NEWS that Limerick will bid for the title of European Capital of Culture in 2020 comes as little surprise, yet those assembling the bid will face a lengthy and arduous process.
The city will face a tough challenge from Galway and a likely cluster of cities in the South East - Waterford, Wexford and Kilkenny - who have been preparing for some time to bag the designation.
However, given Limerick’s status as the first national City of Culture, the groundwork is already in place for a bid, using the successes of the year as a driver for 2020.
This was acknowledged in the statement issued last week by Limerick City and County Council officially announcing plans to bid for the title. The authority, under the rules of the European project, must drive the bid process and, crucially, underwrite it, backed by funds from central Government, if successful.
Josephine Cotter Coughlan, Director of Community, Arts, Culture and Emergency Services in Limerick City and County Council, said the idea was to give culture “a real chance over a six-year period to help in delivering the economic, social and cultural benefits for the city”.
“City of Culture set the seed for using culture as a driver both socially and economically and we have embraced the European dimension of artistic and cultural life through the programme delivered in 2014,” she said.
When ex-arts minister Jimmy Deenihan announced Limerick as the first national city to attain cultural status in this country, the initial plan was to rotate the title ever two years. This became four years in further utterances. Thus no other Irish city will have attained that national status before the European bid is finalised in 2016, a major bonus for the Limerick proposal.
Limerick’s local authority is now seeking to secure consultancy services to prepare the bid, while a local steering group – led by the local authority and comprising community, business interests and public representatives – will be set up to “direct and oversee preparations for a bid proposal”.
While a relatively small initial award comes with the selection of the country for Capital of Culture - €1.5m for a city from Ireland and Croatia in 2020 - the advantages would be massive to the region and further funding would flow to the city.
Arts officer Sheila Deegan cited the example of the success of the project in Liverpool, Capital of Culture in 2008, has “continued on”.
“There is always payout from the status,” she explained. “What happens is that it never becomes static any more, it always becomes part of every other development.
“Flexibility is important. When we review this year there will be things that really worked from an engagement point of view, that worked from a wow factor point of view, but there are also things that we will have to say were useful in terms of an exercise, but may not have been the right approach.
“So the bid has to identify the good and the bad and has to strengthen not just the local cultural sector, but also has to connect into the European cultural sector.”
Mike Fitzpatrick, director of City of Culture, said the Limerick bid would be “competitive” but it would not be an easy task.
“The key lesson is to maybe retain the fantastic pillar structure that exists now and use the cultural network, that would be vital. It is hugely ambitious [and] it is certainly is a big task.”