Limerick to lead European culture 2020?


by Rose Rushe

Mark Whelan, Ciaran O'Driscoll, Bertha McCullagh and Paul Sweeney, Cuisle Poetry Festival organisers with Richard Blanco, American Laureate against the Urban Horse project, Hunt Museum Photo: Keith Wiseman
Mark Whelan, Ciaran O’Driscoll, Bertha McCullagh and Paul Sweeney, Cuisle Poetry Festival organisers with Richard Blanco, American Laureate against the Urban Horse project, Hunt Museum
Photo: Keith Wiseman

WITH National City of Culture funded ‘On The  Wire’ and ‘Waiting in Line’ up for gongs at the Irish Times Irish Theatre Awards in February, the Pery Square based Culture programming and administrative team is shortlisted for a Judge’s Special Award. Why? “For using the city in the most imaginative way to rebrand Limerick as a beacon of artistic endeavour”.

Deserved recognition, but where is Limerick going to on an international scale is the question begged as this Cultured City chills out under January skies.

The short answer is we pitch for European Capital of Culture 2020, this halo to be shared with one other city in the Union. Current holders for 2015 are Mons in Belgium and Pilsen in Bohemia, west of Prague in the Czech Republic. A Croatian city will be the Irish city’s partner five years from now.

It was proposed at a December presentation to Limerick City and County Council by the City of Culture team that a professional team of five, as a new company serviced by Limerick local authorities, called Limerick Creates would push Limerick’s candidacy for this enormously significant title.

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“Take the Legacy projects,” City of Culture Mike FitzPatrick said to Arts page later of 2014 initiatives,  “take the explosive energy of that culture, that has to be the way forward. For the initial bid to be in by next October 17, 2015 there is Limerick, Galway, Dublin, Waterford and Wexford in the mix” [Louth authority representatives have attended a Government briefing session].

“A selection committee will decide on the shortlist and there is another nine months to develop a programme, the financial investment around strategy and ideas”.

Buzz augurs well for Limerick with The Arts Council upping its grants locally by 3.5 per cent for 2015, despite swingeing cuts in Dublin and Cork.

Pat Kinevane's brilliant 'Underneath', December, Lime  Tree Theatre Photo: Patrick Redmond
Pat Kinevane’s brilliant ‘Underneath’, December, Lime Tree Theatre
Photo: Patrick Redmond

City brokers

FITZPATRICK makes the point that “we are not handing over National City of Culture status anywhere”. Councillors, Culture House, the  six Pillars (Food & Craft, Sports, History & Heritage and so on) are consensual that the momentum   be captured and made good for an internationally productive future in which Limerick rules OK – and preferably, rules Europe 2020.

Action suggested is to put out a tender for consultants to write the proposal for submission as required by cities on the long list.  Limerick Council chief executive Conn Murray has set aside €600,000, as he told councillors on Monday January 12, “not money to be spent on preparation for the bid but in anticipation of being successful to ensure sufficient resource is available at an early stage of planning.  A lesson learned from our experience to date”.

This is a hark back to the too-slow filtration of Government monies, €6million, to City of Culture’s use only in Spring 2014 which was a serious source of tension in programming.

Branar's The Way Back Home, for Limerick's first children's art festival, 69 O'Connell Street, October. With Refleksion, Denmark
Branar’s The Way Back Home, for Limerick’s first children’s art festival, 69 O’Connell Street, October. With Refleksion, Denmark

International class

THE spur is Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys’ December announcement of open competition for an Irish city to host European Capital of Culture 2020, up for grabs here every 15 years or so.

An international panel of 10 experts appointed by European institutions has the say in the shortlist. Ireland can hold two places on this committee and Minister Humphreys is to invite submissions nationally for these any time now.

The winning city will be named in mid to late 2016, leaving at least three years to prepare for the programme defining 2020. European Union provides funding of €1.5million for the winners by way of the Melina Mercouri prize.

