Long-awaited plans for former Belltable are revealed

There is finally some (official) light at the end of the tunnel for the arts venue formerly known as the Belltable Arts Centre. The Limerick Leader has reported that “Limerick City and County Council has agreed to adopt a new model for 69 O’Connell Street –formerly the Belltable Arts Centre – in order to make it an ‘artistic hub’ in the city centre”.

It is welcome news but there is already a little bit of discord. Why can’t we all just get along? Answers on a postcard.

The New Plans

European Capital of Culture 2020 bid director, Mike Fitzpatrick, announced the hub plans last week and said that a new creative director will be sought to run the venue.

LL shot Limk 2020The reintroduction of the venue is to provide “high quality cultural activity” . A ‘special six-person committee’ will be appointed to independently oversee programming activity for the venue, which will consist of two nominations from the council, two nominations from the Lime Tree Theatre and two nominations from the performing and visual arts sector in the city. Mr. Fitzpatrick said at the meeting that “it’s all about getting lots of people involved” under a “good solid mechanism”.

It is hoped that the café on-site will be developed. The former Sarsfield Credit Union side of the building will be used for rehearsal space and offices for local arts organisations.

Mr. Fitzpatrick said that “under the Limerick Arts and Culture Exchange [LACE], the entire arts and culture community has been included in the new model”. This has been disputed by Monica Spencer of LACE who has said that “the statement about ‘the entire arts community’ being involved through LACE was made without the knowledge of or consultation with the latter organisation”.

Council Director of Services, Pat Dowling, said a Service Level Agreement (SLA) will be drawn up by the authority to enact the new model.

“The collaborative approach to operating the facility into the future is based on a model of shared resources and a shared commitment to ensuring that the venue is developed for the city leveraging off the strong artistic heritage that has existed over the past four decades. While the key focus is to operate the venue with financial prudence with the objective of reestablishing the site as the central arts hub for Limerick, this new method of governance will also be ensuring the input of the artistic community into future programming and venue development,” he said. It has all the right buzzwords/phrases anyway but action is the thing people want to see at this stage.

A Long Road

While I welcome the announcement, I think it’s unfortunate that another important cultural initiative in Limerick has been marred by resignations by experienced personnel at the outset, after what happened at the start of 2014 with Limerick City of Culture.

The Leader reported on 3 July that Mary Coll, Dr Michael Finneran and Karen O’Donnell O’Connor stepped down as directors of Limerick Arts & Culture Centre Ltd, an independent company incorporated nine months ago by the council to oversee 69 O’Connell Street. Also “a number of others – who were approached and accepted a call to form a ‘board-elect’ several months ago – have also resigned, believing the project to be in a state of ‘inertia’.”

It’s a terrible shame because eight months before, in October 2014, there seemed to a lot of optimism at the prospect of a new board and progress in the plans for the venue (reported here).

Mary Coll was quoted, stating: “It is going to be a very smart, interesting group of people with genuine commitments to the arts and making things happen and are not coming in for any other reason other than to support work being done, and I am very excited about it…I think it is very positive. It holds a special place in people’s hearts. The Belltable was a big gap. What it will be next, and how it will fit into the space, will be interesting.”

I have to agree with them about the inertia. The Belltable closed over two and half years ago in January 2013. In March 2013, the company running it was liquidated—owing €2.3 million to 74 creditors. It was a sad end for one of Ireland’s first dedicated arts centres. Aside from being a huge part of Limerick’s arts infrastructure, it had recently undergone a €1.25 million development, largely paid for by taxpayers money. I previously posted about my personal feelings on it here.

In December 2013, at the conference ‘Imagining the Future for the Arts in Limerick; Dialogue and performance’, it was announced that there would be a public consultation on the Belltable’s future in February 2014 and an outcome would follow. The idea that the credit union side would incorporate rehearsal space and offices got a mention then too. The consultations took place in March-April 2014.

