Limerick is to be Ireland’s first National City of Culture in 2014. Huzzah! High fives and back pats all round. Now, where to go from here? Formal planning for this year will start shortly but the city’s people and artistic community are already thinking amongst themselves how it will work and what will happen. We all have hopes and fears for the event but either way, it’s a good time to start talking about it.
I was approached for my opinion and to perhaps publish the open letter by Katie Verling below but I had the idea of a ‘Magic Bulletin Board’. I hope people will join the conversation and this will be the first in a series of guest posts on this topic. If anyone wants to share their ideas for the City of Culture, they can email them to me on firstname.lastname@example.org. (This first post is quite long so my only request for future contributions is that people would be as concise as possible.)
In 2014 Limerick will celebrate year-long festivities as City of Culture. In the same year Limerick city and county will merge to create a single governing authority.
I believe that 2014 provides us—the 187,000 citizens of the new Limerick—a unique opportunity to establish our county as an innovative, creative and exciting place to live, study, work and raise families.
Limerick’s cultural history can provide the riches from which to forge contemporary ideas befitting our modern world. The Culture Capital plans should be rooted in the history, stories, communities, culture and traditions of Limerick. This is an entirely different vision from one where big bands, exhibitions and superficial events are brought in, and second hand festival ideas lacking any real ties to communities are imposed.
Limerick has the opportunity in 2014 to produce a unique set of events, but it must avoid the temptation to devise a programme just to cause a sensation or to show off; that would be as wrong as it would be to do nothing.
‘Culture’ is a word that covers everything from food, language and comedy to high art. There is no such thing as good or bad culture, though there is a strand in contemporary culture which can leave people feeling foolish, excluded or ignorant. That is not the culture of Limerick and its people; Limerick people are sociable, inclusive, honest, curious, have a good sense of humour and can spot snobbery, junk and hogwash from afar.
The cultural richness of Limerick city and county is vast; from the agricultural traditions, to the Shannon river and estuary, to history, churches, new and old buildings, dance halls, local theatre and musical shows, craft and design, musicians, artists, writers, performers, comedians, actors, dancers, village festivals, markets, pubs, visitor attractions, walking trails and so much more.
I suggest that the interpretation of ‘culture’ for Limerick’s 2014 plans is one in which people and communities are actively involved in planning, producing, participating in and being engaged. Furthermore, the idea of ‘engagement’ will mean—for the most part—entertainment or emotional connection.
The success or failure of Limerick Culture Capital 2014 will be measured by its legacy in the community:
- Did it create new levels of understanding and social inclusion?
- Did the urban, suburban and rural areas develop a greater sense of mutual understanding?
- How much cultural activity was activated for the long term?
- What financial gains did the area make in terms of increased bed nights, turnover in the retail sector, employment numbers, and tourism growth?
- And how much positive media coverage was generated nationally and internationally?
The people of Limerick have suffered the hurt of bad press and negative judgement for decades. The closure of Limerick’s bacon, hide, clothing and milling industries over the past 60 years, followed by manufacturers moving abroad in the 70s and 80s has left generations unemployed. This has led to poverty, deprivation, social breakdown and the emergence of gangs, crime, stabbings and horrific murders.
But, if we do not take ownership of our troubled past then we will never escape it. We must take on the reality of poverty, illiteracy, youth disengagement, drug and alcohol addiction, gangs, stabbings, unemployment, racial tensions and intolerance.
Limerick needs an optimistic future, which we have crafted for ourselves, makes us proud, and attracts students, researchers, entrepreneurs, investors and artists to work and live in our area.
Here are a couple of ideas that could work in 2014.
Dancehall Festival Dancehalls—now disused or repurposed as garages or warehouses— were once the centre of community life in the county and in Limerick itself. From Dromkeen to St John’s Pavilion, dancing would occupy at least four nights a week. How about a festival running across the summer in dance halls, community centres and parish halls throughout the county and city? There would be dance bands suitable for those who danced in the 50s and 60s, and slightly trendier dance groups for the younger generation of the 70s and 80s. Couples, family groups and friends could go from one hall to the next, meeting up, dancing and reminiscing. Imagine kitting out these venues with old fashioned coloured light bulbs, basic sound equipment and liquid and ice-cream refreshments?
Talent shows These would be run around the county in various heats, with the finale in a big venue in Limerick. It is a wonderful way for communities to meet, engage in jocular competition and show off their talents. These have re-established huge popularity due to a number of television shows using the talent show format.
Fr Ted’s Song for Europe Festival How about a festival along the lines of the ‘Song for Europe’ episode which produced the winning song ‘My Lovely Horse’ sung by Fr Dougal and Ted (and written by Neil Hannon)? This episode was filmed in the Royal Cinema in Limerick with John Kenny and Pat Shortt and many Limerick people appearing as extras. A comedy song festival would be appropriate now that our relationship with our European neighbours has become more enmeshed. Maybe the Rubber Bandits could be persuaded to enter their hit ‘Horse Outside’?
International environmental conference Creative Industries Conference Ardnacrusha hydroelectric station may be in Clare but since 1927 it has been harnessing the Shannon’s flow to generate electricity that has powered the industrial development of Limerick. These natural and man-made resources could form the basis of an international conference bringing environmentalists and artists together to develop ideas for environmentally friendly creative industries. The Mary Robinson Climate Justice Foundation could be invited to provide a key note speaker such as Mary Robinson or Richard Branson.
EVA NUA In keeping with the values of Limerick’s Culture Capital ethos, how about an Exhibition of Visual Art that engages with traditional and contemporary, local and national artists; one where attracting local audiences is as important as art cognoscenti or international critics?
A festival on the grounds of St Josephs Hospital. The original psychiatric hospital on Mulgrave Street has extensive grounds and beautiful buildings. Imagine if the HSE were to allow the green areas to be used for a weekend music festival with different areas for children, food, circus acts, traditional music, performance artists, videos and dancers? Limerick acts such as The Cranberries, the Rubber Bandits, Granny’s Intentions, Aphex Twin (Limerick-born Richard James), Hot Chip (Owen Clarke- Limerick born Dad), and many more would feature on the bill. Each area could have a different personality or theme for example; Donogh O Malley’s classroom, Jim Kemmy’s Stonemason’s Lodge, Kate O Brien’s Parlour, Frank McCourt’s tenement, Kevin Barry’s City of Bohane, Gerry Stembridge’s Scrap Saturday and Jimmy Carr’s Laughter Lounge.
Remembering the Limerick Soviet of 1919. There may be valuable lessons in this important event for Limerick people struggling to deal with the consequences of long years of austerity. The event could be re-imagined and acted out by a huge community cast of Limerick people in an area such as King’s Island or Corbally.
Limerick needs a year of culture that will engage all the people of Limerick first, and will draw the attention (and attendance) of visitors, second. The greatest form of publicity is word-of-mouth. If Limerick’s citizens become engaged and enthused by the plans for Culture Capital 2014, then we will have a mass of people telling their friends, family and colleagues about it.
This is the regeneration that Limerick needs, I believe-Katie Verling
Katie Verling was the inaugural director of the Glór venue in Ennis from its foundation until 2011. She has returned to study but is still very much involved in the arts.