Fidget Feet's aerial beauty played with Irish Chamber Orchestra, November, UCH Photo: Maurice Gunning
Fidget Feet’s aerial beauty played with Irish Chamber Orchestra, November, UCH
Photo: Maurice Gunning

Landscape links

LIMERICK has other winning cards to play in this bid, the river that runs through it, King John’s Castle, proximity to Shannon Airport and above all, co-operative community. These underpin our Sports, Crafts, Arts, Literary identities – be you Sean Citizen, a stilt walker, shopkeeper or running a library, hotel or carpark. We are all players in this effort.

Look back at Grandmother’s fanfare for the common people, snoozing by Colbert Station and at Lee Estate,  piddling in William Street and how a crowd of  260,000 came, saw and was conquered. A word from Paul Foley, senior executive officer with Limerick National City of Culture 2014 and the man responsible operations on multiple sites for all sorts of performances.

He had to ensure that statutory and crowd control measures were met.

“From an operational perspective for Limerick, it was a frenetic year and could not have happened without enormous support from the local authority, Gardai, business community and local media. The experience gained though from 2014 will be a major advantage in Limericks bid for European Capital of Culture.

“We have learned in a very detailed way… how to prepare and animate the streetscape to carry events international in scale, both creatively and safely.

“The visual and historic backdrop of the city is very striking and will compete with any city internationally in terms of imagery”.

Paul Foley also makes the pointt that Limerick is listed in Site Selection Magazine 2014 as one of the “top 10 places to invest in Europe”.

The city's first Spiegeltent hosted Culture & Chips festival in summer
The city’s first Spiegeltent hosted Culture & Chips festival in summer


LET’s look back in wonder. Some €10million was spent overall through the year on public events, programmes, productions, schemes, travel bursaries, professional development for artists and of course, the epic elements such as Royal de Luxe Grandmother, New Year’s Eve 2013, Riverdance and Fuerza Brute’s aerial velocity. Bianco circus filled the enormous Culture Factory in Plassey over 10 days with a 550 capacity at time. Extra shows were booked.

The additional financial support was from our local authority, RTE, corporate and philanthropic partnerships, box office and benefit in kind – venues that provided free or discounted space, for example; carparks at knockdown rate if you had a ticket for a show.

Together these made up the balance over the €6million set aside by Brendan Howlin back in 2012 when Limerick was mooted at cabinet level as The One.

Actress Ann Blake with  Shane Whisker conceived a theatrical short for Kiosk at the Park, one in a series of activities animating the historic box Photo:  Deirdre Power
Actress Ann Blake with Shane Whisker conceived a theatrical short for Kiosk at the Park, one in a series of activities animating the historic box
Photo: Deirdre Power

Method action

WE the consumer are aware principally of the public highlights that helped define our status through sport, dance, film, concerts, the Visiting Writers Programme, books and CDs issued, theatre, parades and so on.

As director (interim initially) from February 2014 onwards, Mike Fitzpatrick points to the experience garnered, the training and development in place, as well as evident results and products.

Leadership is needed too. “This has been all encompassing for the City of Culture team,” he underlines. He, with staff from Limerick City and Council, worked tremendous hours engaging strategic and artistic vision as well as being a visible, open presence at launches and productions.

Still, Mike Fitz makes the point, “For City of Culture to work it could not happen without the work and the talent and interest there is in the rest of the community. We now have the methodology, the engagement and the corporate knowledge to go forward”.

Bottom  Dog had an 18-night national tour with 'What Happened Bridgie Cleary'. Pictured, Myles Breen and Joanne Ryan
Bottom Dog had an 18-night national tour with ‘What Happened Bridgie Cleary’. Pictured, Myles Breen and Joanne Ryan

Bums on seats

NONE of this is nebulous or overclaim. Liam O’Brien, producer/ director with Bottom Dog Theatre Company points out that one clear dividend is “there has been a tangible shift in audience development. More people are going to things, be that visual art or dance and see the point in getting up off the sofa to support”.

