Press Up’s new Dean studios offers much-needed workspaces for Dublin artists

Move seems like a genuine commitment from the hospitality group to improving the city

“It’s pretty wonderful where we’re standing tonight, and it’s pretty incredible what Press Up have decided to do with their money ... and they have plenty of it!” This is Panti Bliss speaking at the opening of Dublin’s new Dean Art Studios, developed and paid for by the hospitality group Press Up. Panti Bliss is impressed “especially because we’re in a city that sometimes, currently, it really does feel that they don’t really give a sh*t about their artists any more. I sometimes feel the only time they care is when they want to use us to promote the city. They promote but don’t support. And so if the city isn’t going to do it, you need other people to step in and do it, so fair play to Press Up. I’m hoping they put in a swing and we can all sue them. On top of a free studio you’d be on easy street!”

Jibes aside — about a now ex-TD’s misadventures on a swing at a Press Up hotel, also called the Dean — Ms Bliss praises studio manager Kate Farnon, who got about 20 artists together, “an incredible, diverse cross-sectional representation of the city as it is today”, selected by an independent panel from more than 150 applicants.

Dean Art Studios are slap-bang in the city, at 4 Chatham Row, with a buzz about the new artist building. There’s increasing consciousness of how Dublin’s culture has been hollowed out by development and raw capitalism, with creative workers increasingly unable to find affordable space to work (never mind live), so it’s positive to see an impressive, extensive studio building, underpinned by a private business.

Press Up Hospitality Group, owned by Paddy McKillen Jr (son of property developer and hotelier Paddy McKillen) and Matt Ryan, has a portfolio of 40-plus hotels, bars, restaurants, cinemas and venues in Ireland, and pandemic notwithstanding, it has done well for itself, so this constitutes a kind of giving back. While it’s undoubtedly good PR, it also seems like a genuine commitment to improving the city, in it for the long haul. Press Up chief executive Ben Barclay says: “We want Dublin to be a progressive, cool and vibrant city and you can’t have that without a solid creative community that doesn’t get pushed out every time there is an uplift in rents and costs. I think a mix of private funding, council and government money is a really good solution to the space crisis, and I hope when this project proves a success it can lead to more of the same from us, and hopefully many others.” He promises “a long-term commitment from us for many years to come”, and says Press Up would like to do similar in other cities where it has hotels.


There is a bit of a but, in that the Dean’s lease from Dublin City Council is on a “meanwhile use” basis. Barclay says, “I hope we do it justice”, and hopes it will become long-term, but says Press Up will find an alternative building if it has to exit. Rent is roughly €27,000 a year, and Press Up has spent €300,000 on the project so far, including studio manager’s salary, refurbishment, bills, support and events, plus two years’ rent on previous studios on Harcourt Street.

The handsome three-storey redbrick, owned by Dublin City Council and hub for musicians and teachers for over 100 years, was TU Dublin’s Conservatory of Music and Drama until it moved to Grangegorman in 2020. The council has been criticised for the city’s shortage of creative space, coming to a head this April when it ended the meanwhile use of Richmond Studios in Fairview.

On the plus side, Dublin Port and the Arts Council are working on proposals for an extensive creative workspace development at the port.

Speaking at the launch, Barclay talks about the motivation for the studio project, how Ireland has improved over the past decade, adding, however, that “we can’t afford to lose our cultural and creative communities. We have to do whatever it takes to afford them space and support and funding. They have to remain in our city. There is no point in our creative community emigrating once again to Berlin and New York.”

Press Up opened studios on Harcourt Street two months before the pandemic, but attention diverted to surviving Covid and the project lost momentum until they secured Chatham Row and Farnon came on board to pull it together over the past few months.

With artists in place, Press Up hosted quite the party to launch it. Stepping inside, there’s a touch of the boutique hotel lobby, before it spins off in several directions, down corridors and up and down stairwells, to reveal a warren of creativity in rooms around every corner. There is work-in-the-making on display (some for sale), artists chatting with visitors, and pop-up music, dance and spoken word. It also feels like a clarion call to others who have made money in our country to emulate it, as Phillip McMahon of Thisispopbaby, suggests: “This exciting model could be replicated citywide. Artists are struggling to survive and thrive in Dublin right now, and businesses should be invested in nurturing and preserving the creative soul of the city.”

The lucky artists awarded workspace free for a year cover many bases, including multidisciplinary artists Jesse Jones and Chinedum Muotto; sculptors Nuala O’Donovan and Karen Donnellan; stage and screenwriter Sonya Kelly; author Olivia Fitzsimons; photographers Vera Ryklova and Letizia Lopreiato; painters Owen De Forge and Brid Higgins; set and costume designer Katie Davenport; musicians, composers and performers Adrian Crowley, Jessica Kavanagh, Ena Brennan (Dowry) and Rafino Murphy (Uly); Afro-Brazilian dancer and choreographer Alessandra Azevedo; Iranian artist Diaa Lagan; urban lifestyle magazine Slight Motif; writer/actor Shane O’Reilly. Painter Carl Hickey is there on a Dean-NCAD partnership, and art activist Thais Muniz joins artists Brian Teeling, Salvatore of Lucan and Elayne Harrington in an IMMA-Dean residency. “Sitting residents” include theatremakers Thisispopbaby, music incubator First Music Contact, photographer Ruth Medjber, songwriter-performer Paul Noonan, embroidery artist Domino Whisker and contemporary artists Leah Hewson and Aoife Scott. Refugee charity The Scoop Foundation awards a studio on rotation, currently for art therapist Oksana Tsymbalova, who was at Odessa Science and Art Museum before the invasion of Ukraine.

“Our creative community, our singers, our playwrights, our musicians, our poets have been what we shout about across the world to anyone who’ll listen,” Barclay says. “They have contributed to the fact that Ireland as this tiny island way outpunches its weight, and we need to make sure that we continue that. In order to do that we have to provide the space for artists to live in the city, to work in the city.”

Deirdre Falvey

Deirdre Falvey

Deirdre Falvey is a features and arts writer at The Irish Times