Now it’s July 2015 when the plans for the place are moving forward. Why did it take so long? I know the authorities were busy with Limerick City of Culture 2014 but many people feel that the flagship city centre arts venue should have played a bigger part in this event. How long it will take before the new hub is up and running? I think the council needs to publish a solid timeline going forward and stick to it.

Thankfully, 69 O’Connell Street was not left completely idle. It was used for a variety of events such as Limerick Arts Encounter, the Richard Harris Film Festival and more. The Lime Tree Theatre and its manager, Louise Donlon, deserve a mention for the work in helping to maintain activity here. Although it’s a shame that this new management plan didn’t come into action sooner, it’s a case of ‘better late than never’.

Inclusion & Collaboration

Screen Shot 2015-07-29 at 17.13.42Now to the plans for running the venue; it goes without saying that an artistic director is needed to formulate a creative vision and direction. Recruitment needs to happen swiftly because time’s a wastin’ and it will have to re-establish itself among touring companies and audiences alike.

I think an independent board is vital and those people need to be qualified and accountable. A board of directors, by its very definition, “jointly oversee the activities of a company or organisation”. It’s a serious business. The former board of the Belltable came under heavy criticism when the company was liquidated. Several members of the first new board of Limerick Arts & Culture Centre Ltd have resigned. There is no mention of a new board of directors/management etc in the announced plans.

Will there be an open call for new board members or will they just be appointed behind closed doors? I presume the six person committee is completely separate from the board but will there be an overlap between the two?

Will members of the artistic community will be on the board as well? If so, it would mean ownership and investment beyond bricks and mortar and funding. Business and financial expertise is one thing but having an insight into the local arts scene is important too.

As for programming, in the new structure, there will be two nominations from the performing and visual arts sector in the city. I think this might be a bit low. Perhaps there should be at least one representative from organisations like LACE, the Professional Limerick Artists’ Network (PLAN) and Creative Communities, on the committee as well?

There is a lot of talk about input and inclusion of the local artistic community but that all remains to be seen. It is troubling that LACE says it wasn’t adequately consulted. A lack of good communication at the start will hamper meaningful collaboration.

Models for running the show are all well and good but there won’t be an actual show without the local artistic community. Alienating them at the outset is not a good idea.

Learning from Mistakes

Screen Shot 2015-08-03 at 09.20.50I obtained some Arts Council correspondence from a Freedom of Information request some time ago relating to the Belltable between the years 2007-2012. Those funding letters indicate issues with organisational/management structure at the former venue going back several years. AC Letter Belltable

In the funding offer letter for 2011-2012 it says: “You should note that further drawdowns from the 15 month funding offered are conditional on the following: 1 In the light of concerns expressed previously regarding the management structure of the Belltable, that a plan acceptable to the Arts Council is put in place to resolve this issue. 2 Procedures laid down in the Articles of Association regarding the rotation of board members should be implemented and proposals in this respect to be notified to the Arts Council. I am available to discuss these matters which need to be attended to as a matter of urgency…”

There was a reference in a funding offer letter relating 2012-2013 to “a lack of clarity in the relationship between the two senior members of staff and the board. This lack of clarity has been referred to on a number of occasions over the past few years and is seen by the Arts Council as contributing to the continuing underperformance of the Belltable”.

So it’s fair to say that the Belltable had its share of internal strife and since the redevelopment, the only ‘good solid mechanism’ at the Belltable was probably the loud machinery from the garage out the back lane, disrupting the performances. It’s important that the new venue develops a structure that works but reviewing and monitoring this structure is equally relevant.

The Belltable’s gradual decline culminated in the venue shutting down with the loss of several jobs and a long list of people left out of pocket. The timing couldn’t have been worse and it was an undignified end for a 32 year old venue of national esteem. I’m not saying this to be negative; it’s a fact! It can’t be brushed under the carpet completely. To use a term often used in theatre; there needs to be catharsis—“The purging of the emotions or relieving of emotional tensions, especially through certain kinds of art”—and then everyone can move forward.

