THE man appointed as interim head of Limerick City of Culture has said he is not “here as healer but is here to do a job as a practical manager” of the project, which has been plagued by controversy in recent days.
Mike Fitzpatrick, head of school in LIT’s Limerick School of Art and Design and an internationally renowned curator in his own right, was unveiled as the man tasked with getting the project back on track at a press conference in Limerick this Tuesday.
Mr Fitzpatrick will join the project on secondment from his role in LIT, which is to form “a collaborative, institutional and civic partnership” between the Limerick institution and City of Culture.
The former director/curator of Limerick City Gallery of Art will advise the embattled board on the appropriate and relevant structures and provide leadership for the successful implementation of the programme put in place by artistic director Karl Wallace, who resigned on December 30 and was followed in recent days by CEO Patricia Ryan, whose position had not been advertised.
Ms Ryan will work with the new interim head on a handover in the coming weeks, while board chairman Pat Cox said he was “happy to have any observer offer advice” to the project and would “make or set no boundaries” when asked if Mr Wallace would also be consulted during the transition period.
Mr Fitzpatrick is seen being a unifying force in an increasingly factitious dispute which saw nearly 500 people from the artistic and wider community express extreme dissatisfaction at how the project was being run at a meeting in the city last Friday night.
The interim head said he would identify the “best structure” on how to implement the programme, and will take up a non-executive role on the board upon completion of his work. He will be assisted by the local authorities in this.
“I have to go in and assess what the situation is, I have got to ensure that whatever projects are ongoing are ongoing, I have to meet with the team, I have to see what resources I need from the local authority, I have to prepare specs for the new management structure and maybe get that agreed by January 17 and then implemented,” he said.
“So it is a very clear set of goals in a way. It is very important that we take ownership, things have gone a bit sideways so it is important to take ownership,” he stressed.
The board is also to be expanded to include the nomination of three directors representing the arts and culture community of Limerick, one of which will be Mr Fitzpatrick with the other to come from the pillar groups working within the structure of the City of Culture.
In addition, it has been agreed to appoint the Mayor and Cathaoirleach, or their representatives, to the board.
Board member Tim O’Connor - outgoing Gathering chairman - will also be appointed as vice chair of the board of City of Culture.
It was also revealed at the press conference that the Heads of Agreement were signed by Minister Jimmy Deenihan, who was in Limerick yesterday, and city manager Conn Murray in what was described as a “key step” in accessing the €6m funding provided by Government in October.
Pat Cox expressed his “profound gratitude” on behalf of City of Culture to LIT president Dr Maria Hinfelaar and Mike Fitzpatrick for “stepping up to the mark at this time and for showing commendable civic leadership”.
Dr Hinfelaar, who stressed that LIT had been a key part of the City of Culture project since its inception, said: “We are determined to make this outstanding project a success and leverage the talent and commitment of the artistic and cultural community in the city.”
“The past few days have been extremely challenging for the City of Culture project and we are now leaving this behind. There is an unquestionable passion in Limerick for arts and culture, as we have seen in the last few days – we will now harness that in an extremely positive way,” she added.
For more on this story, see tomorrow’s Limerick Leader tabloid and the broadsheet editions, in shops on Thursday.