City of Culture should be about lasting legacies

Limerick debacle will be used as a stick to beat the culture sector

Minister for the Arts Jimmy Deenihan was keen to emphasise his role in awarding Limerick its City of Culture status, yet admitted that his knowledge of what was happening was essentially limited to what he “read in the paper”. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh/The Irish Times

Minister for the Arts Jimmy Deenihan was keen to emphasise his role in awarding Limerick its City of Culture status, yet admitted that his knowledge of what was happening was essentially limited to what he “read in the paper”. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh/The Irish Times

Mon, Jan 6, 2014, 01:00

The debacle in Limerick has done considerable damage to the image of arts administration in Ireland, at a time when the arts is fighting for every penny it can secure in State and private funding. The irony is that the people at the heart of Limerick’s current problems are not from the arts sector.

In the wake of Patricia Ryan’s controversial appointment, she admitted she had little experience in the arts, but saw this as no hindrance to being an effective chief executive of Limerick City
of Culture.

The manner of her departure, right down to the language in her departing statement, made clear that this was not the case.

City of Culture is a year-long series of events that is not just designed to entertain the people and visitors of Limerick: it’s about using the arts to create long-term beneficial legacies for the city. This is much more than the “rebranding” of Limerick, as Ms Ryan made reference to.

A deep understanding and experience of artistic administration and management isn’t just beneficial to leading this project – it’s essential.

The current farrago will be used as a stick to beat the culture sector with by those who see arts spending as a waste of State resources. There is also the worrying, albeit faint, possibility this debacle could derail the City of Culture project permanently for other Irish towns and cities. It has created a largely inaccurate public perception that the arts sector cannot manage itself effectively.

As controversy erupted in the wake of Ms Ryan’s appointment and the co- ordinated departures of Karl Wallace, Jo Mangan and Maeve McGrath, the ill-judged statements from Pat Cox, and Ms Ryan’s own initial refusal to comment, added fuel to the fire.

In an interview with RTÉ radio yesterday, Minister for the Arts Jimmy Deenihan was keen to emphasise his role in awarding Limerick its City of Culture status, yet admitted that his knowledge of what was happening was essentially limited to what he “read in the paper”.

Is that enough when there’s €6 million at stake?

The learning curve in the City of Culture project was always going to be steep. It now has the unenviable task of replacing its chief executive and its artistic director, and getting the public’s focus back on its considerable programme. In addition, it will have to face the Dáil Public Accounts Committee.

The Minister has said he is to meet with the board, the local authority and members of the local
community. Ms Ryan’s resignation solves little; getting the Limerick artistic community back on board, and respecting their ability and expertise, is the key to ending the siege of Limerick’s City of Culture status.

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