Culture Shock: Wake up, Minister. You can help save Daniel Libeskind’s Bord Gáis Energy Theatre
Minister for Arts Heather Humphreys has nothing to say about the sale of our finest performance space. Whatever happens, it mustn’t be sold to Live Nation
Glittering: the theatre on its opening night, in March 2010. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
It is now all but certain that the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, the best-appointed performance space on the island, will be sold off by Nama-appointed receivers to a commercial bidder in the next few weeks. There has been a miserable response from the new Minister for Arts, Heather Humphreys, to two concrete proposals to create space for a public and cultural stake in the superb Daniel Libeskind-designed theatre. Actually, there has not been a miserable response. There has been no response at all. No review, no committee, no study, no report, no attempt to consider where the public interest might lie in the disposal of an asset currently owned by the State itself. The theatre is highly profitable and is perfectly capable of paying off, over time, the bank debts that were raised to get it running.
Two proposals for a public stake have been made in recent weeks. Firstly, the existing owner, Harry Crosbie, offered to create a new board with public representation and to block out periods for performances by Irish companies. Then, New Beginning offered to buy the theatre for the asking price of €20 million, raise the money by “selling” seats for €10,000 each and place the theatre in a public trust. It is staggering that the Minister has completely refused to engage with either proposal or to come up with any proposals of her own. She has literally nothing to say about a development that will have consequences for the arts in Ireland for 200 years.
Nor, in fairness, has the rest of the political system shown much interest. Fianna Fáil’s arts spokesman, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, did come up with a thoughtful statement on Tuesday, calling for the sale to be withdrawn pending a review. He even suggested who might be involved in the review: the National Academy of Dramatic Art at the Lir, the National Theatre and RTÉ’s performing groups. The problem was that his statement was issued almost a week after the bidding process for the sale of the theatre closed. It is unlikely to have any effect on the process.
Which leaves us with the question of what, at this stage, in the absence of any official interest in the cultural impact of the sale, is the least-worst option. It would be nice to think that Humphreys might yet wake up and prompt her colleague Michael Noonan (who has responsibility for Nama) to make a last-ditch intervention. Nice but fanciful: the evidence that they really don’t care is too obvious to be wished away.
We are left with the harsh reality that a building that indirectly cost the public €80 million, that was developed in a zone earmarked for social purposes and that is actually in public ownership is about to pass to some private entity for something like €25 million. Given this bleak truth, does it matter which private entity gets hold of the theatre until the year 2207?