So, I’ve been meaning to sit down and write this post for a while, and I’m already about a week behind in my normal ‘Irish’ posting (trying to get up to date with my NYWM posts before the end of June), meaning… Meaning… Meaning, I need to do it now even though I’m tired and would really rather watch re-runs of ‘Friends’.
Last weekend… last weekend…
Agh, getting so distracted by the bloody TV.
Last weekend, the last weekend in June, was the Creative Connections pop-up cafe for the Cork Midsummer Festival. This is what the women in my creative arts facilitation course and I have been working towards since March. The event was meant to both exhibit the work we had been doing in classes, to teach the public about some of the techniques we had used and also to provide a wonderful, memorable experience for anyone who happened to wander in.
So, some background. The idea of a pop-up cafe is that it is a unique space, usually only around for a few days or a week or two, and it takes place in real estate that would otherwise be empty. So, its something that is particularly relevant and popular in places like the UK and Ireland at the moment, where there is a lot of empty and/ or derelict space going to waste. The pop-up cafe hopes to revitalise a depressed area for a time, as well as (hopefully) revitalise a depressed community, get neighbours and strangers talking and interacting, creating warmth and happiness in a time that is perhaps neither warm nor happy. We were working with an artist, Priscilla Robinson, who has created a pop-up cafe before, as well as a pop-up shop, which I’ve mentioned on my blog before.
Our pop-up cafe was based around the theme of ‘home’, as half the 20 women that are in my course come from outside of Ireland. So, we took aspects and ideas of hospitality from all the different women and cultures and smushed them together and jumbled them up and created our own unique home with all those ideas into a little cafe. We had food from all over the world, different coffees, different drinks, pictures from our homes, sounds from our homes etc. The name of our cafe was, ‘Home is Where the Art Is’, and this is the front of the shop:
And from the inside:
I was working in the space all day Saturday and all day Sunday, staying two nights with one of my friends from the course (in her wonderful house with the hugely evocative address: Lover’s Walk, Montenotte, Cork).
The days were long and exhausting, but wonderful. It was kind of like being back in promotions, except this time I was expected to promote my own work, which I always find so much harder. I can tell people all the good things about everyone else’s stuff, but when it comes to my own, I’m at a loss. So, to begin with, I was meant to be the welcome person on the door, but I wasn’t doing a fabulous job. I would smile and invite people in, but generally they would say no or say they were in a rush. If I did manage to get people through the door, I kind of left them hanging in the space, and they would only stay if someone else started talking to them and showed them around.
This was the thing about our cafe. It was absolutely beautiful and could be enjoyed on a very superficial basis, like a normal art gallery. That is, come in, stare at things (don’t touch!) and then leave. But, if people were given the opportunity or invitation to look through things, look in drawers, cupboards, open up boxes, they would find so much more. This was the wonderful thing about our cafe: it was interactive, it had many layers, and people could create a totally unique and personal experience within the space. But, this only happened if people were given leave to do so. You had the wonderful situation were people who did feel comfortable would take off their shoes, put their feet up on the sofa and begin to knit, or sew, or just talk and drink a cup of coffee. The people who seemed to enjoy it the most, if they weren’t people who had come specifically to see the space, were travellers. That is, people who had time to spare. A lot of Irish people were rushing off to meet friends, do chores, shopping etc. On the other hand, one group of Asian girls went past on Sunday afternoon around 3pm, stopped outside and took a photo. I went outside, called them over, and invited them in. Two of them came in, saw the space and asked if they could take more photos. I said of course they could. Their friends then followed, and they ended up staying until we closed at 6:30pm. It was wonderful. What else was wonderful was how many people came back during the 4 days. People who had genuinely got involved in the space came time and again to soak up the atmosphere, learn new skills, finish off projects they had started in the days before. They truly felt at home.
All the women in the course had contributed various things to group items, such as a quilt square to our big patchwork quilt, or a print, or a pillowcase. But, then there were other things that people took more responsibility for in smaller groups. So, myself and one of the other ladies were given the responsibility for the chest of drawers (which I’ve mentioned before). Here are some photos to give you an idea of them. The photos still don’t do it justice, but you get a sense. In my view, the wonderfulness of the cafe was distilled in these drawers, in that they changed depending on how you looked at them or interacted with them. There was so much detail in them, so many different colours and textures, it was impossible to take it in all at once, and different people would pick up on different things. Photos:
We had many workshops happening in the space too, both formal and informal. One of the ladies taught some people to make patchwork quilts and bunting out of material (which looked fantastic!). Other times, you would just assist people with what they were creating in the space. So, we had people decorating bags, or making their own pillows out of all the material and needles and thread we had lying around the place. One of the ladies brought in her giant knitting needles and started a huge wall hanging with big strips of material rather than wool, and then left it lying around for others to finish. I saw some 20 year-old boys pick it up and attempt to work it out, and they were then sat down by one of the older ladies in our group and given a quick tutorial in knitting. I, quite by accident, started giving lessons in badge-making, which I only learnt to do on the day, but quickly became obsessed with. See badges here:
It was such a fun, quick and easy way for people to get involved (particularly kids), and they were always delighted with the results. I spoke to quite a few lovely travellers this way, who couldn’t believe their luck about stumbling upon the place, and said they would take away their badges as a precious memento of Cork. This made me feel irrationally happy, that I could be part of a stranger’s happy memories of a place, or a holiday memory, for many years to come. That I could have such an impact on how they had felt about their time in Cork. It was wonderful.
One of the other things we did in the space (mainly because I really wanted to), was have little performances. So, I ended up singing, sharing some stories and some poems (The Geebung Polo Club!! Thanks, Poetry in Action!!) I originally thought this would be awkward and stop the flow of the place, but it actually was lovely. It encouraged other people to step forward with songs, stories or poems of their own and changed the nature and pace of the cafe for a little while.
After the final Sunday we sold off the things we had made, making a fair amount of cash, which will be donated to a charity and also go towards the cost of whatever we make for the Midsummer Festival next year. This was exceedingly exciting and satisfying as well. Sadly, we had to then dismantle the space, though first we put the bed in the street for a little bit of fun:
But, it was all very sad to pack up and leave. The pop-up cafe was a truly special and wonderful event, and we all wished we could keep it going forever. It made me think of a little dream I had a few years ago to own my own theatre/creative space, and I thought how this cafe was exactly the sort of thing I had imagined. Something small, unique, whimsical, intimate, ever-changing and surprising. Maybe one day I’ll go back to the Blue Mountains, buy some sort of building and turn it into something wonderful like that. Part business, part home, part art space, part theatre, part school, part community hall. And me, living on the third floor with a bunch of cats, big hair, zany earrings, mismatched socks making bread and scones in my hippy-dippy clothes. Ah, bliss.