Don’t get too excited but it’s a comedy of errors called Up Sh*t Creek Without A Paddle and will be starring the board of directors and senior management…if they can be tracked down for comment, that is. And of course, the audience is cast adrift in this mire of effluent too.
In better news, I have a feeling that the garage owner in the laneway behind the venue can cut back on having to work at unsociable hours. Every cloud…
The Limerick Leader reported this week that the company running the arts centre will be liquidated and debts are over €750,000, which is a colossal sum. The bulk of it is owed to the building contractor who carried out major refurbishment works. Worse, money is owed to local arts practitioners who put on shows there in the latter half of 2012. There must have been signs that it was heading for trouble by then so engaging those people was pretty despicable.
Less than two years after it reopened after €1.26 million worth of works (or maybe more?) the Belltable is closed and will remain so for the foreseeable future. Local playwright, Mary Coll, was on Radio One arts show, Arena, the other night talking about it. I’d urge people to listen to the podcast. She said that serious questions need to be asked about this and I agree, along with just about everyone with an interest in the arts in Limerick.
So, what happened? I don’t think there is a single individual or factor in this case but more like several. Responsibility lies with the Belltable’s management and board as well as Limerick City Council. The buck has to stop somewhere and it lands squarely at the feet of the people making the decisions. You could blather on about human nature, collective consciousness, peer pressure, diplomacy et al. It’s always hard to know what’s the right thing to do. But the state of affairs at the Belltable didn’t develop overnight; this slippage has been going on for years and left unchecked. Now that it’s all gone to pot, there’s not much point in blame. All we can do is hope that lessons are learned from the mistakes.
And there’s no point blaming the recession by the way. The economic climate is poor but then again I don’t hear of other regional arts centres closing in these circumstances. Bear in mind that the Belltable was one of Ireland’s first regional arts centres when it opened in 1981. In the Celtic Tiger years a lot of new, multimillion euro facilities were built i.e. the Dunamaise Arts Centre in Portlaoise, An Grianan Theatre in Letterkenny, the Civic Theatre in Dublin and the Riverbank Arts Centre in Newbridge to name but a few. You’ll note that all of them, and many others like them, are still open for business. It’s not all sunshine and roses but they’re doing their best.
Even the dogs on the street know that the Belltable hasn’t been doing all of what it was supposed to be doing. The mission statement and artistic policy on Belltable.ie reads as follows:
“A space for arts development, excellent arts provision and social engagement in Limerick and beyond. This is achieved by:
- Presenting work of calibre across the art forms: Visual Art, Live Performance*, Film and Literature
- Fostering, developing and nurturing local, national and International arts practitioners and encouraging innovation in their practice
- Making space and resources available to create new work across the art forms
- Fostering Partnerships, networks and create debate and dialogues with arts practitioners, local communities and audiences
- Being a focal point, a vital resource and social space for the arts in Limerick and Beyond
* This includes but is not restricted to: Theatre, Poetry, Circus, Music, Comedy, Dance, Opera, and Traditional Arts.”
Of course, it was fulfilling some of its remit but there was a dearth in some areas. I’ll let you decide how efficiently the Belltable was meeting these goals set out by organisation itself. I wonder how many of the people involved in running the place read and really understood this statement of intent. At no point does it say, “Enduring persistent noise pollution no matter how much it damages the experience of artists and patrons”. Seemingly most of the “debate and dialogues” revolved around getting paid i.e. ‘Where’s the money I’m owed?’ There hasn’t been a public forum to seek audience/practitioners’ views in quite a while.
The local authority owns the building itself so that cannot be sold. Is someone going to dismantle all usable equipment so these assets can be sold to settle some of the debt? I don’t see how that would be productive in the long term but it is possible. The contractor no doubt has sub-contractors and staff to pay.
According to the Leader’s latest article “Kieran Lehane, director of service with responsibility for arts, culture and sport in Limerick City Council, said this week that the local authority “fully understands the value of the Belltable to the city and to the wider public and also to the various groups that have played there over the years. It is an important asset in the arts infrastructure in the city and City Council is trying to work to resolve the issues with the Belltable as soon as we can.”
Although the sentiment is nice, it’s the same tired line trotted out all the time (I spent three years writing it in local news articles ffs). There has to be a will to address this situation. The city council played a role in allowing these problems to develop, even by maybe taking a hands-off stance. It was one of the main sources of funding and had a responsibility. Now, its arts service and relevant personnel can lead the push for recovery by approaching the Arts Council and asking for help/collaboration etc AND fast.
What happened to the proposal for the new and improved Daghdha Dance Company? There was an invitation for applications for a new director last June and then…nothing! The company’s former home, the extensively refurbished church in St John’s Square, is still sitting there—waiting for activity. That will happen to the Belltable if action isn’t taken. Local companies and audiences will go elsewhere while a top class facility gathers dust and eventually falls asunder.
I’m not a legal expert…
I presume a new company needs to be founded to run the Belltable and a new board has to be appointed along with a CEO/Artistic Director. All avenues for funding should be explored but the Belltable is mostly at the mercy of the Arts Council. I hope that authority will be sympathetic and not leave the local audience and arts community without this resource. The form, structure etc will probably change but hopefully, for the better. Also, the City of Culture 2014 committee needs to play a part in this process—a reinvigorated arts centre could be the lasting legacy left by the event?
In the last post I wrote about the Belltable, the playwright, Mike Finn, suggested in a comment that the facility needs to re-open under a new banner as well as a new outlook because “it could be argued that the brand is so badly damaged as to be beyond repair”. Mary Coll also pointed out that the Belltable has met a very “undignified” end.
Maybe there should be a public meeting with all the relevant stakeholders in the Belltable and other interested parties to talk about what can be done and throw around ideas? I think the same drive and enthusiasm that got the Belltable off the ground three decades ago still exists if only it could be harnessed.
To quote Paul Smith in ‘Apply some pressure’: “What happens when you lose everything? You just start again. You start all over again.”