All change at City Arts Centre

 

With the sale of its Moss Street building completed, the board of Dublin's City Arts Centre is considering options for its future incarnation, writes Belinda McKeon.

A sum in excess of the asking price of €4.2 million is understood to have been paid for the prime site by Alanis Limited - a consortium of seven prominent Dublin property developers, including Paddy Kelly, who is heavily involved in the redevelopment of Smithfield. With that money in its pocket, the board can afford to explore the idea of having not one, but two presences in the city - "both a home base and an away process", as former director Declan McGonagle puts it. "The home place will give us complete editorial control, the away place shared control, where we will be working in context with other arts organisations, particularly from the community arts sector."

The board is in discussion with the Dublin Docklands Development Authority and a number of developers about a new site, but with its new programme due to be announced in March, an "interim arrangement" will be made before settling on a location. "We want to do this right, not quickly," says McGonagle. Whatever the new model will be, it will have emerged, he says, entirely from the Civil Arts Inquiry, the public forum which has taken place over the last 18 months in the Moss Street building and which will wrap up in March with a two-day conference.

The Civil Arts Inquiry has sparked huge interest in the arts sector, and McGonagle says informal talks are taking place with the Galway Arts Centre about the possibility of a similar process in the city.

Meanwhile, with the end of the Civil Arts Inquiry comes the end of the City Arts Centre as we know it - and the end of McGonagle's tenure as director. While he will remain on the board, and is likely to remain a key figure in various projects, he is due to take up a new post as

Chair of Art and Design at the University of Ulster in Belfast, where he will act as director of Created, a new, practice-based, research centre

which will explore the relationship between art and community. Part of his role will be to direct a major biannual exhibition.

Cheeky celebration

The National Gallery of Ireland first opened the doors to its Merrion Square premises to the public on January 30th, 1864, writes Aidan Dunne. That's 140 years ago. Almost 10 years previously, on August 10th, 1854, parliament passed an act to establish a National Gallery. So this year, the National Gallery of Ireland is, a little cheekily, celebrating its 150th birthday, rather than its 140th. It's celebrating the 150th anniversary of the passing of the Act that led to its foundation rather than its actual opening, which raises the question of how the gallery is going to deal with its actual 150th birthday, 10 years hence.

In any case, the gallery is this year marking the anniversary with a series of events including, in March, New Frontiers, a major exhibition featuring works from the national collections of the 10 countries joining the EU in May (Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia). Over the summer, the Millennium Wing will feature the work of 18th-century still life painter Luis Melendez, nominally Spanish, although born in Naples. Based in Spain, he devoted himself with single-minded intensity to big, austerely realistic paintings of food, many of which once decorated the walls of the dining-room in the royal palace at Aranjuez. The gallery says a number of exhibitions, events and talks will also focus on its own collection, which at the time of its foundation included 125 pieces and now features about 13,000, and its buildings, including the Benson & Forsythe Millennium Wing extension. The paintings of Edith Somerville, better known as a writer, will feature in a show in February.

The gallery board recently had three new members appointed by the Minister for the Arts, John O'Donoghue. As well as artist Pauline Bewick, the managing director of one the country's largest building contractors, Bernard McNamara, and Dr Abdul Bulbulia became board members. Dr Bulbulia was a founder of the Arts in Hospital Waterford Programme and is president of the Waterford Healing Arts Trust. See www.nationalgallery.ie.

€50,000 needed in Cork

The life or death of the Cork Arts Society, now in its 40th year, depends on raising €50,000, writes Mary Leland. Who, in Cork's hierarchy of wealth, will provide it? On January 30th, the coffers should be bolstered by an art auction, which is part of the fund-raising campaign that has been going on for six months. At a time when visual arts organisations in the city are offering a bewildering array of activity - not least the eventual arrival at the Crawford Municipal Gallery of a touring exhibition from Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum - it is ironic that a place depending on people's willingness to buy art should be in jeopardy.

Begun with a determination to present art by local, national and international artists, the society also provided an exhibition space overlooking the river on Lavit's Quay. When, due to the pressure of development, it had to relocate to Father Mathew Street, it retained its geographical title as The Lavit Gallery.

Although immediately adjacent to the commercial centre of the South Mall, this venue is less prominent. And its role has been challenged by the arrival of the Fenton Gallery, on Wandesford Quay, and the Vanguard, near Paul Street. Yet the shows have kept doing well. There was a gentle slide from the more traditional material favoured by members and public alike to the challenging depictions and installations. A recent Studio Selection has raised some funds through the generosity of artists offering stray pieces from their workrooms at competitive prices. If the arts society has to close its doors in its 40th anniversary year, Cork, nationally designated as a centre of excellence for the visual arts, will have lost an important arts organisation only 12 months before its term as European Capital of Culture.

Western blues

IONAD Scríbhneoirí Chaitlín Maude, or the Western Writers' Centre in Galway, has pinned its name to several interesting initiatives, including the establishment of the first writer-in-residence at a Galway hospital, writes Lorna Siggins. It has also set up a writing-in-the workplace scheme, and contributors may see their work being posted shortly on Galway city buses. However, the centre is a mite fed up that the Arts Council has refused its application for funding - for the second year in a row. Established by Fred Johnston, who was a founder of Cúirt, Galway's successful annual poetry and literary festival, the Western Writers' Centre receives some support from Galway City and County Council. Its overall scheme is run by FÁS, while Foras na Gaeilge will finance certain events during its November winter school. It has applied for funds from Údarás na Gaeltachta, but has not been successful so far - because it isn't officially based in the Gaeltacht, though there is a strong Irish component to its work, Johnston points out. The Arts Council application was for revenue funding, but the final decision was taken without sending a representative to assess the initiative. The Arts Council has agreed to meet the centre's representatives later this month.

Theatrical moves

Although its European Capital of Culture 2005 commission is the headline event at the Everyman Palace in Cork (offering an award of €10,000 to allow a selected playwright to develop a new play for that year), other important things are envisaged with the introduction of the Everyman Palace Studio, writes Mary Leland. Situated in a so-far disused area of the building (the hope is that the bar at the back of the auditorium will become an intimate theatre space eventually), this new development is intended to act as a catalyst for the generation, development and presentation of new drama. There is also the New Voices initiative (see On the Town). Plays to be considered for the first round should be submitted on or before Friday, May 28th, 2004. Information from Thomas Conway, the Everyman Palace Studio, on 021-4557827 or e-mail tconwayept@eircom.net

More news from Everyman, which seems to be firing on all cylinders, is of a week-long festival of newly commissioned plays for and about teenagers and performed by leading youth theatres in Ireland (North and South) under the London-based National Theatre Shell Connections programme, for which Everyman has become the new Irish Regional Partner.

The festival opens here in May and the seven participating groups will be joined by a guest performance from Edinburgh's award-winning Lyceum Youth Theatre. They will have already presented their plays in their own venue with every production viewed by a regional partner representative and an independent assessor appointed by the National Theatre. In addition to the regional theatre festivals, one production of each play will be chosen to perform in the culmination of the programme - the National Showcase, hosted by the National Theatre on one of its three prestigious London stages. Irish writers who have been previously involved are Christina Reid and Gina Moxley, and as part of the programme each portfolio of produced plays is published by Faber & Faber.

  • For more information about NT Shell Connections, contact Oonagh Kearney, at the Everyman Palace Studio on 021-4557827 or e-mail okearneyept@eircom.net