It’s been a stormy start to the City of Culture year in Limerick, in more ways than one!
After the crisis meeting in early January, I said that I would keep people informed of the follow-up meeting. Unfortunately, this meeting never happened. This was very disappointing given the level of interest and hunger for answers BUT actions were taken based on the original meeting. More on that later. Before I go further, I will say that a new public meeting has been organised by Richie Ryan—the man behind the first such meeting. This is scheduled for this Thursday, March 6, at 7pm in the Clarion Hotel.
This meeting was called mainly because The Irish Independent reported a few days ago that the CEO post vacated by Patricia Ryan has not yet been advertised. Shoddy Ted, given that Mike Fitzpatrick, leading artist and Head of Limerick School of Art & Design, was appointed as an interim CEO on January 7.
Two months=nearly 17% of 2014! And presumably, even if they advertise the post tomorrow, it won’t be filled until the end of March or 25% of 2014. Swift action Irish style! Even though the job is in good hands, it’s too slow. If you want to find the thick-skinned person who’s going to sup from the poisoned chalice, ye better get cracking lads. Just sayin’…
After the meeting, it was announced that the board would “broaden its membership” to include two other directors (along with Mr Fitzpatrick when someone else takes over) representing Limerick’s arts and culture community. Also, two local public representatives will join the board. Has this happened yet? Why not?
The board has managed to advertise a tender for a marketing and communications service with a contract from March to November. The decision to do that was informed partly by consultation with the people behind Derry’s UK City of Culture designation for 2013.
People are asking questions like: What do you need to hire someone when you have the Limerick Marketing Company, set up solely to promote Limerick in terms of a destination for tourism, industrial investment etc? While valid, the LMC has quite a broad remit and the City of Culture is a huge event and a special case. I don’t really have a problem with the idea of bringing in a specialist except that IT’S AT LEAST A YEAR TOO LATE! Like everything else with the City of Culture, it’s a fun scramble to try to cover the essential bases like budgets, staffing, a marketing strategy et al.
While I’m on a roll, does everyone know about Fuerza Bruta yet? There are banners when you come off roundabouts, there are television and radio ads, Facebook ads and the local press is full of ads and coverage—much like Riverdance in January. Blanket coverage for one big event and on to the next; one big push per quarter annum is it?
Does anyone know what else is going on for City of Culture? No, not really. I have a Jan-March programme, which looks very impressive but there’s no such thing as a simple ‘at a glance’ calendar arranged by date (take a leaf out of the Lime Tree Theatre’s literature). I tried to sign up for a newsletter on the website (which is a bit awkward and convoluted anyway) and there was a technical problem. As far as I can tell, there’s no information desk/central box office to go to purchase physical tickets or get programmes etc. There doesn’t seem to be an option for combination tickets (buying for several events at once at a discount) or early bird tickets at a discount- all things that might help.
There should be a manned, city centre retail unit literally packed with posters and leaflets detailing what’s going on. The inside of vacant shop-front windows should be plastered in material. Buses, billboards, viral video…there are so many different types of media to choose from. I see a lot of stuff in the local papers about events (some are even specific City of Culture events) and a bit of coverage in the national papers but is there enough awareness, nationally or internationally?
Oh, City of Culture is still in the news all right. The budget will be audited. Top job not advertised.There has been a lot of of material written, none very complimentary like here; here and here.
My personal favourite news item was from the Limerick Leader and was Chairman of the board, Pat Cox, speaking at a dinner for the Irish Technology Leadership Group at the end of January, made comparisons with the Shakespearean tragedy, Hamlet.
He was literally ‘hamming’ it up and of course, Chuckles the Clown AKA Minister Jimmy Deenihan was there too. He’s going to be in Limerick so much this year that they could allocate him one of those artists’ apartments down in John’s Square. He’s delighted to cut ribbons and make speeches but yet, he totally shirked any responsibility in creating the teething problems with City of Culture and neglected his duty to weigh in to resolve the controversy of the start of the year. Where’s the leadership?
Pat Cox: “We had a spectacular launch on New Year’s Eve, accompanied by no less than two splendid fire work displays, followed by an unexpected media orgy of fireworks…They entered stage left and exited stage right…Our little bout of unwanted publicity at the start of the year was rather like that moment. The point I want to emphasise was that Hamlet will go on.”
Newsflash: the NYE launch was less than “spectacular”. I didn’t see you there. Both sets of fireworks only lasted a few minutes (less than 10 combined I’d wager); the concert was poorly organised and staged purely for RTÉ with no regard for the audience who paid to see it. Did people in Dublin have to pay into their NYE concert? The “little bout of unwanted publicity” was three key personnel walking out, the CEO having to resign, hundreds of people attending a meeting demanding change and the whole country talking about what a f**k-up it was. I’d hate to see a big bout of unwanted publicity. It may have been unwanted but not unwarranted.
He referred to “six figure deals” being brokered. What are these deals funding exactly? Stating that “Hamlet will go on” doesn’t restore any of my confidence. FYI it wasn’t a happy ending. A few people in the local arts community went on to quote Hamlet too: “One may smile, and smile, and be a villain”. He’s not quite Claudius now but he’s not doing himself any favours by coming across as glib.
Mr Cox paid tribute to Mike Fitzpatrick at the dinner too but whenever I read or hear comments made about the interim CEO by him or anyone else officially connected with CoC, it smacks of a bad break-up where you were left feeling humiliated and then going around telling everyone “Well, I’m better off without them. Look, I found someone new!” This is not in any way to take away from Mike Fitzpatrick but he should’ve been on that board from day one and should’ve never had to take a sabbatical from his job to clean up a mess created by the Government—local and national—and the City of Culture board.
I’ve said before that the board members have good intentions and I believe it. The board took action after the meeting. Fair play, but it has to be consistent. Now, it looks very much like they paid lip service and didn’t follow through. I don’t think the key players involved ate enough of the humble pie served up at that first meeting. Hence, meeting 2.
Now, what I’d like to know is:
- When will a new CEO/Artistic Director be appointed, if at all?
- Is the artistic community represented on the board yet and if not now, when?
- Are artists and practitioners getting the back-up and financial support needed?
- Are communities getting the back-up and financial support needed?
- Basically, is the City of Culture initiative meeting and responding to the needs of the artistic community and the audience?
If so, brilliant! If not, how can this be addressed with a minimum amount of weeping of gnashing of teeth?
UPDATE: Someone very kindly informed me that there are now artist/local representatives on the board. Namely: Louise Donlon from The Lime Tree Theatre; Karen O’Donnell O’Connor from Paul Partnership and James Lawlor from the Literature strand of The Arts and Artists Pillar. Some positive news at least BUT that same person expressed disappointment that we’re realistically looking at 6 months, rather than a year, as City of Culture because of the confusion and disorganisation.
Maybe it’s just me, but I’m not as bowled over as I thought I would be about the whole thing. They say “Aim low and you’ll never be disappointed” and I had high hopes. I hope not too high because even though I am an optimist, I had a feeling this kind of dysfunction would occur. There is always a buzz in Limerick around the arts and culture scene. I love that and it hasn’t changed. But I personally don’t feel the love around this event; my goodwill has been diminished somewhat. In what is supposed to be the most exciting year for Limerick in terms of the arts, I’m still trying to get that bitter taste left by the furore at the start of the year out of my mouth…