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.

Giant video projection, LANDLOCKED, to open tomorrow (Dec 12) until Jan 3

A002_C004_0609K1A large-scale outdoor projection of a series of documentary video portraits, LANDLOCKED, is being launched tomorrow (Friday December 12) at 5.30pm in the Thomas Street Community Gardens.

The work by video artist Christina Gangos will run until January 3 and will feature 10 people “who form the fabric of Limerick” projected on a large city wall on Thomas Street in Limerick City centre.

It was shot by the artist when she was living in Limerick and all the participants stand in silence. Participants were asked “to contemplate life-changing events for 10 minutes while they were filmed. Their thoughts are kept private, yet the camera documents the physical process, the slight movements and gentle motions of a body in thought”.

The people who took part in the recording range in age from eight years old to 50 (at the time of filming).

The project aims to create “a space for silence and stillness above the busy Christmas city streets”.

The giant video projections will be 20m x 11.25m and will be visible on the wall above the Thomas Street Community Gardens during the hours of darkness. The optimum time to view this work is from 5.30pm-7am.

Commenting on the installation of this work, the artist Christina Gangos, said she was “very excited to have the opportunity to project this work in a large-scale outdoor location”.

“So often people and their thoughts are invisible to us, in LANDLOCKED I wanted to create a space for us to commune with others, without shame, social coding or language,” she added.

Ms Gangos is an independent documentary filmmaker, who lived in Limerick city for six years and is currently based in Athens, Greece. She studied journalism and history at the American College of Greece and then went on to do a Masters in Documentary by Practice at Royal Holloway, University of London. Her films have been shown at the National Portrait Gallery in London, Center Pompidou in Paris, Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin, Gate Theater London, IFI Dublin and various major festivals.

“Her films aim to capture everyday moments and processes, inundated with the ability to disclose reality to the patient viewer. Stripping layer by layer of social representation and décor by elongating time to its normal length, her works in film are documents of bare living.”

Originally created with support and funding from the Arts Council, the exhibition and installation of LANDLOCKED in this prominent outdoor city location is is made possible by the support of Limerick City of Culture 2014. The support of Tony Clarke from City Centre Car Park was also much appreciated.

For more information, see www.landlocked-ireland.com.

Big Beautiful & Oldest Woman subjects for local theatre/opera this week

2014 is coming to an end and so is Limerick’s tenure as City of Culture but there is still some great work to come so do keep an eye on the local press and social media for details.

big_beautiful_woman_156x110Two such quality productions are on this week. First up, local theatre company, Magic Roundabout premiere their new play, Big Beautiful Woman, by Darren Maher.

It will run from tomorrow (Wednesday December 10) to Saturday December 13 at 8pm nightly at the Red Cross Hall on Cecil Street. This venue was the off-site setting for the now defunct Belltable Arts Centre when it was undergoing refurbishment and it’s a great space. I’m delighted it is now a new Theatre & Performance Hub for local practitioners to develop/stage work—a purpose it was mooted for way back in 2011 but has now thankfully fulfilled.

The blurb is as follows: “Under the real shadow of a gargantuan puppet, and the figurative shadow of a looming deadline, a ‘resting’ actor and a would-be author pitch a series of increasingly bizarre narratives at each other in an attempt to find the true and historical Limerick-based story that will wow an audience and propel them to the big time.”

“They are hampered in their labours by the attentions of distractingly beautiful French people, a series of embarrassing costume malfunctions, unexpected physical exhaustion and an inability to commit to any one true story that can sum up the city that they love.”

Tickets: Adults €15/Concession €12 and all Wednesday tickets are €10. Booking on 085-2085737 or magicroundabouttheatre@gmail.com.

This Friday and Saturday (December 12 and 13) The Lime Tree Theatre and Wide Open Opera will present The Oldest Woman in Limerick.

