New performance at Belltable!!!

shitcreekDon’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.

G.U.B.U anyone?

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.

170711121655--IMG_1013Even 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 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.

What now?

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…

14563018-new-brand-stampI 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.”

Opera Centre site bought by Limerick City Council for regeneration

BOOM!!!!Not Good For My Rage can now categorically confirm that the Opera Centre sitehas been bought by Limerick City Council. I’m delighted that I got to break it; mystory was published a full hour before The Limerick Leader’s take on it (it’s pride, not gloating!).
I’m going to write a comment post shortly because I feel strongly about it and it has been the subject of several blog posts. 
I flagged this very press release:
Mr. Phil Hogan T.D., Minister forEnvironment,  Community & Local Government today (18 November 2011)announced that he would be providing funding for the purchase of a strategicdevelopment site in Limerick City for regeneration. 
“Theredevelopment opportunities for this site are immense and will positively impacton the lives of the people and businesses in the city centre,” the ministersaid. 
LimerickCity Council and the Limerick Regeneration Agencies, who were instrumental inthe purchase of the site, indicated that they are considering a range of newuses for the site including housing, civic, and commercial uses. 
“Thissite is of strategic importance for the regeneration of King’s Island, ofthe city centre, and of the wider city,” City Manager Tom Mackey said,indicating that he saw this site as an important first step in the restorationof the residential and commercial functions within the city centre. 
The site consists of 1.9 hectaresbetween Michael, Ellen and Rutland/Patrick Street, in close proximity to the Hunt Museum, City Hall and the regeneration area of St. Mary’sPark/King’s Island. Its redevelopment will be considered as part of theoverall implementation plan for the Limerick Regeneration Programme and willseek to enhance the social, economic, and physical regeneration of thearea. 
The siteis currently unoccupied with many of the original buildings in relatively poorcondition. The Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan T.D., a resident ofthe city, expressed his satisfaction with the announcement, adding
“Iwelcome the purchase of the old opera site by Limerick Regeneration fromNAMA. This purchase will be a positive development for the GeorgianQuarter in Limerick city. The regeneration of this site will turnthis run down area into an area of vibrancy, which will improve the economic,social and cultural life of both the Georgian Quarter and the City as a whole.
Ihave worked very closely with Denis Brosnan, the Chairman of the LocalGovernment Implementation Group to ensure the site was kept in publicownership.  The risk was that a private developer could have acquired thesite and it could have lain fallow for many years. The site can now beregenerated as part of the overall renewal of Limerick city. 
Iwould like to thank the Minister for Environment, Community and LocalGovernment for providing the funds to acquire this site.  I have alwaysbelieved that the concept of regeneration involves more than just theregeneration of city suburbs with social problems.  One of the biggestregeneration challenges is the need to revitalise the city centre and to turnour city into a vibrant centre of social and cultural activities.”
Ministers Noonan and Hoganindicated that they would be working closely on the plans for the redevelopmentand would be seeking the support of all public, private and philanthropicagencies working in Limerick City to ensure that the new development would be sustainableinto the future. 
MinisterHogan concluded that “Regeneration is built on partnership – partnership withthe community, with business and the public sector, and I intend to workclosely with all partners including our colleagues in Shannon Development tosee this project successfully delivered”.  

New gallery, Ormston House, launches exhibition/calls for submissions

There is yet another new gallery in Limerick—further testament to the vibrant arts scene in the city. In August 2011, Ormston House (9-10 Patrick Street) launched its visual art programme in a 2,100 square foot dedicated exhibition space.

Supported by the Creative Limerick initiative, the gallery will devise and deliver an experimental programme of multidisciplinary exhibitions and events, and develop a series of research-based and archival projects. A key focus is to support artistic, curatorial and design practices, as well as a writer-in-residence scheme, through access to studios, a reference library, professional development workshops, peer discussion groups and networking events.

I was at an LCGA event there recently—a fascinating talk/conversation with the famous artist, Brian O’Doherty (AKA Patrick Ireland) ahead of the launch of his exhibition at Dublin Contemporary. I gather the former shop unit used to be a gallery so the transformation and use is fitting. Creative Limerick is a scheme that gives unoccupied retail spaces a new purpose by facilitating their use for artistic endeavours of all types. It’s a great scheme and Limerick is a trailblazer in harnessing that potential in Ireland. Kudos to the local authority, city arts officer, Sheila Deegan and the Creative Limerick team. To paraphrase Father Ted, they’re “a great bunch of lads”!

