EVERYONE stops now and then to wonder, 'What if. . ?', but it's not often that just the right opportunity comes up at just the right time to satisy that desire for change. For Liverpool native Wes Wilkie, the answer lay in a small, twoinch high ad in The Guardian's media section back one bleak Monday morning five years ago.
"It's rare that you see a job advert and can truly say 'that's me'. But that's what happened. I was coming up to 40 at the time and wondering if I should make a move, and what that move should be.
When I saw this job advertised for Dublin, I applied, was offered a three-year contract, and that was the start of the adventure."
The 'adventure' was as arts development manager with Create, the Liberties-based resource organisation set up to support arts development and offering advice, guidance and training to arts practitioners.
Part of its focus is in monitoring innovation in arts development internationally, particularly in the area of community arts, and finding ways to apply changes here in a city itself undergoing massive transformation. ` With long experience as director of an arts organisation, including working with Liverpool City Council, Wilkie discovered many similarities between Dublin and his home town.
"Dublin and Liverpool are both port cities and they also share a certain style of architecture. The familiarity for me though is in little things like street names, many of which are the same, but mostly because I frequently bump into people I know from Liverpool.
"Like most major cities, Dublin exemplifies the best and worst a city has to offer.
I like the fact that I live and work right in the heart of the city. I'm not so keen on the fact that the minute you set foot in that centre, you practically leak money from your pockets."
Arriving here at the height of the 'boom' was another minus for a man who talks more in down-to-earth terms of 'housing' as opposed to the grander associations of 'property'.
"Having spent years in Liverpool living in big apartments within huge, well-appointed Georgian houses right on the edge of the city centre and with rent in the region of something around 40 quid a week, I did find it a bit of a shock to the system.
"Although I had been back and forth to Dublin quite a bit prior to moving, I was unfamiliar with the housing situation.
"When I set about looking for an unfurnished flat, the agents were laughing at me.
Similarly when they were asking me if I would be 'southside' or 'northside', I hadn't a clue what they were talking about. 'Property' as such wasn't a priority for me, I just wanted to find a place to live.
"When I eventually found this one-bed shoe box to rent and moved in all of my hi-fi equipment, CDs and all the other stuff, there was barely room left for me."
Nonetheless, he has been happily living in his Smithfield 'shoe box' ever since, where the only constant is the ongoing noise of construction, while the considerable change is in the make-up of the old inner-city community itself.
"The population shift has been quite dramatic. Because so many people are buying to let, there is quite a transient population, and you can see that transformation in places like the local pubs.
There is no doubt that the changing built environment also changes attitudes, and while I've only been there five years, I'm beginning to feel nostalgic about how it originally was."
Volunteering to help out with a school football club in the area was a great way, as a newcomer, to meet and integrate with the community there, he says, while on a wider scale, it's the development of the arts in the context of communities that provides a particular focus for Wilkie and the team at Create. The organistion is frequently approached by arts practitioners and groups simply looking for advice, training or support on how best to develop a work or project.
One of the many arts in the community schemes operated by the organisation is the student placement programme in association with the National College of Art and Design, whereby a fine art student will work on a project with one of the older city communities. It offers, says Wilkie, a valuable learning experience for both parties.
Constantly in view is how the arts can best represent the changing face of a multicultural and multi-ethnic city and country. However, community arts remains a largely under-represented area here. As Wilkie explains, the 'arts' as such tend to be associated solely in terms up market galleries, elitist theatre and so on. It is, he feels, a very narrow view.
"Much of what is considered 'the arts' would appear to relate to European or western art. That's what's mainly discussed.
"In reality, art is something that's part of the way of life everywhere, but it has been separated out from other areas of culture."
Create has been appointed to project-manage the community arts events included among Cork's forthcoming role as European City of Culture for 2005.
The organisation is also cohosting an exhibition, along with the Fire Station Artists' Studio and the British Council, of works by artist David Jacques in the form of 12 painted banners depicting the diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds of the people who now live in Dublin.
The exhibition opens this week at Temple Bar Gallery, and is similar in spirt to Jacques' previous exhibition, where Liverpool was the subject. Here, the sweep of his canvas, so to speak, is somewhat broader.
"The difference with the Dublin commission is that the artist has also included people who have moved into the city from rural areas, and who relate their experience of not quite fitting in. The work is inspired by personal testimonies of dislocation, and relocation, and identity. It's a powerful piece of social commentary on an ever-changing city.
"We are in an interesting position here at Create as we get to see people and observe trends and the changing nature of the population. So far, the lack of discussion and debate has meant that the subject of community arts here has not yet gained the recognition I believe it deserves."
With such a diverse number of thought-provoking projects now on the Create portfolio, Wilkie is surely the man to change all that.
'As if in a dream' by David Jacques runs from 26 October until 26 November 2004 at Temple Bar Gallery, Dublin 2 www. communityartsireland. com MOVING YEARS 1961: Born Toxteth, Liverpool 1961 - 1999: Liverpool 1999 - to present: