Extra Limerick City of Culture projects ‘in limbo’

Alan Owens

Reporter:

Alan Owens

Focus: Patricia Ryan, whose appointment as CEO of City of Culture has caused controversy, in conversation with Bill Whelan at the launch of Riverdance. Picture: Sean Curtin
THE controversy surrounding City of Culture is hampering efforts to secure private investment and realise the full project’s potential as imagined by the planning team.

THE controversy surrounding City of Culture is hampering efforts to secure private investment and realise the full project’s potential as imagined by the planning team.

While €6m was secured from Government, the Limerick Leader can reveal that a programme valued at €10m was planned for, with the shortfall intended to be made up from private investment.

Limerick manager Conn Murray admitted that the controversy over Patricia Ryan’s appointment was having an effect.

“There is intensive work ongoing to bring additional spend to the programme for 2014. The kind of focus that we have had for the last number of days is not helping,” he said.

The notion of corporate sponsorship has been a key plank of the project, accelerated by Pat Cox’s appointment as board chairman in January.

At a business breakfast briefing hosted by the Chamber of Commerce in April, Titans of industry from the region were invited to hear about the project, with the hope that they might delve deep to support the cultural initiative.

Business leaders from Dell, Bank of Ireland, Shannon Airport, UPC, Vistakon, Barringtons Hospital, Aughinish Alumina and more heard from Cox that, while that it was not intended to ask for money, the City of Culture team would need “support in time”.

Those in attendance were entertained by Paul O’Connell, who acknowledged that “the challenges were massive” to the project’s success.

“We need a good series of events almost before we can get the funding, and we need the funding to get the good series of events, so it is a bit of a chicken and an egg situation,” said the towering rugby legend.

More recently, Mr Cox spoke about the interest from the private sector at the preview programme launch on November 4.

“I would say that the goodwill has been positive but that they were waiting a bit to see what is the product, because we may be asking people to sponsor specific events rather than the entire programme,” he explained.

“It is our determination not to stop just with public funding, which gives us the confidence and capacity to put this programme together, but to push the boundaries out and invite private sector sponsorship, or institutional sponsorship.”

A source within the planning process has confirmed that Conn Murray and the Board signed off on plans to raise €4m in private investment, but, at the most recent meeting - before this controversy arose - all additional projects which fall outside of the €6m State contribution “were not allowed to advance” on the recommendation of the new CEO Ms Ryan.

“I don’t think you will now be able to fundraise with a tainted brand. How can you raise significant amounts of money when this issue calls into question the validity of the appointment of the CEO?”

Ms Ryan, speaking on radio the morning after the preview programme was announced earlier this month, said that the board was “actively looking for sponsorship and philanthropy to support us”.

“We are not going to spend what we don’t have but we will certainly be well able to spend what we do have,” she said, in her only public interview to date.

“It is a very big project. If you consider an injection of €6m into the arts and culture in Limerick, it has never been seen before. There is no doubt we will be well able to spend it, and more, if we can get it.”

Ms Ryan also noted: “I don’t come from an artistic background as Karl (Wallace) and others will testify to, but I am there I suppose to try and manage the administrative side and financial side and to help with the marketing side of the project.”

Minister of State Jan O’Sullivan said the she hoped “people will embrace the project and will provide whatever support and funding they can, particularly that private sector backing that we need to add to the public sector funding”.