“As you casually pass an elderly woman in the street or on the bus, do you ever pause to consider the treasure trove of life experience that lies within? If her thoughts and memories could sing, what would they say? If her reflections, achievements and regrets could come to life, what would they be like? The Oldest Woman in Limerick is a unique performance celebrating the individual lives and remarkable stories of older people from the city of Limerick told through the medium of opera.”

Devised by award-winning team of Brian Irvine (music) and John McIlduff (text), this opera actually searches for the oldest woman in Limerick and in doing so meets up with scores of individuals with plenty to say.

“Everything is documented and anything might surface in the opera. Bizarre encounters, chance meetings and poignant reflections are all in the mix. Performed by a specially assembled team of singers and instrumentalists with locally based choirs, this specially commissioned opera will engage and entertain you, reflecting a great range of human emotions and celebrating the life-affirming joy of the human voice.”

The cast includes Sylvia O’Brien, Sharon Carty, Emma Nash, Rachel Croash and Limerick’s Sarah Shine.

Tickets are €25/Concessions €20 and are available on 061-774774 and www.limetreetheatre.ie.


A host of theatre premiering locally this week and next week

There is a veritable feast of theatre coming up in Limerick in the next while, kicking off this very week. I’m hoping to see as much of it as possible and I hope that a well deserved audience will turn out for as many of these productions as possible. The Abbey filled a lot of seats for Sive last week so there is a hunger for theatre but supporting local work is vitally important.


The Unlucky Cabin Boy

A musical by the name of The Unlucky Cabin Boy will have its world premiere in the Lime Tree Theatre from this Wednesday, November 5 and run nightly until November 8.

Produced by the acclaimed Gúna Nua Theatre Company and directed by Paul Meade, the play was written By Mike Finn (writer of Pigtown) with music & lyrics by David Blake. Music will be performed by The Brad Pitt Light Orchestra (the band which Blake is a member of). The Unlucky Cabin Boy has a real Limerick flavour with Limerickmen Meade at the helm and Finn writing along with local band, BPLO. The blurb promises it will “be a highlight of Limerick City of Culture 2014”.

“In 1835 a ship sailed out of Limerick Docks with a cargo of emigrants bound for the New World. It never came back… It tells the true story of the wreck of the Francis Spaight and the terrible acts of desperation that took place on board.”

The cast includes: Susannah De Wrixon, Damien Devaney, Enda Kilroy and Kevin Shackleton.

Tickets are: adults €18 and students/unwaged €15. Book on  061-774774 and www.limetreetheatre.ie.


Pulse IIThe first of four new pieces of work is on this Friday, November 7, as part of PULSE II. This is the “second phase of Limerick City of Culture’s Theatre Legacy Programme through which theatre makers and audiences can enjoy tasters of emerging work from established and new voices from Limerick’s theatre landscape”.

The other dates are: November 21, 29 and December 6. Each piece will last for roughly 30 minutes to be presented in the HUB @ Red Cross Hall, 36 Cecil Street—beside Tom Collins’ Pub (the Belltable was off-site in this venue while it was renovated a few years back). Each performance is followed by a reception for audience and all those involved in each work.

Whitby (November 7 @ 8pm): Directed by Joan Sheehy, Whitby is based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula – a Gothic masterpiece that has fascinated readers for over a century. Dancer, Colin Dunne and actors, Malcolm Adams and Courtney McKeon will embark on their own voyage of discovery, merging text and movement to present a haunting work in development for the inaugural perfomance of PULSE II.

Limbo (November 21 @ 8pm): Directed by Maeve Stone, Limbo sets out to ask questions around the issue of direct provision. Collaborating with dancer Angie Smalis and musician Rory Grubb In a short piece that fuses movement and live music, Limbo explores a story so close, it’s nearly impossible to see.

Everything, Sometimes (November 29 @ 8pm): Everything, Sometimes is an interdisciplinary piece directed by dance artist Nora Rodríguez in collaboration with actor Kevin Kiely Jnr. and Shane Vaughan. It is based on a personal dream where fraternal ties, death and memories are the substances of this new experimental performance.

