Artists at Work: an Urban Expo


Clouds were spitting rain on us and the air smelled of warm cheese from the renovated pizza bus resting on flat tires along the back wall. Smoke from clove cigarettes drifted through the air, coiling around the art on the walls that were dizzy with color and pattern. My classmates and I walked frenzied circles across the concrete floor, sticky with yesterday’s spilled pints, checking items off our to-do list.

  • Graffiti artists contacted and confirmed
  • Interviews with the press done
  • Musicians setting up their equipment for soundcheck
  • The back wall was painted black and sectioned off with tape
  • Canvases set up by the windows
  • Spirits high and smiles on

We’d been preparing for this night of live graffiti art and musical performance for the past nine weeks as part of our Creative Dublin class. The whole idea was to get all twelve of us involved in the creative scene around Dublin, a city that sprawls up, down, and out, holding artistic treasures and secrets everywhere you look. After all those weeks of planning and sending emails and wondering, “Can we actually pull this off??” we were in our first-choice venue, the Bernard Shaw, and we were pulling it off.

Artists at work - waiting for folks
Sarah Wilkinson (Professional Writing’17), Cynthia Anderson (Professional Writing’17), and Callie Browning (International Business’17) ready at the ticket desk

It shouldn’t have come as a surprise, however. For all the obstacles we had to jump (and fall) over, we still managed to have a solid lineup of artists and musicians, the latter with the help of Dublin City Buskers, an organization advocating for the rights of street performers. Our event’s Facebook page was the place to be in the cyber world, and hours before the event we had over 1,000 people committed to coming and some 4,000 people interested. We were expecting either no one or for everyone and their second cousin’s in-laws to show up.

One by one, all eight of our graffiti artists arrived sporting bright red dreadlocks and other funky hairdos, tattoos on their arms, and cans of spray paint stowed in their backpacks. Each and every one of them smiled and thanked us as we helped them set up their paint stations for the night. Some artists were painting on oversized canvases, and others were working on the giant concrete wall out back that we’d painted black for the occasion. The smell of spray paint wasn’t as overwhelming as you might have expected when they all began, arms moving in a flurry over lines and circles that slowly began to morph into pictures.

Artists at work - Art beginning
Works of art starting to take form
Pearce Stevens and Kyle McKeever - part of the student group organizers from Champlain College
Pearce Stevens and Kyle McKeever – part of the student group organizers from Champlain College

As the first band of the night began to play, a line of people formed at the door. The music, a warm mix of rock and roll classics and upbeat 90’s anthems, was so loud that all we could do was smile at people coming in, trying to tell them with our eyes, “Yes, hello, welcome to Artists at Work. You’re where you belong, even if you had no idea at all that we would be here. We have live graffiti artists working out back and music right here. We’re so glad you made it!” In between songs, when the crowd stopped swaying and the world straightened itself for a moment, we could be sure that most people who showed up had, in fact, heard about the event online or through friends. They wanted to be part of the magic we were creating.

Artists at work - Artists performing music
Dublin City Buskers giving it their all

Magic, as it turns out, can take a while to create. There were so many moving parts as we tried to bring an idea from words on a page to graffiti on a wall. From securing a venue to creating a web presence to conducting surveys, getting from point A to point Z was a road that wound through dark hedges, bogs, and the occasional sunny drumlin.

Refining our idea was one of the most challenging parts of the planning process, especially when nearly everyone had differing opinions, which was most of the time. The information we received from the more than a hundred people who answered our surveys, however, was what ultimately showed us our purpose. We figured that most people would have negative views of street art and performance, but in fact, 94% had positive feelings towards it. This meant that we didn’t have to work to change the public perception of street art so much as we could celebrate it. In the spirit of street art and Champlain College, who generously funded the event, we decided on a theme for our event too, which the graffiti artists would use as inspiration: let us dare.

And in the spirit of our new theme, we dared to dream big. The event itself was a blur of drum sticks and fingers strumming guitar strings; people lining up at the door, craning their necks to see what the buzz was about; crowds of people swaying to the music, speaking in fluent mixes of Spanish, English, and French; onlookers gathered at the hips of graffiti artists who were pouring their hearts and spray cans out onto the wall and canvases. By the end of the night, over 1,000 people had come through the door, and most of them stayed for the duration. My classmates and I floated on top of the angelic clouds one of the graffiti artists was busy painting.

The Bernard Shaw filled up quickly!
The Bernard Shaw filled up quickly!

At night’s end, we took a nice slice of pride-cake home with us, along with the affirmation that when we dare to try something new and challenging when we take the banana peel obstacles in stride rather than letting them trip us up, amazing things can happen. Amazing like hundreds of people sharing a crowded space, music, and original painting because they understand that art is community. And the art community of Dublin, with its street murals that pop up overnight and buskers crooning American country songs during the morning commute, is what gives the city its magic.

It was amazing, being part of that magic. It was everything, being able to create that magic for the city that we have been lucky enough to call home.

The whole organizing gang from Champlain College behind 'Artists at Work'
The whole organizing gang from Champlain College behind ‘Artists at Work’
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