The initiative is timely as it has been a difficult year for Limerick’s theatre companies with the closure of the Belltable Arts Centre. The O’Connell Street premises is now administered by Limetree Theatre.
But despite the challenges facing the artistic community in the city, the City of Culture programme, recently launched at Daghda Dance Space in the old St John’s Church in the city, is eclectic.
The year-long celebration of culture, both local and international, kicks off on New Year’s Eve when Cranberries front woman Dolores O’Riordan will headline a concert in front of City Hall. The Ballybricken rock star will be joined by the Irish Chamber Orchestra. A crowd of nearly 3,000 people will attend the ticket-only gig. RTÉ will broadcast the concert.
Karl Wallace is the artistic director of Limerick City of Culture 2014. Originally from London and of Irish ancestry, Wallace moved to Limerick to direct a play for the now defunct Island Theatre Company. He was appointed artistic director of the Belltable from 2006-2007. He went on to become the chief executive of Siamsa Tíre from 2008-2013 before taking up his current position.
Limerick has been given €6m by the Government to programme the year’s events. “I think that’s a significant amount for a cultural programme,” says Wallace. “Obviously, the anticipation is that we will have more to deliver on top of what has been announced in the programme. That depends on the delivery of matched funding. We hope private enterprise will give us funding. In arts organisations, we’re used to cutting our cloth to measure so anything else that’s added to the €6m will be a bonus.”
While there has been criticism that much of the budget is going towards importing artists from outside of Limerick, Wallace counters this by saying that he took on his latest project because he wanted to resume working with local Limerick groups as he did at the Belltable.
“Collectively, including the legacy and commissioning strand, our spend is around €3.4m locally. What’s really important about the city of culture programme is that it has an intrinsic connection to the local cultural and community groups. There is an investment locally. It’s just that in some cases, it’s not an investment in a particular project. It can be an investment in something like a programme that will have a legacy.”
As Wallace says, there’s no shortage of talent and imagination in Limerick. He says that of the 329 applications from local artists, 109 of them are being supported by the City of Culture, and that the cultural scene in Limerick is vibrant. “It’s generally quite underground. What I love about the City of Culture is that it will give profile to all these things that have been happening for years. Now is the time for Limerick to shout about itself and really dispel the myth that it’s a city with a certain reputation. Since I started working in Limerick, it’s a place I’ve always returned to because of the people. They make it a brilliant place to work in.”
Asked how great a loss the closure of the Belltable is to the cultural life of Limerick, Wallace says: “Having worked there, my feeling about it is — watch this space. I always think the great thing about artists is the fact that they can re-imagine and change spaces and change the landscape. So I think there could be interesting things happening to the Belltable space. The space will be used during the City of Culture but it’s not in the official programme.”
Wallace says that much of the international programme will be presented in site specific areas as opposed to readymade venues. Limerick city arts officer, Sheila Deegan, says “every space in the city will be utilised, from the riverside to unused warehouses. There are a lot of empty warehouses on the periphery of the city”.
Reports that a film festival celebrating the work of one of Limerick’s most famous sons, Richard Harris, will take place as part of the year of culture are not altogether accurate. The inaugural Richard Harris Film Festival will take place in a few weeks time, opening on Dec 6. But the festival is not part of the official programme for the City of Culture.
“I hope the organisers will put on the festival in 2014,” says Deegan. “They’re putting on the first one on a shoestring budget. They will have to take stock and see if it can continue.”
Another famous Limerick outfit is the Rubber Bandits. Wallace says he is working with them on a project at the moment but won’t reveal any details at this stage. “They have been an inspiration for some of the local projects that are taking place next year. Certainly, the Rubber Bandits are one of our best known cultural exports.”
The international programme is headed up by Jo Mangan and Claudia Woolgar. (Mangan currently has a CEO role with Performance Corporation which is presenting an event with Anu Productions called Beautiful Dreamers for the City of Culture.) Mangan points out that the programme for international shows and events is just a flavour of what’s to come. “For example, I’m in conversation with three international artists that are not in the programme. But I hope they’ll be part of next year’s events.”