The Weyward Sisters (December 6 @ 8pm): Directed by Donal Gallagher, in collaboration with actors Cora Fenton, Joanne Ryan and Marie Boylan, this dark comedy features three sisters, harbingers of darkness, who have had previous lives in Hesiod’s Theogony in Irish mythology and in Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
Tickets including post-show reception are €7. Booking: 087-6047262 or theatrelegacyproject@gmail.com. More information at www.facebook.com/pulsetheatrelegacy.

On The Wire

On the Wire (7)On the Wire—“caught between no man’s land and home”—a new promenade theatre production, explores what happens after a soldier returns home from World War I will run from November 11-15.

The devised theatre production from Wildebeest Theatre Company, explores a soldier’s return to Limerick after the Great War. “Inspired by real-life stories of Limerick people who left for the war, and those who were left behind, On the Wire takes the audience on an intimate, poignant journey through the aftermath of war. Written and performed by a cast of Limerick theatre artists including Mike Finn and Amanda Minihan, and directed by Terry O’Donovan”, this site-specific production will run at 6pm and 8pm daily at The Sailor’s Home on O’Curry Street.

“It’s February 1919. Jack arrives home to Limerick. The war is over but, for Jack, the battle carries on.  How can he return to his family and life back home, when he is haunted by all he has seen; all that he doesn’t want to remember, but is unable to forget?  Opening on the anniversary of Armistice Day, November 11, On the Wire is a dramatic exploration of life in Limerick at the time of the Great War.  Combining archival material—including personal stories, photos and diary entries gleaned from research by historian Eamonn T Gardiner—with original design, the impressive Sailor’s Home is brought back to life in this thought-provoking promenade performance, created to mark the centenary of World War I.”

I’ve always been fascinated to see inside this regal building. My grandmother hails from around the corner in O’Curry Place (‘the block’ as it’s referred to locally) and it’s always exciting to enjoy theatre in an unconventional space. And my grá for promenade theatre has been well documented.

The cast also includes Marie Boylan, Conor Madden and Shane Whisker. Local company, Wildebeest’s past productions include TAN, Tanalogues, A Different Animal and The Real World.

Tickets are €15/€12.00 from www.onthewire2014.com. On the Wire is presented in association with Limerick City of Culture.

The Lighthouse Keeper

logoAnother local company, Amalgamotion, will bring its latest production, The Lighthouse Keeper, to Dance Limerick, St John’s Square, from November 11 (preview) until November 15. It will run at 8.30pm nightly with 2.30pm matinees daily from November 13-15.

“Directed by Ciarda Tobin and written by Ella Daly with dramaturgical support by Helena Enright, The Lighthouse Keeper chronicles that moment in time when life comes full circle and the parent who cared for and nurtured you in infancy needs care and nurturing in old age. The baton is passed and you become the lighthouse keeper.”

The cast includes: Aidan Crowe, Georgina Miller, Joanne Ryan and Monica Spencer.

Amalgamotion is an award winning local theatre company, founded in March 2002 and past productions include Walking Away, The Fisherman’s Son and Less than a Year. Tickets are €15/13 and available from http://www.eventbrite.ie/e/the-lighthouse-keeper-tickets-13724322819.

More information available from: amalgamotion@gmail.com. This production is also supported by Limerick City of Culture.

Buzz, chat, art, music and much more with Elemental

Screen Shot 2014-09-09 at 21.23.09The Elemental Arts & Culture Festival is going for its third outing in the city this week, starting this Thursday (Sept. 11) and running until Sunday (Sept. 14). It has been getting better year on year so here’s hoping it’s a cracker this time around.

As always, there is a very diverse set of events planned taking in visual art, forgotten skills, dance, theatre, music, eco-workshops, spoken word, walking tours and more. From a band in a bookshop to an exhibition about beloved toys; from a play about ‘manning up’ to street performances, there is lots to enjoy (I outline two of the most unique events in detail below).

