Culture Night

On Friday, the women from Creative Connections (or, as many as were free), attempted to re-create our ‘Home is Where the Art is’ pop-up cafe for Culture Night. ‘Culture Night’ is something that I originally thought was only on in Cork, as I’d never heard of it before. Turns out, its a national Irish event, and despite having a kind of naff name (come on, admit it), it is actually really exciting and cool. What happens is that, museums, galleries, theatres, artists’ studios, churches, historic houses and cultural centres all open their buildings up later than normal, and they all put on free events for the public. So, you can go to the museum and have a little theatrical tour of the space. Or you can go to the gallery and hear a talk. Or you can go to the concert hall, and hear an eclectic collection of musos. Or, you can go to the theatre and see a small performance. All for free. People wander in and out of buildings all night, its just a really lovely vibe. We were asked by Cork Midsummer Festival to re-create our cafe for a few hours in Civic House Trust, a beautiful, red-brick Georgian building that houses a variety of cultural groups, including Cork Midsummer and Corcadorca Theatre Company.
We met the week before to discuss what we could do. There were a few problems to begin with. Not everyone was available, and when we looked around the room, it seemed like only Irish people, and furthermore, only WHITE people were going to be able to work at our ‘intercultural’ cafe. Not that there is anything wrong with white people, per se (though we can be a little boring and imperialistic and self-satisfied sometimes) and I think we can agree that there is no racial advantage to any one ethnic group in terms of making tea and instant coffee, however, one of the key points of our cafe was its intercultural nature, making a statement about the ‘new’ Ireland, and advertising our upcoming intercultural workshops that we would be running with our intercultural staff. Our leader assured us that some of the African women would also be attending and helping out, so we moved on.
The second problem we encountered was that in our fundraising for the next Midsummer Festival, we had to sell most of the things that we had used in the cafe. We also weren’t allowed to hang things on the walls of the lovely, red-brick Georgian house. Our original cafe had purple and yellow carpet, various lampshades hanging from the ceiling, spray-painted cups and saucers, washing machines and cleaning aides all over the walls. So, we were understandably worried that our new cafe would look a little bare and boring. But, we listed the things we could bring in and hoped it would all come together on the night.

Ooh… pretty… I approve of the logo, if not the name.

