Relief greets new Limerick City of Culture appointment

Broad welcome for Mike Fitzpatrick

There was a palpable air of relief at the press conference to announce Mike Fitzpatrick's appointment as interim head of Limerick City of Culture yesterday, a far cry from the bear-pit atmosphere of the past few days, which have since been charitably described as cathartic.

In particular, a meeting last Friday in the Clarion Hotel, the same venue as yesterday’s press conference, may not have seemed like a moment of catharsis at the time.

More than 500 people were in attendance, and the since resigned chief executive Patricia Ryan was heavily criticised.

Her departure on Sunday closely followed the resignations of artistic director Karl Wallace and programmers Jo Mangan and Maeve McGrath, and the debacle threatened to sink the year-long festival before it had begun.


However, Mr Fitzpatrick’s appointment to a dual role as chief executive and artistic director appears to have soothed the wounds of the past few weeks and was widely welcomed in Limerick yesterday.

'Very fine arts practitioner'
In a statement, Mr Wallace, Ms Mangan and Ms McGrath said Mr Fitzpatrick "has the confidence of the arts community, knows the business of the cultural industry and is a very fine arts practitioner". "His appointment ensures that arts and culture are once more front and centre in the inaugural year of the National City of Culture," they said.

They also welcomed the structural changes to organisation announced by chairman Pat Cox. The board Mr Cox heads seems to have hit on the perfect solution to what had threatened to become a poisonous problem, with Mr Fitzpatrick equally welcomed by the city's business community.

The chamber of commerce described him as a “well respected academic and curator in the arts world”.

Impeccable track record
"He has a wealth of international experience and an impeccable track record of driving art institutions, exhibitions, and galleries at a world-class level," the chamber said.

On the political front, Labour city councillor Tom Shortt praised Mr Wallace, Ms Mangan and Ms McGrath for their "sacrifice" in resigning and forcing change, while describing Mr Fitzpatrick as a "genuine artist" with local knowledge.

The praise was similarly effusive in artistic circles. Hugh Murray, the chairman of visual art festival EVA International, which is taking place in Limerick this year, said he was "delighted" with the news.

“When I heard his name mentioned I couldn’t think of anybody better,” he said.

Dr Michael Finneran, senior lecturer in drama at Mary Immaculate College, said "it has been broadly welcomed".

“There has been an element of necessary catharsis of issues that were bothering people. I would certainly feel that after Friday they have been all aired now,” he said. However, he said there were “lots of things that haven’t been dealt with which still have to be dealt with”.

'International reputation'
Mary Conlon, of the Ormston House cultural resource centre, said Mr Fitzpatrick had a "national and international reputation for delivering major projects". She pointed to his work as work as Ireland's commissioner for the Venice Biennale contemporary art exhibition in 2007.

Playwright Mary Coll said Mr Fitzpatrick deserved great credit for "stepping up to the plate".

Ann Blake, head of the artist's "pillar" – one of six organisational structures within the City of Culture – said she welcomed "any action that will get everything moving and will open up the lines of communication, not just between the artists and the board but across the entire City of Culture".

Mr Fitzpatrick joked that recent events had at the very least raised the profile of the City of Culture, while a senior figure in the organisation said, laughing, it would cost €500,000 to buy the publicity of recent days.

It’s a silver lining on a very stormy cloud. Mr Fitzpatrick now has the opportunity to show people there is more on offer than squabbling. His city has welcomed him as the candidate best placed to do so.