The Digital Hub: Keeping the Liberties alive with culture

5 Dec 2018

Fiach Mac Conghail. Image: Peter Houlihan

How does The Digital Hub aim to rejuvenate Dublin 8 in the year ahead? CEO Fiach Mac Conghail fills us in.

Fiach Mac Conghail has been CEO of The Digital Hub since November 2016. He is responsible for leading and delivering on the organisation’s strategy to develop the technology enterprise cluster and help to shape Ireland’s digital future.

Before joining The Digital Hub, Mac Conghail was director and CEO of the Abbey Theatre for more than a decade. He also previously held the position of artistic director at the Project Arts Centre and was policy adviser to the Minister for Arts, Sports and Tourism.

Based in the historic Liberties area of Dublin city centre, The Digital Hub houses almost 80 established businesses, employing more than 700 people. It is the largest cluster of digital media, technology and internet businesses in Ireland.

As we prepare to head into 2019, we spoke to Mac Conghail about some of the projects The Digital Hub has in the pipeline.

Tell us what you have achieved at the Digital Hub in 2018.

We have supported some amazing companies this year, including a few that are really growing their businesses. Wachsman is a global professional services agency specialising in blockchain communications and strategy that has expanded operations this year. It has almost doubled its team, so we facilitated a move to a much larger office in one of our flagship buildings. They are a great bunch of people and they really get involved in events and activities at The Digital Hub.

Another company, PatientMpower, has also expanded. It is an amazing health-tech company dealing with pulmonary lung disease. Such extraordinary work it is doing. Earlier this year, it won a major international medtech competition, winning a one-third share of a $1m prize fund. It is one of a cohort of connected health companies we are currently developing.

Our ability to accommodate and provide flexible leasing arrangements to support companies such as Wachsman and PatientMpower as they continue to expand is one of our USPs.

‘Making a valuable contribution to the positive urban regeneration of the Liberties has always been a core value for The Digital Hub’

I think we have achieved a great mix of companies here this year, from gaming to health-tech and everything in between. We keep tabs on that all the time, so when a company applies to locate their business at our campus, we examine how our community is made up at that point in time. We check in on the mix of Irish and global companies, what size businesses are here; who might be set to expand, export to new markets and are using different technologies.

In a first for The Digital Hub, we launched an artist-in-residence programme this year. We have two hugely talented artists who are working on exciting projects and programmes, which will come to fruition in March 2019.

This artist-in-residence programme builds on our ongoing work to position The Digital Hub at an intersection between innovation, art and technology to the benefit of enterprises at The Digital Hub and the residents of the Liberties community.

What are your immediate plans for 2019?

A key part of The Digital Hub campus is a 2.6-acre site known as the Windmill Site. We want to see it regenerated, so 2019 will see us work on the creation and development of a strategic masterplan for this. It is an opportunity for us to tease out how we can create a sustainable technology quarter in the Liberties.

This year, we have been working on the development of a new five-year strategy for The Digital Hub. I’m really excited to be launching this in the first quarter of 2019. It is our blueprint for the next five years.

As you expand your footprint in the Liberties, how conscious are you of impacting this area and its unique history and culture?

Making a valuable contribution to the positive urban regeneration of the Liberties has always been a core value for The Digital Hub. It’s something that myself and the team are very conscious of. It guides us in delivering our learning programmes and finding the right local partners to work with, that hold the history, culture and people of the Liberties in as high regard as we do.

Tell us about some of the outreach projects The Digital Hub is involved in for people in the locale.

We have run community learning programmes with a digital focus since the establishment of The Digital Hub in 2003. The projects have moved with the times and we have worked with hundreds of partners over the years. In recent years, we have focused on driving STEM and STEAM education programmes creatively, while also addressing issues with gender parity by providing and promoting positive female role models.

The Future Creators and the Future Creators Cadets programmes are well established and there are currently 24 13- to 16-year-olds and 16 10- to 12-year-olds participating on these programmes for the 2018-2019 academic year respectively.

On 12 December, I’ll be at the graduation and showcase gig of the Liber8 Music Project. We run this programme with our neighbours at the BIMM Institute Dublin and I’m really looking forward to seeing how the group of 14- to 17-year-olds from the Liberties area have got to grips with their guitar, bass, drums and vocal performance, as well as the technologies used for sound recording and design.

The Digital Hub has engaged in a number of cultural and artistic projects this year – is that something you hope to continue next year? And is it important to you that this continues?

We had two great digital art installations and exhibitions this year: established artist Robin Price brought his digital art installation, This is Not a Table, from Belfast to The Digital Hub; and emerging video artist and motion graphics designer Riona Long showcased her video installation, Resonate. Supporting established and emerging artists with showcasing their work to our community of companies, their employees, the young people on our learning programmes and the wider community is important to us.

We are already planning further exhibitions and events. We’ll participate in Culture Night in September, and some creative work arising from our artist-in-residence programme will be seen early next year.

Photographer and award-winning visual artist Mandy O’Neill is exploring the themes of education, youth and community within the context of the unique Liberties area and she will present her work at an exhibition at The Digital Hub in March 2019.

We also have a filmmaker in residence, Mia Mullarkey, who, as part of her residency, has developed and is currently delivering a learning initiative for us called Screen8. It’s a free out-of-school programme for local 14- to 16-year-olds that gives them hands-on experience of making movies, and is designed to give our young people an opportunity to be creative and develop skills and talents for a future career in film. They are currently working on a short film, which will have its world premiere at the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival in March – so we’re very much looking forward to seeing that.