Who is Limerick City of Culture? You are!

Boris Hunka

MUCH has been said about Limerick’s seemingly troubled start as City of Culture, and there’s probably more to come. The Limerick arts community is concerned that culture is being over-shadowed.

In the run-up to Tuesday’s magnificent, multi-faceted launch, the scale of the year-long programme became apparent and the city’s cultural life came to the fore.

This was significant for a city whose self-image is most often found in a sports stadium. Munster Rugby towers over the city, the GAA teams generate annual bursts of excitement, and even Limerick FC — not a team to frequent the upper reaches of the Premier league — has a secure place in the city’s heart.

The arts community has long seemed the shy, errant younger sibling, looking longingly towards more cherished artistic circuits in other cities.

But there has been change. One of this year’s pantos opened with a song in which the dame expressed wonderment that she was deigning to perform in Limerick, despite being such an obvious star. A few years ago, she might have got away with it, but the spectacular misjudgement of the song shows how far Limerick has come.

Limerick is no longer a curious cultural backwater — it never was. It has theatres, venues, museums and galleries to rival Cork, annual festivals to give Galway pause, and frequently shows Dublin how to achieve international quality and recognition (through ensembles such as the Irish Chamber Orchestra).

It is also a city undergoing a cultural renaissance — the City of Culture designation is riding upon that wave rather than creating it. The demise of Daghda Dance and the Belltable Arts Centre left significant, but brief, gaps — in these spaces have arisen Dance Limerick and 69 O’Connell Street, driven by fresh vision and energy. During the transition, the theatre and dance communities didn’t sit idle. They foraged new spaces, new audiences, new collaborations.

The result is a vibrant and creative community of arts practitioners ready to make the most of 2014, and beyond. They also have, for a year at least, a taste of something new — funding. But these cultural jewels and bursts of artistic energy do not make a city of culture.

Music Generation Limerick City (MGLC) was launched in Limerick City three months ago — to enhance the City of Culture programme and build upon its legacy. The project recruited a dream team of local professional musicians of all genres to spread the love of music-making across the city. This team has an insight into Limerick City of Culture, and what it is behind the speeches and headline events. Below are just a few examples of what they have found:

- All the local music schools and youth ensembles joining together for a massive, mutual, non-competitive celebration of music-making. They are Limerick City of Culture.

- Young people at risk of marginalisation working with hip-hop producers and channelling their angst into constructive expression that brings release and respect. They are Limerick City of Culture.

- National school children responding to a concert in their classroom with their own, perfectly pitched counter-performance of an Emilie Sandé song. They are Limerick City of Culture.

- Members of Limerick’s thriving band scene spending a week at Dolan’s Warehouse, with a large group of teenage musicians, each nurturing the others’ creativity. They are Limerick City of Culture.

- Hundreds of musicians coming together to record an epic medley, showing the spirit of the city more effectively in a five-minute video than any number of articles or speeches. They are Limerick City of Culture.

A city’s culture is not a collection of buildings or organisations. Neither is it personified by a small coterie of individuals. A city’s culture encompasses every one of its people. It cannot be created — just reflected and nurtured.

I was not born in Limerick, but am proud to call it my home, as I am now Limerick City of Culture. And so are you. Whether you live in or around Limerick, will be passing through the year, or just watching from afar, you are Limerick City of Culture.


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