explains that they do come back, as now parents who themselves went to The Ark when they were younger are returning and sharing the experience with their own children.
The history of the Temple Bar area
In 1981, a government owned transport company, CIE, started to buy property in the Temple Bar area in hopes of building a bus depot in the city centre. While they waited for planning permission, buildings were rented out to artists, painters, sculptors and musicians at cheap rates. They formed a bohemian community of cafes, boutiques, and record shops. Protests to keep this new community began, and led to the cancellation of the bus depot.
In 1991, the regeneration of Temple Bar started and today the area is home to over 50 cultural organisations, boutiques, cafes, restaurants and bars with the majority of business in the area being family owned and run.
-With files from Wendy Grace, the director of communications and events at Temple Bar Traders.