A Fresh Start

Screen Shot 2015-08-03 at 08.51.31The new plans are never going to please everyone all the time but at least, at last, there is a plan and with it, a great chance to start again.

Limerick city has been without this municipal arts centre too long and it is needed to contribute towards the development of a lively city centre and the legacy of Limerick City of Culture.

Another welcome addition would be a new name! 69 O’Connell Street- formerly known as the Belltable has a whiff of the ‘Prince/The Artist Formerly Known As Prince’ about it and the potential for confusing visitors is huge. In a previous post, I quoted playwright, Mike Finn, who felt that the Belltable as a brand had been damaged beyond repair. That may be so. Maybe the authorities could do a competition for name suggestions so local people can get involved?

I love the idea of a vibrant café there and I think it should be (A) open later than 5.30pm several days a week and (B) a venue in itself for smaller/informal events such as poetry readings, open mic nights, café theatre etc. I love the idea of the venue being very involved with the community so it draws people in. I love the idea of it running an exciting cultural programme with a passionate team of people behind it again—much like when it was founded with a great deal of hope and enthusiasm in the early 80s. I don’t think I’m alone in holding that affection for the place. It means a great deal to the people of Limerick.

I really want this new venue to grow and thrive so if Limerick secures the designation of European Capital of Culture 2020, this new venue (whatever it’s called) will be one of the best regional arts centres in the country again.

I hope the council can do something special here. I implore everyone involved to grasp the opportunity, harness the potential, return for a rousing second act and there may even be a happy ending.

Crowd-funding campaigns: Elemental Festival and Limerick Craft Hub

Two very worthy Limerick artistic ventures are running crowd-funding campaigns at the moment—Elemental Arts & Culture Festival and Limerick Craft Hub. I’m sure they’d both be bowled over with any support you could give them and all the information is below. Good luck to both in achieving their funding aims.

Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 20.32.29The volunteer-led Elemental Arts & Culture Festival has been running since 2012 and brings a diverse mix of “the arts in all their guises” over a weekend in September. Events include disciplines but not limited to: visual art, street theatre, music, crafts, forgotten skills, youth theatre, comedy, print, acrobatics, film and photography. This year’s proposed programme will be no different and events will include a sign-artists event ‘Love Letters from Limerick’, film screenings including the Oscar nominated Song of the Sea, theatre show Charolais and much more.

The aim is €2,000 and all funds collected on this campaign will go directly to the programme to pay artists, venues, technicians, equipment hire, accommodation, transport, printing costs and insurance. The festival doesn’t receive Arts Council funding. Elemental won Best Programme at the National Festival Awards (AOIFE) and was shortlisted for Best Website and Best Merchandise as well as being shortlisted for the National Green Awards. Their mission statement also includes using Elemental as a platform for supporting charities and the local community too. Past collaborations include: The Blue Box, Special Olympics, The Children’s Ark, the Ger McDonnell Memorial Fund, Limerick’s Buzzing and Fairtrade Limerick.

It’s a festival with a great can-do, ‘if you build it, they will come’ feel and “created by people with a passion for Limerick with the purpose of animating the city through the arts”. Some of the rewards include tickets to events, books, exclusive merchandise featuring the art of Jacob Stack and even some yummy gelato.

I’ve made my contribution so I’m really looking forward to the weekend. The deadline is just four days away so please consider investing in this event HERE!

www.elementalfestival.com

PS: Here’s a lovely video promoting Elemental…

Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 21.13.08A not for profit organisation of 50 local craftspeople who support and promote crafts handmade in Limerick, Limerick Craft Hub was set up last year.

It is a legacy project of Limerick City of Culture 2014 and the collective “walked into an empty building last July and together we transformed it into the bright, busy space that you see today. Our exclusive high calibre craft outlet has a gallery space at the rear. We also have three fully operational craft studios, which are open to the public”.

