Culture strategy: civic spaces, a funded theatre group and arthouse cinema
Desire to create a meaningful ‘legacy’ of arts-related work one of the key objectives of Limerick City of Culture
Fireworks on New Year’s Eve to celebrate Limerick’s City of Culture for 2014. Photograph: Press 22
The subject of culture and Limerick has been contentious in recent months due to the controversies around its status as City of Culture for 2014. With Mike Fitzpatrick now acting as the interim head, arts practitioners in the city are hoping the focus can return to the people who work in the arts in Limerick and to the work itself.
The desire to create a meaningful “legacy” of arts-related work in the capital is one of the key objectives of Limerick City of Culture. The recent merging of city and county councils is also seen as a solid long-term opportunity to support the arts sector by those who work in it.
“One of the key things I’m hoping for with the merger of city and county councils is a policy for the arts,” says Louise Donlon, manager of the Lime Tree Theatre in Limerick.
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“What’s needed is an arts plan for the city, whether it’s for three years or five years, with a clear policy as to how the arts will be supported. In the past, with two councils, things were quite fragmented.
“It’s very hard sometimes to convince people not in the arts of the value that the arts has, particularly where funding is involved.”
In addition to managing the 500-seater Lime Tree, Donlon is also temporarily programming the venue formerly known as the Belltable. For now it’s called 69 O’Connell Street, and plans for its future should be known later in the year.
While consultation on its continues, Donlon points to the value of creating an anchor arts hub in the city centre. “There is great potential in a building like this, because you could have both office arts admin space and a performance space.”
Before the Lime Tree, Belltable was the main theatre venue in the city. “When Glór opened in Ennis, a lot of companies stopped coming to Limerick, so we stopped seeing touring work here. It was one in a series of hammer blows to the arts in the city.”
Before the 220-seat Belltable went into liquidation, the venue underwent a major renovation which included the installation of a digital projection system. “This could be a great place for an arthouse cinema. It’s a much more flexible space than it was,” Donlon says.
“There is a lot of work the Lime Tree is too big for in terms of work in development or dance. Audiences are much smaller for those, say between 50 and 150. The Belltable space could be used as an incubator for young incoming companies in Limerick and as a multi-disciplinary space. Going into a 500-seat venue is not what they need. The Lime Tree and the Belltable could complement each other.”
Liam O’Brien is a founder- member of the Bottom Dog Theatre Company in the city. One of its actors, Joanne Ryan, is nominated for an Irish Times Theatre Award for her role in the company’s production of What Happened Bridgie Cleary.
“A full-time funded theatre company in the city would be brilliant,” O’Brien says. He was formerly a member of Island Theatre Company, which lost its Arts Council funding in 2008 and ceased to exist.
“There are very few regional theatre companies left outside Dublin,” he says. “We are the third city in the country and it’s very hard to maintain a living in theatre here.
“My greatest wish for the arts in Limerick is for consistency of funding and that it would continue, so that people can plan. There is nobody better at budgeting money than people who work in the arts, because that’s what we do from day to day.”
O’Brien would also like to see a digital film hub in the city. “There are lots of young film- makers here.”
Helen Carey is the director of the Limerick City Gallery of Art. “Come 6pm, the city empties out. I would like to see Limerick become a place that gets lively at night. Limerick has to seduce its citizens back into the city and to create some kind of cultural discussion, a discourse that allows the place to appear alive.”
She would like to see “the creation of a civic life. We need a hub that after 6pm becomes a go-to place. We need to have places where experimentation in the arts can happen, where there is a coherent programme and where people can cluster.”