26 Sept 2022

Nigel Dugdale - Limerick and Proud: Ormston House needs to be retained

Either Ormston House is assisted in negotiating a suitable deal allowing it to remain in its current home or we witness the demise of a much-loved cultural institution, Nigel writes

Either Ormston House is assisted in negotiating a suitable deal allowing it to remain in its current home or we witness the demise of a much-loved cultural institution, Nigel writes

THE side window of Ormston House has become legendary for those with an interest in Limerick’s cultural scene.

In a city where a quality ‘what’s on guide’ can be hard to come by, the Ormston House window on the Ellen Street side is pasted top to bottom with a smorgasbord of cultural postering inviting our citizens to partake in whatever takes their fancy.

The space within is even more important. Opened in 2011, Ormston House is located in a former retail unit and was created to act as a centrally located cultural space.

Since its inception it has become a thriving space, a hive of creative activity where local artists can interact and develop, a space where audiences can experience cutting edge exhibitions, talks or community engagement initiatives.

Now the building that is home to the Ormston House cultural space is up for sale with an asking price of €500,000. 

The agents for the sale describe the space as a ‘city centre investment property...located in an established retail location directly adjacent to the proposed Project Opera Development’.

The sale will also include the River Deep Mountain High retail unit located next door to the Ormston House culture space.

Despite the fact that the Ormston House sale states that tenants are not affected, there have been widespread concerns that the future of the gallery and cultural space is now in doubt.

Indeed, according to this newspaper, a buyer has been found and a sale agreed.

The outpouring of support on social media for Ormston House over the past few days is testament to the work it has done over recent years.

The space is seen by many as an important cultural asset in the city centre.

It is one of the rare on-street cultural institutions in a city that recently pitched to become a European City of Culture in 2020.

Ormston House was created at a time when economic woes created huge challenges for young artists. The cultural space and gallery found a home in one of the many retail units left empty as a result of the downturn. It replaced soulless consumerism with free thinking, creative magic.

In fact it could be argued that culture and the arts have played a pivotal role in helping Limerick overcome recession. When Minister Jimmy Deenihan naively commented that City of Culture in 2014 was a “rebranding opportunity”, it was considered an insult to artists.

In hindsight our year as City of Culture did make a huge impact in terms of how we perceive our city. It engaged people who previously weren’t engaged. It helped us overcome negative perceptions and paved the way for a new economically sound city.

The many hundreds of artists, theatre makers, musicians, historians and producers deserve great credit for playing their role in the creation of the new Limerick we witness today.

Ormston House has been a crucial focal point for such work, a space where all of the above have gathered at some point to share ideas and thoughts.

Thankfully the bad days of recession are behind us. The boom is back. Perhaps we haven’t learned our lessons from the recent past.

It’s easy to see why the Ormston House building might be an attractive investment opportunity. It is on the doorstep of one of most significant urban development sites in the country.

The reaction to the Ormston House story on social media seems to be pointing a finger at City Hall. This isn’t fair. Ormston House is a private building that has the right to be sold on the private market. The Chief Executive of the Council has in fact highlighted the fact that attempts were made to purchase the property.

If the wealth of cultural information wasn’t blocking the view, the same postered window in Ormston House would reveal the Patrick Street HQ of the Council’s Economic Development division as well as the Limerick Twenty Thirty company. Both of these Council-owned companies are in place to oversee the economic development of the city as well as the principles outlined in the Limerick 2030 Economic and Spatial Strategy.

A vision of this strategy states that: “The City Centre will be at the heart of this…an attractive magnet for retail, leisure, residential, commercial, educational and cultural growth. Growth will benefit all citizens across the City, County and Mid-West Region”.

Note how culture is equally placed alongside education, residential and commercial in this blue sky vision. Yet how true are we to that vision?

There are some things that money can’t buy. Ormston House, its team and its seven-year legacy of cultivating one of our city’s most important and well-respected cultural institutions, cannot be allowed to wither under the frosty blanket of commercial greed.

The Council has expressed support for Ormston House. Let’s hope this isn’t purely lip service. Any suggestion that our Council should purchase the property to save the Ormston House cultural space might not necessarily be intelligent use of public funds.

Where the solution lies is anyone’s guess but one thing is certain - relocating the Ormston House cultural space won’t work. Any attempts at relocation will undo seven years of graft and dilute the impact it has made in its Patrick Street home.

Either Ormston House is assisted in negotiating a suitable deal, allowing it to remain in its current home, or we witness the demise of a much-loved cultural institution.

The latter would be a travesty and one that undoes any confidence in Limerick’s future as a truly liveable urban centre.

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