Since we last reported, Limerick’s City of Culture successfully dealt with its teething problems. Paul Tarpey updates us on how it demonstrated an inclusive and city-wide approach to the arts.
In the beginning the worries were structural. Could the 109 projects be delivered? Before he resigned, artistic director Karl Wallace had pulled together a mix of citizen projects, art driven works and spectacles that were designed to interact with each other.
So what happened? Well, everything basically. And it’s still happening.
Art-led events and visiting ‘spectaculars’ always attract national coverage, but a check of the local papers each week finds progress in many areas.
One example is the historian David Studer’s ‘Are You Dancing?’, wherein hundreds reactivated the Stella Ballroom in a celebration of the showband era and held an open air dance event in St John’s Square.
Marquee events such as Limerick man Bill Whelan’s ‘Riverdance’ and the ‘’part Cirque du Soleil, part nightclub rave” of Fuerza Bruza were always going to be solid draws, but they happened in the midst of a city now curious about itself.
This is a city getting busy being a city. It’s not so long ago that attention-seeking councillors castigated the Rubberbandits for giving the city a bad name with their antics. Now we celebrate their take on it.
We saw crowds flock to an exhibition of Richard Mosse’s award-winning photographs and saw the same crowds meeting again for a collection of a local man’s music memorabilia. Both were successful as shows that drew from a combination of energy and reclaimed city spaces that are as much a part of the conversation as the events they contain.
Fuerza Bruza revitalized unoccupied factory space on the Dublin Road for a performance that had dancers suspended in water overhead as the audience moved past a show of sculpture created by the Limerick School of Art and Design.
EVA International, the city’s art biennial, also broke new ground by filling the long-closed Golden Vale plant with its theme for the year, the appropriately titled ‘Agitationism’. The city then bought the site.
Donal Mulachy, the owner of Nancy Blake’s bar has noticed a definite change generated by this mesh of activity: “There are types of events coming to the city that had never come before. Audiences for these events feel no class distinction, and that to me is progress. The city is physically brighter too, particularly with the street art projects.”
He’s referring to the 20 council-backed street murals undertaken by national and international urban artists under the direction of the group Draw Out. These large works have created new paths as people seek them out.
One group of artists even began unofficial tours of the murals to share the love. “Well you had to, didn’t you?” says Eoin Barry, an artist who the Council is constantly in touch with.
“It does inspire one to try out a few ideas along these lines,” continues bar-owner Mulcahy. “I would be open to trying or backing something different after this.” He also points to the drop in crime-related stories, which are often the national media’s first port of call.
Dr John Greenwood is one of the many creative people who have driven collaborative projects inside and outside the City of Culture. Greenwood and team prepared a music project called the ‘Pigtown Fling’ for September, a project that has reenergised Noel Hogan from the Cranberries to work with 18 acts and 42 artists.
“Every single thing here is produced locally. All the recording, design and event management for the final performance was done in Limerick and that’s important,” he says. “We created new networks for the city and they will continue.”
Network is a word that has regained its integrity around here.
For Greenwood there is always a big ‘what if?’ with any project that seeks the people of the city as a resource. He is emphatic that solutions for the city must come from the people and is committed to the type of mentoring the Pigtown Fling has introduced. A process that has, he says, “knowledge always going forward”.
A check on halfway progress took place in July at a Banter session chaired by Jim Carroll as part of the Make A Move Festival. Banter focused on how much of the evident drive and ‘sweat equity’ would be functioning for similar activities next year. Wrapping up that session a member of the audience reminded the panel that Limerick has a long history of cultural activity in the city with most of it still being carried on at the expense of the participants themselves. Voluntary workshops have been the backbone of the City Of Culture.
‘Make a Move’ showcased the rap and production activity that has come to the fore since its instigation 3 years ago. Workshopped to the hilt by producers mynameisjOhn and Deviant, the youth who battled their Cork peers made a huge impact.
Make a Move’s Chairman Shane Curtain is positive that the city is coming into its own: “Think of the people over the last few years who moved to Limerick to work.” The inclusive nature of what used to be marginal events has gotten them interested in the diverse street-based projects. It’s more a city for them to partake in. There is now something unique for them to describe what Limerick has become.
However there is a deficit that has nothing to do with the level of participation and production. The rest of the country, and even on occasion Limerick itself, needs to know what is going on. This needs cash, yet it appears that PR funding was a casualty of an earlier bump in the road. This PR deficit is something that will possibly affect activity next year more than this year.
The 6 million allocated for general activity has been spent well – another million would probably be needed for ongoing documentation and display.
RTE referred lately to Galway as “the capital of culture in the west”. That grates for Limerick.
The city drew 230,000 people for a giant takeover by Royale Deluxe and their giant granny. This was the infamous ‘puppet show’ referred to by a recently reshuffled arts minister.
At the beginning of the year, knowledge of what exactly this event was (and cost) was one of the featured collision points in the narrative that pitted citizens, council and the media against each other. The surreal experience of the granny’s visit was genuinely transformative.
RTE’s apology regarding their coverage of the event meant nothing in the end. By now the city didn’t care; everybody was having too good a time.
MC God Knows launched his new albumn with Mynameisj0hn, as part of the Make a move festival.
Photo by Wally Cassady.