Arts and cultural manager Sheila Deegan references the professional training element,  such as appointed Socially Engaged Practitioners – visual artists Pauline Goggin, Jacqui Hehir and Deirdre Power.

For example, they travelled to Sweden for conference, ‘Art for Artist Led Spaces’ and the investment has endowed our artists with further skills, exposed them to international influence and potential audience. Ed Devane went to London working on soundscape; Aaron Lawless to explore further how the physical environment informs work practice, his medium in art.

ICO under the Big Top orchestrated Ballet Ireland's Carmen (after Bizet)
ICO under the Big Top orchestrated Ballet Ireland’s Carmen (after Bizet)

Works in progress

TAKE a look at ongoing projects under radar. Film Limerick issued a call for its Trilogy of films, three shorts of 30 minute length in total to be produced by Behind the  Scenes network. Manager Ronan Cassidy scouted for male and female actors aged from 20 to 60 for roles in films to be directed by Stephen Hall, John Haugh, Peter Delaney on location here in Limerick.

Film maker Gerry Stembridge is on the mentoring team.

Shooting will begin in February so see if interested.

Now for hoofers, not tweeters. ‘Are You Dancing?’s alleged Final  Fling for Limerick Winter Carnival at John’s Pavilion is proving opposite. One of the organisers, John Daly, on percussion with The Kadillacs band, credits David Studer’s first gig in John’s Square to which 1,200 came to jig as lighting this.

“The feedback and vibes were unbelievable,” John declares of the Christmas jive and to his question would they attend if the gig were unfunded, the crowd cried out for more.

He feels the next Flings are bound to happen, likely three or so in the year rather than monthly. Another game changer is confirmed.

The Táin's Cú Chulainn (Bazzy B), another outdoor sell-out Photo: Ken Coleman
The Táin’s Cú Chulainn (Bazzy B), another outdoor sell-out
Photo: Ken Coleman

Legacy legs

LEGACY project works resulted in much that is concrete: ‘The Unlucky Cabin Boy’ as musical theatre; ‘The Colleen Bawn Trials’ brought to life the aftermath to this true County Limerick tragedy; ‘The Oldest Woman in Limerick’ emerged as a clever contemporary opera with thrilling music. Culture and Chips from the Spiegeltent was a summer joy for all ages.

Many shows hinged on Limerick stories, truth and fiction, all took a risk and grabbed new audiences, as did ‘Four War Plays’ and ‘Big Beautiful Woman’. This latter by Darren Maher had fun with a theatrical conceit, the play within play of City of Culture expectations and limitations on artists – funding, timeframes, meeting criteria and peer group pressure.

CDs merged, The Brad Pitt Light Orchestra’s original ‘The Unlucky Cabin Boy’ and the 17 acts/ 63 musicians who collaborated for ‘Pigtown Fling’.

Astrolabe Press published this anthology; Visiting Writers Programme
Astrolabe Press published this anthology; Visiting Writers Programme

Look and read

BOOKS supported by City of Culture included Joe Coleman’s ‘House Full’ and an anthology of contemporary poetry emerging from the year, ‘Dream of a City’ (Astrolabe Press). High wattage writers such as Irish laureate Paula Meehan, American laureate Richard Blanco and Cpt Corelli’s Louis de Bernieres crafted new works alongside our own Mark Whelan, Tim Cunningham, Vivienne McKechnie and other published professionals.

“Louis de Berniere even flew back in for the launch of ‘Dream of City’,” Sheila Deegan says with some pride, herself a pillar of Kate O’Brien literary weekend for 30 years, now Limerick Literary Festival.

Caroline Graham as head of the Literary pillar was one of several managers who worked on an unpaid basis with a team through the 14 months. Community workshops given by greats such as Richard Blanco and Colin Barrett were booked out months in advance.