What pleases Mangan is the fact that much of the programme, both international and local, is going to be connected to the community. “This is what we call participatory art. I’m hoping that very little work that comes in will be just plonked down in Limerick. Everything is going to be from the ground up — even the visiting international material.”
An example of this is a project that will centre around the riverside. French artist Denis Tricot will transform this area with beautiful sculptures made out of wood. “It’s really simple but quite spectacular. He has been over for a site visit already. He’ll bring the poplar wood over from France on the back of his truck. It’s something he does all over the world. This will be an Irish premiere for us.” From warehouses to the river, no space will be left untapped for Limerick’s year in the spotlight.
The Limerick City of Culture 2014 programme has 13 categories including street events, visual art, music, Secret Limerick, food, fashion and craft, children’s events, architecture and sport.
The inaugural flagship event will be Riverdance, which is kicking off its 20th anniversary tour in Limerick. It will be performed in a venue that will be created in the sports arena at the University of Limerick (UL). There will be seating for 2,500 people. As executive producer, Julian Erskine says, the show is currently being revamped. “Bill Whelan, the composer of Riverdance, is from Limerick, so it means a lot to him that we’re bringing it to his home town as part of our European tour.”
@Limerick2014 today @ Bill Whelan's @ShivnaBill birthplace with Moya Doherty @JamesGreenan1 Chloey Turner @Minogue29 pic.twitter.com/gOaNKfbeg7— Riverdance (@Riverdance) November 18, 2013
The Irish premiere of ‘Faust’ from one of Romania’s leading theatres, the National Theatre Radu Stanca Sibiu will be staged in the autumn. “I think it might be the most extraordinary piece of theatre I’ve ever seen in my life,” says Limerick City of Culture’s international programmer, Jo Mangan. She saw the production in Romania. “It’s the Faust story with a cast of over 100 actors and musicians. The devil, Mephistopheles, is played by a woman. This production is totally immersive. We’re currently looking for a huge warehouse to make it happen.”
Mangan is also enthusiastic about acclaimed playwright and performer, Pat Kinevane’s world premiere of Underneath, which will be produced by Fishamble. “It’s going to tour the world. We’re delighted it’s going to first open in Limerick.” The play explores beauty, the absence of it, and the prejudice that accompanies both.
Another Irish premiere is the South American show, Fuerza Bruta, scheduled for March and geared towards a younger audience. A hit around the world, it has been described by Sunday Express as being “like a rave nightclub party come to life, with pounding music, spraying water and moments of transcendent beauty.” A nightclub type space will be created for this show that boasts “mind blowing visual effects.”
During the summer, an event called Are You Dancing? will take place. It will focus on the lively dance hall movement in Limerick city from the 1940s to the 1970s. As Karen O’Donnell, from PAUL Partnership, a local development company in Limerick city, says: “We work with community groups. We’re very excited about Are You Dancing?. It will look at the memories of the people who went to the dance halls where they met their partners.” This project will ignite a series of public conversations from the different communities in Limerick. People will be encouraged to reveal their own stories. This will be achieved by holding the conversations in local areas like Moyross, Southill and Weston. It will culminate in an intergenerational evening of music and dance taking place on O’Connell Street.
Spotlight on @Limerick2014 in London @WTM_London pic.twitter.com/LfSC6GFGFQ— Tourism Ireland (@TourismIreland) November 5, 2013
Other highlights include a concert at University Concert Hall, Limerick, where leading performers from the worlds of classical and traditional music will join the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra to celebrate the music of Bill Whelan. The evening will feature the first performances of Whelan’s new work for the renowned flautist, James Galway and orchestra. Whelan’s new composition for flute and orchestra was commissioned by RTÉ Lyric FM to celebrate the year of culture.
The visual art programme includes Eva International 201, which runs in Limerick city from Apr 12 to Jul 6. It will showcase works by Irish and international artists selected from over 2,000 proposals from artists in 96 countries. The work will be shown in Limerick City Gallery of Art and other locations.