Questions on housing: What does art have to do with housing and cities?

Roisin O’Donnell

7th of October 2021


As we analyse the Government’s recent plan to address the housing crisis, this three part series aims to consider what questions are worth asking ourselves surrounding housing, and why.


Socially-engaged artist, Kate O’Shea argues that “if we are trying to create another social imaginary and another world, then we need other languages, and we need other spaces”. Some of the most interesting work exploring the impact of the current housing system on people’s lives is being produced by artists. Housing, for artists, is not not merely an area of interest, but a significant barrier to engaging in creative work long-term. Artists such as Kate O’Shea, Seoidín O’Sullivan and Fiona Whelan are creating projects that reflect the desires, hopes, and often devastating deficiencies that characterise people’s experience of living in the housing systems of cities like Dublin, and beyond.


Kate O’Shea is currently engaged in an artist’s residency–the Just City Collective–with Common Ground in St. Michael’s Estate in Dublin 8. The work of Common Ground includes connecting artists with the range of established community projects that exist in Dublin 8. The project focuses on ‘spatial justice’ in an area acutely affected by the financialisation of Dublin. Most recently, a four-part online series called ‘Networks of Solidarity’, aimed ‘to strengthen transnational networks of solidarity and deepen awareness of place-based struggles that reverberate from Dublin 8 to Gadigal Country (Sydney, Australia)’. Speaking to Kate, she emphasised that building deep relationships with people and groups in Dublin 8, and beyond, was the most important part of her work and life. Kate’s 2019 project, ‘Art, Activism, Architecture’ included exploration of the ‘The Living Commons’, a model of communal living that ‘moves beyond strictly policy-led integration attempts and instead works with a more natural mode of forming and nurturing long-term relationships between people through a focus on working on commons goals/interests’.



“Communities–with unique knowledge of their own place–should be leading environmental initiatives


Artist Seoidn O’Sullivan, in collaboration with Common Ground and UCD School of Geography created ‘Mapping Green Dublin’, another interesting project that posits that communities–with unique knowledge of their own place–should be leading environmental initiatives. The Community-led greening strategy involves people identifying existing green spaces, trees and spaces of potential intervention. The project’s mapping process, and resulting data, demonstrate the importance of expanding the types of data we draw on when discussing housing and urban space.


What Does He Need?’ is a collaboration between artist Fiona Whelan, theatre company Broken Talkers and Rialto Youth Project, exploring the lives of young men living in Dublin city. The public poster project saw responses to the question printed across the city, generated through workshops involving young men and community workers. Short and striking answers: ‘a decent pair of runners’; ‘to hit back’ and ‘hugs everyday’, demonstrate the power and potential of creatively using public space to start conversations.


Artists and arts organisations are also raising the issue of access to creative spaces for everyone. We can create housing and other spaces that recognise and engage the creativity that is intrinsic to us all. This creativity is essential to navigating the adaptations necessary to confront the various social, economic and environmental challenges in Ireland.


The housing and care of people experiencing and facing homelessness, and the work of organisations such as Community and Tenants Union and Threshold, must be prioritised in plans to improve the housing system. But, let us remember we deserve homes and spaces that meet our needs and allow us to live good lives. Let’s demand a system that enables us to build and shape our own spaces.




This article was supported by: STAND Business and Politics Editor Sean


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