 Turns out, there was nothing to worry about. We were able to hang some twine from window frames in the room, where we pinned our embroidered clothes and a gigantic ladder was brought in to hang any left over clothes on. We had enough pillows to scatter about, and those people in the group who had artistic work that they created at home brought it in too. The main thing that was missing was our wise and wonderful group leader, Priscilla Robinson, who had guided us through the original event and helped us run the days. We were also missing our fabulous tutors, Aine and Caroline, who had been integral to the set-up and design of the event. I had a few misgivings about how it would all run on Culture Night, but figured that someone would take charge and it would ‘all be ok’.
I was the first person to arrive at Civic Trust House, having run out of things to look at and do in Cork during the afternoon. I had been dreading this possibility, because I thought the people at the house might then assume I was in charge and ask me difficult questions, like, ‘Where do you want the projector?’ and ‘Do you need all this furniture?’ Or just, ‘So, what do you have planned for this evening?’ I escaped to the loo quickly, hoping someone might arrive in the meantime. No one did, and I sat awkwardly in the middle of the room, clasping my hands, as people not from Creative Connections did useful, busy things around me.
Eventually some of the other women arrived, but everyone was just as uncertain as each other, and the person we had kind of all hoped would be there to take charge hadn’t arrived. There was some more awkward sitting, until someone realised the time and we all, collectively thought, well, maybe we should do something.
I’m relating all of this, because I find the group dynamics fascinating. Its a generalisation, but I think that if it had been a group of men, or, if we had a man or two in the group, they would have taken charge straightaway, or, at least, attempted to. But, for some reason, I think its because women are so conscious of being polite to others, of not wanting to step on toes, or of not wanting to make mistakes, or not wanting to look stupid, or something, nobody wanted to take charge. In our case, we all sort of waited around someone to take charge, and when it didn’t happen, we did it collectively. No-one still was really ‘in charge’, little work groups formed, advice was taken from around the room, and collective decisions were made. I suppose because we’ve been working together since March, its easy for this to occur. A box and a few bags of things that we were going to use to decorate the room appeared, and people started looking for ways and places to hang everything. Rubbish was moved out of the way, furniture shifted, until we had something that looked as warm and welcoming as we could make it.
A similar thing happened when our first ‘audience’ arrived at the house. Whilst the woman we had kind of designated our leader had arrived, we hadn’t discussed how we were going to behave in the space, what we should do with those people who arrived etc. We had a couple of work stations set up (Face-painting, bag making and embroidery), as well as examples of our work, and pictures from the festival event, but we hadn’t discussed how they would all work together. Of course, our evening’s designated leader hadn’t even be able to attend the event at the Midsummer Festival, so, really, we were relying on the only person in the room who hadn’t already been a part of the event on the day. But, again, we were all kind of reluctant to put ourselves forward, to go out on a limb, to potentially make fools of ourselves.
Of course, it all worked fine as soon as people arrived. When 3 people walk into a room and look at everything that’s going on awkwardly, you can’t help but try and go over, make them welcome and explain what’s going on. Well, I can’t help it anyway. I’m becoming such a bubbly, chatterbox, I’ll throw a ‘How’s it going?’ and ‘Where are you from?’ to anyone that vaguely looks in my direction. This is amusing for me, remembering that as a 12 year old I hated even giving a waiter my order because I was too embarrassed (of what, I’m not entirely sure. That he wouldn’t agree with my food choice? That I would trip over the words? That he would ‘be mean’? I was a crazy-confused 12 year old). So, when the first few people arrived, I stepped up and explained what was going on, a little jumbled, probably a bit long, but I got the most important stuff out, they asked a few questions, looked at some photos, and then sat down to make a bag.
It was a bit slow in the first half an hour, but, just as I was sitting down to have my face-painted, a group of 4 kids walked in with their dad. They spied the free cookies on the table, and I spied them. ‘Hey!’ I called over, ‘Why don’t you guys have your face-painted? Its free!’ The two girls were very enthusiastic and came over straight away (after getting enough cookie supplies) to see the pictures that were on offer. From then on, we barely had a chance to stop. The place was full, mainly of kids and their parents, coming in, making bags, having a tea or biscuit, getting their faces painted etc. We had a great little group of 8 – 9 year old girls at the sewing and bag-making table who were so adorably enthusiastic. Not only about getting involved in making the bags, but in talking to us, hearing the stories behind the work we had created etc. Their parents had to come in and literally drag them away, their half-finished bags clutched in their hands, and us desperately packing ribbons, buttons and material into them so they could ‘finish them at home’ – like some sort of cool party-favour bag (hey, that is an AWESOME children’s party idea…). I sang again, as did the woman from Somalia, just for something a bit different, which was lovely, and I had two of the little girls pass me a note telling me they liked my voice (it was 1000 times good), so that was sweet.
And, before we knew it, we had to pack up again. The whole evening was fantastic, despite a small child vomiting in the corner early on. It was a real confidence boost for the women that were there (the running of the event. Not the small child’s vomit). We have to run 6 workshops for 60 women and children over October and November, and I think a lot of us were really worried about what we would do and how we would go. Culture Night proved that we’ve already got the skills to do it, which was fantastic.
As I’m now in Kinsale, I don’t have access to a car anymore, and my last bus leaves Cork at 10pm. However, one of the women invited us over to hers for a drink or two, and I got an offer of a bed in Cork, so I decided to stay the night and head back to Kinsale the next morning. That evening was wonderful. Many glasses of red wine consumed, a glass of cognac, many pistachio nuts and a couple of prawn crackers, but, more importantly, wonderful conversation with wonderful people. I’m always re-invigorated by a night like that, sitting around with close or new friends, talking, laughing and drinking, whereas I pretty much always come home from a night out dancing and drinking feeling lonely, unhappy and dissatisfied. We finished up around 2am, so not too late, but I went to bed so happy and so content.
Who needs men? I mean, honestly?
……..
Well, ok.
I just shouldn’t go anywhere I can see them, because then I’m like a kid in a candy store whose Mum has just informed her she’s on a sugar-free diet.

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