Funding a cultural legacy


The announcement earlier this summer that a "suitable" site had finally been found for the new Abbey Theatre seems to have made far less impact than it might have had the theatre not been in the limelight for its more immediate financial and corporate difficulties.

Although the Dublin docklands site - for which the Minister John O'Donoghue is to seek formal Dáil approval - is on water, at least it does not face the complications that terminated previous proposals for a new Abbey. Consultations on the docklands site, and assessment of it by the OPW, have apparently progressed to a point that suggests that it will, in due course, end the five-year saga.

However, the chances of theatregoers enjoying the comforts of a Liffeyside Abbey is unlikely until well into the next decade. Beyond Government approval for the site, there is the need to put funding in place. There are now a number of major cultural projects vying for significant contributions from the Exchequer - and the patronage of private and corporate benefactors.

As well as a new Abbey (and the final cost is not yet known), Wexford Festival Opera is advancing plans for a €25 million venue to replace its current home, the Theatre Royal; and the National Concert Hall in Dublin has put forward a convincing argument for development of a new auditorium when UCD vacates Earlsfort Terrace in the near future.

The NCH proposal is ambitious - a three-venue performance centre - and carries an estimated cost of more than €100 million. Like the development of the National Theatre, a state-of-the art concert venue is overdue and necessary in a modern European capital that should seek its share of the growing cultural tourism market and satisfy an increasing home audience. The existing NCH was, for its time, a remarkable transformation of the old UCD Aula Maxima, and it has served music lovers well, but its limitations are now evident.

As well as the performance venues, the Irish Museum of Modern Art is keen to acquire new galleries as part of a major property development close to the Royal Hospital. The rich diversity of IMMA's contemporary collection deserves not just "sympathetic consideration", as the Minister has promised, but implementation of a plan to make such additional exhibition space a reality.

The announcement that the €60 million Cork School of Music project is finally going ahead is overdue but welcome news. The protracted period of uncertainty and procrastination that has bedevilled the Cork project must not be allowed to recur and hinder provision of these badly needed facilities for our major cultural institutions. Our economic prosperity must leave a cultural legacy. All of these projects provide the blueprint for such a legacy, and they are an opportunity to renew our vistas with signature architectural landmarks.

It would be shortsighted not to view these as being as important to our well-being as roads and a thriving bloodstock industry.