The interesting press release also adds: “Operating under a licensed agreement, Ormston House acknowledges the circumstances and conditions of its existence and challenges the notion that art remains a ‘tolerated enclosure within the global capital in which non-productive, dysfunctional and pointless experimentation can still take place’. The purpose of this initiative is not to smooth over or aestheticise the economic difficulties facing the city until further notice, but to make a genuine contribution to the city’s cultural fabric and to create new working platforms for creative practitioners.”

Two things coming up at Ormston House Gallery…

There will be a preview of its new exhibition, Monkey Wrench, this Thursday, October 27 from 6 to 8pm. It brings together work by Kevin Cosgrove, Sonia Shiel and Keef Winter and will run from October 28 to November 26.

“Was the monkey wrench named after London blacksmith Charles Moncke or was it indeed invented by an industrious monkey? Either way the tools with which we work are inextricably linked with who we are” is the show’s premise.

“Within distinct conceptual frameworks, the artists negotiate the stuff of work – the physicality and aesthetic potential of their materials – with stylistic variety and analytic consistency. In doing so, they re-energise the recently reopened site at 9-10 Patrick Street as a useful workspace through playful interventions of cardboard machines, ‘handyman’ constructions and finely tuned paintings of the labourer’s workshop. Ormston House encourages an open dialogue with the artworks presenting an ambivalent exhibition of the epic and the shambolic, the strange and the everyday, upholding the saying that making is thinking. After a period of extended closure, the gallery proposes itself as a nexus for discussion on the critical issues that are affecting the people and the city, supporting the contributions that artists bring to the conversation.”

Call for submissions
Ormston House Gallery is inviting artists to submit proposals for the inaugural members’ exhibition, co-curated by Alice Maher and Aideen Barry. The deadline is Friday November 11 at 5pm; Applications to Submission requirements: Artist’s CV; short biography (200 words max.); work statement (500 words max., please include any specific installation requirements) and 3 x jpg images or 1 x mov file. Submissions should be no larger than 10MB and membership is a steal at €10 per year. For full details, please contact

SPC: I love you

I was at Limerick City Council’s Cultural and Sporting SPC meeting yesterday. It’s been nearly a year since I reported on a council meeting. I missed it a little so it was reassuring to see not much had changed! As usual, there was some interesting stuff. And no council meeting would be complete without some good natured joshing among the councillors—the rascals!

Note: For all you local Government jargon virgins, SPC stands for Strategic Policy Committee. It is made up of councillors and lay members from various relevant sectors. “SPCs prepare the groundwork for policies which are then decided on by the city council” and it updates members on the goings on of sporting/cultural organisations.

There are a few posts on the meeting below…

SPC: Exciting times for Limerick City Gallery of Art redevelopment

Marian Lovett, acting director of the Limerick City Gallery of Art, had some very good news for the Limerick City Council’s Cultural and Sporting SPC meeting this week on the gallery refurbishment and a new piece of artwork to be unveiled at its relaunch.

It is hoped that the builders will hand over the redevelopment of LCGA at the end of the week. Further work on things such as windows and doors will then start but the Carnegie Building should be open again by late June/early July. An official relaunch is tentatively slated for autumn. The refurbishment will be significant and was funded under the Government’s ACCESS II scheme, with a contribution from the council. The aim is to preserve the original building but re-orientate it to give access towards People’s Park; upgrade the existing exhibition spaces; provide a purpose-built permanent collection storage area; provide a multi-purpose space for kids and community activities and a new café/library/social space.

Pic from the LCGA website.

Under the Percent for Art Scheme, a new sculpture has been commissioned from sculptor and conceptual artist, Brian O’Doherty, for the site. It will be called The Siege of Limerick and incorporate the ancient language, Ogham, into the design. The artist is from Roscommon but is based in the US; he went by the alter ego, ‘Patrick Ireland’, from 1972 (in reaction to the Bloody Sunday killings in Derry) to 2008. That year, in recognition of the peace process, he symbolically ‘buried’ the name at at the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA). As well as being a prolific artist, he has also served as editor of Art in America and as an on-air art critic for NBC. He has written several books, including the influential Inside the White Cube: Ideologies of the Gallery Space and the Booker Prize nominated novel, The Deposition of Father McGreevey. It’s a coup for Limerick to have an artist of his calibre making a piece for LCGA.