The hub has a thriving Community Craft Corner where people come and knit every Monday and Friday morning for charities and for fun and it runs craft workshops on a regular basis.

Limerick Craft Hub wants to upscale and improve the craft shop, gallery and studio spaces.

In their own words: “We have secured a grant from LEO but need to match it with our own funds to actually receive the grant. This is where you guys come in, we need your help to raise those funds! The money raised will go towards a bigger kiln, a new coffee machine, a more dependable and faster till system,  and laptops for our marketing team. We want to be able to offer you more workshops, events, public rentable kiln space, a relaxed atmosphere in which to enjoy a coffee during community crafting and a greater overall experience when you walk in through our doors.”

Rewards for contributions include cups of delicious Pónaire coffee and a selection of the wares made and sold here including honey, felt crafts, lip balm, ceramics, jewellery and lamps. The target is €14,000 and there are 19 days left in the campaign. To support this crafty endeavour, click HERE!

www.limerickcrafthub.ie

PS: Here’s a fun video outlining the craft hub and its campaign…

Call for papers/presentations for Light Moves Festival of Screendance symposium

dancelimericksmsFollowing the success of the inaugural Light Moves Festival of Screendance in Limerick last year, it is returning from 19-22 November 2015 and it is sending out an open call for papers and presentations for the symposium, which forms part of the festival.

The symposium’s subject is “Peeling Away the Layers” and the closing date for submissions. Friday 7 August. The symposium sits within the Light Moves festival and aims to encourage artistic and scholarly exchange, debate and discussion in screendance and related disciplines including performance, dance, film, visual arts, sound and text.

Light Moves is Ireland’s only festival of Screendance and is dedicated to the art of dance film and video art with movement as a central theme.

The festival is hosted by Dance Limerick and DMARC (Digital Media and Arts Research Centre) at the University of Limerick. It will take place at Dance Limerick and is supported by the Arts Council and Limerick City and County Council as well as the hosts.

“The festival is a response to the vibrant and expanding field of dance film/ screendance in Ireland.  Light Moves is curated by Jurgen Simpson and Mary Wycherley and combines classics, family screenings, invited works, open submissions and explorations of screendance with some of the most respected figures in the field.“

LightMoves cover_ Beach Party AnimalProposals should be submitted in PDF format only (more details below) to lightmovesfestival@gmail.com and the full details are available from www.lightmoves.ie.

Topics
Proposals for presentations, papers and project discussions are invited from national and international practitioners and scholars. Experimental and/or group formats of presentation are welcome. Papers and project presentations may include but are not limited to the following areas:

  • Screendance as a language for social, cultural and political conversations.
  • Let’s talk about digital: Challenging the allure of High Definition; The ubiquitous camera; Primitive technologies, embracing artefact and rediscovering lo-fi.
  • Screendance conventions and the interplay between mainstream and experimental practices.
  • Mediating and experiencing time in screendance (uninterrupted, compressed and expanded time).
  • Harnessing performativity; liveness in screendance.
  • Confronting stereotype (body, dance and location).

Submissions:

Proposals should be no more than 300 words and should include:

  • Title of paper or presentation.
  • A maximum 300 word abstract (including brief description of the questions, concepts and topics to be explored).
  • Preferred presentation format/approach.
  • A short biography.
  • A/V requirements.
  • Website links supporting the proposal, if available.

www.lightmoves.ie

Community Theatre: Saving The House of Delmege, tomorrow night/Sat 11 July

Moyross sign

The Hollywood-esque sign announcing the Moyross was entering the community theatre scene last year!

After the success of community theatre project, Moyross, last year, a new community theatre group was set up in the north side area. Now, the budding actors and actresses in Moyross Community Drama are preparing  for their exciting debut production—Saving The House of Delmege—tomorrow evening (Friday 10 July).

