For a country of its scale and population, Ireland has always been blessed with what might be regarded as more than its fair share of cultural assets. In recent times this has been particularly notable in the performing arts. The critical acclaim garnered in culture saturated New York by the Gate Theatre's Beckett festival, Sebastian Barry's Steward of Christendom, and Opera Theatre Company's production of Amadigi, are only a few examples of how what we have to offer can be on a par with the best in the world.
As much as our economic success, these artistic achievements are both a sign of, and a contribution to, the country's new found exuberance and confident outlook. The proposal to build, as a celebratory millennium project, a flagship performance centre in the Dublin docklands area is, therefore, timely, forward looking and certainly not to be dismissed out of hand. A multi purpose facility to accommodate theatre, music, opera and dance, may sound grandiose, but has the potential to become a cultural landmark. The general air of enthusiasm which has, so far, greeted the proposal indicates that, like the Temple Bar redevelopment, it is an idea that could take root and come to fruition.
Such a centre would provide not only a focus for future achievements in performance art but provide for the importation of work from abroad that doesn't readily have a suitable venue. In this regard, we might finally obtain what every other European capital has a home for opera. Though there might be tempting financial reasons for doing so, suggestions that the Abbey Theatre might take up residence should, however, be treated with caution. There is the danger that the identity of our national theatre might be swallowed up by such an all embracing arts complex. Though that is not to say that there could not, and should not, be some cross fertilisation between the Abbey and whatever component of the centre relates to drama.
Varying opinions are likely to emerge in the coming debate on the need for, and the usefulness, of this project. But it can only add a further dynamic to the arts in Ireland and new vibrancy to Dublin as a cosmopolitan capital. Sydney Opera House has been mentioned as an illustration of the kind of emblematic building envisaged, but nearer home there is perhaps a more appropriate model Belfast's new Waterfront arts centre. One area where a good idea might otherwise turn sour is funding and finance structural costs must not be allowed to grow beyond initial projections always a danger with ambitious ventures and money for future running of the centre, which is likely to involve significant expenditure, must not put a drain on existing arts activities and institutions.