Again, full credit to Limerick Library for providing host venues and being a terrific partner to the Programe, another sample cited by Deegan as emplary dovetailing between community, partners and artists.

John Collins’ visual response in oils to Mike Finn’s play ‘Pigtown’ hangs until Feburary in Bourn Vincent, UL, 22 canvases that range from lyrical triptych to a series of small chapters leading somewhere.

City of Culture secured epic shows such as Fuerza Bruta, Culture Factory
City of Culture secured epic shows such as Fuerza Bruta, Culture Factory

Proposed for 2015+

DISTILLING down the talk of making capital on the 2014’s designation and all the talent and people involved, the programme proposed by Limerick Theatre and Performance HUB  at 39 Cecil Street is both eloquent and representative.

Last year it was used by individuals and companies as diverse as Moyross Garda Diversion Project (outreach circus skills ) to Limerockers Street Dance Cru. Even RubberBandits got to raise the roof.

Events that worked out of it  include Pigtown Fling rehearsals, PULSE theatre extracts and script development workshops.

Priorities established for this year 2015, as put forward by the committee chaired by photographer Eamonn O’Mahony, are clear.  Partners identified include LIT’s Music Tech Department, Creative Communities Limerick and  FAS for a Community Employment scheme.

Specific plans include initiating a Digital Hub to provide Cloud services for the arts sector; fundraising; remaining a production resource for artistists in the development of new work. As an encompassing resource, The HUB’s existence, success is down to City of Culture funding and intelligent connectivity.

Who will pay for this route forward outlined?  Could the outline be made flesh and works? Nothing is obvious as Limerick City and County Council would now bear the cost of ongoing activity. Have we the money?

And 69 O’Connell Street, what was the Belltable, is on a slate for revival as an arts  and cultural resource as well as platform for shows, with a new board of directors appointed.

Public/ private partnerships exemplified by The Royal Picture Show tie-in with Hook and Ladder Café: Aisling Ryan,  PRO Patrick Hogan and Sarah MoloneyŽ  Photo: Gareth Williams / Press 22
Public/ private partnerships exemplified by The Royal Picture Show tie-in with Hook and Ladder Café: Aisling Ryan, PRO Patrick Hogan and Sarah MoloneyŽ
Photo: Gareth Williams / Press 22

The Royal Project

IT’s a dilemma facing more than No. 36 Cecil Street as now ability has been demonstrated to meet ambition. The Royal Project, the hoped for film training, making, cinema and resource planned also for Cecil Street has a preceding quality blueprint and established multiple of festivals.

According to Paul Patton,  education and training officer of Limerick Clare Education and Training Board, €250,000 has been allocated to architectural plans so far of a moot €5.5m needed for construction, but while under the auspices of the  board’s steering committee so far, Limerick Council is supportive.

Chief executive Conn Murray deems Limerick well placed to become Ireland’s first digital city with the establishment of the Royal, the country’s first combined cinema and media training centre.

“Following our hugely successful year as National City of Culture 2014, the Royal is the perfect legacy development to connect people to Limerick, its stories, places, culture and arts and  to act as a catalyst for new ideas, new technologies and the emerging film industry that is steadily developing here,” he said.

“The establishment of the Royal complements our plans in Limerick City and County Council to work with Ardmore Studios to develop the infrastructure for large film production in Limerick and create major sustainable employment as a result.

“As will as bringing thousands of cinema patrons back into the city centre, the Royal will provide unique opportunities for digital media training, boost our calendar of festivals and showcase the work of new and emerging local film makers”.

Limerick based practitioners and units assess the fragile reality of securing platforms, audiences and funding into the future on more than the wings of praise.  2016 certainty that we will be European Capital of Culture could only be linchpin for individuals, developing venues and audience(s), art and industry originating in Limerick and inevitably, this city’s health and identity as a whole.