Drama at the former Belltable as directors resign

Alan Owens

Reporter:

Alan Owens

Drama at the former Belltable: a number of directors have resigned from the company established to run the arts and culture centre in the city
THREE of the directors appointed to the new company established by Limerick City and County Council to oversee the former Belltable theatre have resigned, citing frustrations with how the project is progressing.

THREE of the directors appointed to the new company established by Limerick City and County Council to oversee the former Belltable theatre have resigned, citing frustrations with how the project is progressing.

Mary Coll, Dr Michael Finneran and Karen O’Donnell O’Connor have stepped down as directors of Limerick Arts & Culture Centre Ltd, an independent company incorporated some nine months ago by the council to oversee the theatre.

A number of others - who were approached and accepted a call to form a ‘board-elect’ several months ago - have also resigned, believing the project to be in a state of “inertia”. At least five of those asked to form the board have now resigned, the Leader understands.

Boris Hunka of Music Generation was also appointed as a director of the company when it was incorporated, according to filings with the Companies Registration Office and remains as such, telling the Leader that he had “no plans to resign” and remained “committed both to the space and to the project”.

The company that ran the Belltable was wound up in March 2013 with debts in excess of €2.3m, a fact which has made it difficult to resuscitate it, but the council announced in October that the theatre space and building at 69 O’Connell Street was to be “re-launched in the New Year as an arts and culture centre”.

It has been open on a project basis for almost two years under the caretaker management of the Lime Tree Theatre, a cause which Lime Tree manager Louise Donlon has championed.

Ms Donlon put forward an innovative plan that has allowed the building to be used under the Limerick Arts Encounter Programme, while it was also in use for other events such as Cuisle and Fresh Film, but a long term solution has yet to be found by the council.

The local authority acquired the entire building in 2013 and arts officer Sheila Deegan said in October that the “next steps were to put in place plans for the recruitment of a Creative Director to run the new arts centre”, with the new company to negotiate funding between the local authority and the Arts Council to programme events.

Mary Coll, playwright and director of the arts centre in the 1990s, said she felt the project had since become “dragged down by inertia” and had stepped down because the initiative was “going nowhere”.

“It was very difficult to get clarity on matters relating to the building and how the venue would be funded and how it would run - and it just became impossible to get answers,” she explained.

“We live in an era where corporate governance and membership of boards is an extremely important thing, it is not that casual - especially, you would have to be extremely careful in the aftermath of a financial collapse of a company that preceded in the same building.

“We were there with no clarity and no purpose really,” she said.

Dr Finneran, senior lecturer in drama at Mary Immaculate College, confirmed to the Leader that he had “resigned as a director of the company that was established by the City and County Council to run a cultural organisation at 69 O’Connell Street”.

However, he declined to comment further.

While Ms Coll was keen to stress that there was “no acrimony”, she said it was “frustrating for me to see nothing happening”.

“I thought, if I can’t get answers and I can’t move forward and I don’t know what is happening or what I am supposed to do after six months, then it is better that I step away from it.

“I am very disappointed,” she admitted. “It was an excellent potential board of directors and it had an excellent skill set and expertise, it could have overseen the delivery of some very interesting new beginnings in that space.”

A council spokesperson said the local authority was “fully committed to progressing plans for the future operation and development of the former Belltable.

“The council commissioned an independent evaluation of the requirement of establishing a Board to oversee the proposed future operation and development of the former Belltable,” said a spokesperson.

“Since January 2013, the facility has remained operational through a partnership initiative between the Lime Tree Theatre, the Limerick Arts Office and The Arts Council under the name of the Limerick Arts Encounter Programme. The facility remains operational today.

“Limerick City and County Council commissioned an independent evaluation of the requirement of establishing a Board to oversee the proposed future operation of the former Belltable.

“The commissioned consultant’s final report was received by the Council on Tuesday evening and will be presented to elected members for their consideration in the coming weeks.

“The Council is conscious of the significant support received from the arts community and public at large in relation to proposed plans for the future operation and development of the facility. The Council looks forward to the Elected Members reviewing the details of the consultant’s report with a view to progressing these plans.”