The venue is the Hunt Museum and the plot is as follows: “Faced with mounting debts from her late, philandering husband’s ancestral home, Lady Constance Delmege desperately wants her only daughter to marry into money – even if it means marrying Norbert, the foppish son of the ‘new money’, neighbouring Caulfield estate.  What unfolds is a story filled with twists and turns, trickery, promiscuity, social climbers, an Italian count and a sulky!”

This comedy costume drama, set in Limerick the early 1900s, will feature a cast of Carrie Barrett, Lucia Brunetti, Majella Conway, Ursula Dundon, Sheila Fitzpatrick, Philip Hackett, Ger Purcell, Leanne O’Donnell and Conchi Ortiz.

During Limerick City of Culture 2014, many Moyross residents took part in workshops with Dublin-based, Theatre Club for Moyross and also with playwright, Mike Finn, and writer, Helena Close. In September 2014, Moyross Residents’ Forum invited to begin a weekly drama workshop.  Since that time, a group of 11 regular members, and as many occasional workshop participants, have attended the weekly workshop in Corpus Christi School.  The result of all of these workshops is a new devised piece of drama, Saving the House of Delmege.

According to drama facilitator, Monica Spencer, “the cast of the new work are new to this style of performance although Sheila Fitzpatrick-O’Donnell, Lucia Brunetti and Phillip Hackett are regular readers of their own poetry in the White House on Wednesday nights.  Sheila, along with Majella Conway and Ursula Dundon also performed in Moyross, the play.  All cast members are incredibly enthusiastic about the project and each one is delivering performances in rehearsal that belie their level of experience”.

Saving the House of Delmege is on at 7pm tomorrow and there will also be a show on Saturday 11 July at 3pm. Further performances will take place in Moyross in September/October with details of dates and venue to be announced.

Tickets are €5 and booking is recommended because audience numbers are limited to 50. Booking on moyrossdrama@gmail.com or 087-6047262.

This is one of the many community based drama initiatives taking place in Limerick at the moment.  It has support from The GAFF as well as from PAUL Partnership, Limerick City and County Arts Office and from LCETB.

 

A chance to support Dear Mr. Le Bon

Screen Shot 2015-04-23 at 19.23.06A friend of mine drew my attention to an interesting publishing project, which music fans may want to contribute to through crowd-funding.

Dear Mr. Le Bon is a proposed book made up of “letters to pop stars regarding their work from a retired member of the public with genuine replies from the artists themselves”. If this is something you’d like to read, you can support their efforts at the Kickstarter link here.

Derek Philpott and Wilf Turnbull, from Bournemouth in the UK, wrote to numerous musicians with friendly enquiries about their work.

The two lads had this to say: “Hello Everyone! We are both pensioners living in Bournemouth who write to popstars about their song lyrics, and they often reply. We also have animations on youtube which are very popular. It’s great to see popstars taking an interest in us ordinary members of the public! And, if you are in any doubt, please be reassured that all replies are totally genuine and are directly from the desks of the bona fide artistes themselves!”

There are a lot of artists involved, from Survivor to Slade, Edwyn Collins to Kaiser Chiefs.

The artists and the media have positive things to say about it, such as:

“It was most enjoyable to be involved in a letter that did not involve one of my ex wives’ solicitors” – Rick Wakeman

”Somewhere between Henry Root and John Shuttleworth – what a hoot!” Julie Burchill

”Now we have Wilf and Derek, two Bournemouth OAPS who write to pop stars old and new, taking them to task for their absurd lyrics. Follow their adventures” Bruce Dessau, Evening Standard

”Good luck, the both of you x” David Quantick

”Thanks for the brilliant work and for allowing me fence with such a formidable comic swordsman. Count me in for whatever helps the Grand Cause!!” Dave Was, Was Not Was

I love the feel of your jibe…Whatever you do will be creative and great. Hope I can help”..Chris Difford, Squeeze

This project will only be funded if at least £16,000 is pledged by Sunday, 3 May. Good luck to the chaps!