Jennifer Allen, of Elemental, said: “We are very eager that all age groups can find something engaging in the programme, where you come away having learned something new, or you see something in a new light. All while having fun, of course!”

The full programme (very stylish in itself) is available at locations citywide or online at www.elementalfestival.com.

Salon du Chat

SdC_EP_1Fresh from their success at Electric Picnic, Salon du Chat has a new talk ‘menu’ for Elemental this Friday at 7pm in Canteen, Mallow Street.

“Adding a touch of theatre and the surreal to the art of conversation, Salon du Chat is an arts project with a twist. Recreating the atmosphere of Bohemian Paris, with a knowing nod to online chat rooms, Salon du Chat is a shrine to the art of good conversation. Relax with a welcoming glass of bubbly as you browse the Conversation Menu. Then a friendly chat hostess will seat you at a table with a mix of friends and strangers and help you to spark up the conversation. Like any meal the starters will get the palate warmed up, while mains are for meatier matters and dessert could get risqué.”

Amongst the most popular topics at Electric Picnic were ‘What the Frack?’, ‘Give Me a Reason to Love You’, and ‘Online Sharing is Caring’. Expect to find an eclectic mix of pop culture, politics, music, sport, word play and the whimsical.

I tried this out with some friends at the Culture & Chips Festival spiegeltent in June and it was interesting. One tip: try to get a mix of friends and strangers because it’s easy to just shoot the breeze with pals otherwise! Salon du Chat is supported by Limerick City of Culture 2014.

We bring the summer with us

JackTheBeemanRyanStatueThis is a new bee-themed sound installation from award-winning Limerick audio creators Grey Heron Media, which will make its debut at the festival. In collaboration with Limerick’s Buzzing, Grey Heron has produced a special, newly composed sound experience.

The installation will run from 10.30am-5.30pm on Saturday September 13 at the Coach House @ Culture House, No. 2 Pery Square.

It’s open to all ages and only requires participants to relax back into a deckchair and open their ears. The fun and immersive 12 minute sound installation will run continuously from 10.30am to 5pm and will also be interlaced with three 30 minute sound-based events, which will further explore our relationship with bees and the natural world around us.

The nice people at Grey Heron say: “As visitors step into the Coach House they will be transported, by a multi-layered sonic experience, back to the golden summers of their youth or to the sunny days of the months just gone. They’ll feel the remembered heat on your face as it’s evoked by a soundscape of jangling ice-cream vans, sizzling barbecues, swooping swallows, sliothars on ash, crashing waves and the hum of the bee-loud glade. But our summers and the sounds of summer are changing in almost imperceptible ways, until we take time to listen. There are silences amidst the sound.”

It’s a seriously enticing description! The accompanying events are as follows:

12.30-1pm: Lift it up to the Sun: Sound selections from the field(s): This 30 minute listening event presented by Grey Heron Media features recordings from their varied back-catalogue, which reflect on our relationship with the natural world around us, interspersed with reflections from the team on some of the stories from behind the mic. This is an event for anyone interested in great audio storytelling and how people respond to the natural environment.

3-3.30pm: Bee Experimental: Practical things you can do to help bees buzz: This event is hosted by Dr. Veronica Santorum of Limerick’s Buzzing. Over the course of half an hour Veronica will tell us about the practical things that we can all do to help wild bees in our locality, while also giving us an insight into why we should be working together to help wild bees in Limerick.

5-5.30pm: A Life with Bees: A Conversation with added sound: The final event is a very special one-off public interview with Jack “the Beeman” Ryan, the famous honey “farmer” from Emly. In a life-time devoted to bees and beekeeping Jack has built a very special relationship with the bees and other wildlife with which he shares his home, a honey farm on the border of Limerick and Tipperary. Jack, now in his 80s, is a very passionate and charismatic advocate for wildlife and in this special event he will share his memories and philosophical view of the relationship between humans and bees with the audience.