Culture is firing our regeneration

Leader arts columnist Chris Hayes says, win or lose, Limerick has been on a journey of regeneration and transformation through culture and that is something to celebrate

Chris Hayes


Chris Hayes

Culture is firing our regeneration

The street party to welcome the 2020 judges to Limerick

As I’m writing now, we still have no clue who will be the European Capital of Culture in 2020. The news will drop like a bombshell early on Friday.

I’m tempted to call it for Limerick, even now before the judges have deliberated. Maybe it’s just youthful ignorance, maybe I’m just biased; but it seems obvious to me now, Limerick will win the 2020 bid.

I’ve spent the last few weeks and months writing about the latest developments of the bid process, trying to catch up with the news from 2020 team, while also talking to artists and others in Limerick about what they think.

There are a lot of reasons why the bid has had a tremendously positive impact already, encouraging a wider range of people to dream bigger. But let’s get down to business. Why will Limerick win?

The most obvious point to begin on is Limerick’s time as the National City of Culture in 2014. It’s given us a running start at this kind of large scale thinking, cultural programming and project management.

The European Capital of Culture is different of course, as it must speak to a wider European context – but best of all about this, the programme of events will take place over the four years leading up to 2020, allowing for a deeper and more sustained cultural conversation.

Yet, all that being said; the aspect to Limerick’s bid which speaks to me the most is how we haven’t avoided our problems, but embraced them.

There remains many socio-economic problems today. Thankfully, nowadays you hear less of the same old clichés that used to follow Limerick around. Yet if there’s anything the last few years tells us, it is if there’s any place which can speak to regeneration, it’s Limerick. The role of culture in changing the image of Limerick can’t be understated.

Since around 2009 to 2014, there has been a number of innovative public policy initiatives taken which have recognised the transformative potential of culture. The Creative Limerick Initiative allowed the use of disused buildings in the city for creative projects. The National City of Culture was another, and this also fostered a number of legacy projects which helped sustain the positive impacts.

A key factor which the European judges will consider is the positive socio-economic impacts of the designation. Smaller cities have won out to larger, better established ones in the past because of this fact – such as when Matera beat Venice for the 2019 nomination. Limerick, more so than any of the other contenders, has been on a journey of regeneration and transformation through culture.

This point has resonated me with me personally throughout this 2020-crazed year. I initially went to art college for my own personal interest and passion – I wanted to find some place for myself in the art world. More and more, it’s the place that culture has in wider society which occupies me. Limerick has gone on a journey for sure, but so have the artists.

A certain momentum, a certain pride has been building in Limerick. This is my last article before we find out the news, but now more than ever I feel certain we’ve got it. Still, I will be biting my nails on July 15 the same as everyone else. If you’re reading this after the 15th let’s raise a glass – to Limerick, to culture, to whatever. It’s time to celebrate, win or lose.

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