Let’s all have 2020 vision for Limerick’s EU Culture bid

Chris Hayes


Chris Hayes

Chris Hayes sporting a Limerick 2020 T-shirt outside one of the touchstones of the local arts world, Limerick City Gallery of Art. Picture: Michael Cowhey
Chris Hayes joins the Leader as arts columnist next week - here, he introduces himself and explains why he is passionate about Limerick’s bid to be European Capital of Culture in 2020 – and why it’s such a major opportunity.

Chris Hayes joins the Leader as arts columnist next week - here, he introduces himself and explains why he is passionate about Limerick’s bid to be European Capital of Culture in 2020 – and why it’s such a major opportunity.

MY NAME is Chris Hayes. I’m a recent graduate of the Limerick School of Art and Design, and a senior gallery assistant at Limerick’s own Ormston House gallery. Suffice to say, I love the arts – and the purpose of this piece is to introduce my new weekly column in the Leader.

This is an important time for the arts in Limerick and Ireland, with the upcoming national celebrations for 2016, and the EVA International Biennale, as well as Limerick’s bid to become the European Capital of Culture in 2020.

The 2016 celebrations will be an important time for us to debate and discuss what it means to be Irish. Limerick is currently undergoing a similar process this year, with our bid to become the European Capital Of Culture in 2020. After National City of Culture 2014, we’re onto the next opportunity to showcase Limerick.

Working in Ormston House for the past three years has meant I’ve been heavily involved Limerick’s arts community. One of the most crucial aspects of working in the gallery is communicating with the wider public about art, and trying to promote art and culture within Limerick. During this time, I’ve seen just how much the arts community in Limerick has to offer.

In 2020 it is Ireland’s turn to have a city as the European City of Culture. The winner of the European City of Culture will be selected in mid-2016. Until then, the question before us is simple; why Limerick?

In light of these exciting times, I hope to bridge the gap between the arts community and the wider Limerick public through my new Leader column. By reviewing exhibitions and talking to artists I hope to share their stories, and the story of the arts in Limerick.

Limerick is in a good position to win the bid and present the best of what we can do to the wider European community. Far too often when we think of Europe we think of the capitals of major countries; London, Berlin, and Paris. These are wonderful, beautiful cities. But millions of Europeans live in areas just like Limerick. Cities and rural areas that have their own distinct voices, lived daily by people with their own stories. The story of Limerick is one that can resonate with millions of other Europeans. Limerick is a daily experiment in how to live well outside of the major centres.

An essential part of the story of Limerick is the arts. With the Limerick City Gallery of Art, the Hunt Museum, and the Limerick School of Art and Design, Limerick has a strong cultural infrastructure which helps to foster culture in the community.

Furthermore, since the economic downturn in 2008, there has been a quieter, cultural revolution sweeping Limerick. Due to cheaper rents, vacant spaces, and a drive by local artists to get involved, Limerick has developed as a cultural hub. With support from the local council and the Nationals Arts Council, many smaller, independent artist-led organisations were established – such as Occupy Space, Raggle Taggle, Faber Studios, Wickham Street studios, and Ormston House gallery. There were many groups in existence before 2008 also, such as the Limerick Arts Society, Dance Limerick, Lime Tree Theatre, Askeaton Contemporary Arts, Limerick Printmakers, and Contact Studios. These smaller, grassroots organisations are as important to the wider cultural infrastructure of Limerick as the bigger institutions.

Unfortunately, since then many of these groups have shut down. Yet, thanks to them, Limerick has a large, native base of talented and experienced people who are able to run galleries, arrange exhibitions, foster creativity in the community, and promote Limerick as a cultural hub.

These organisations were crucial during the National City of Culture year. According to the social impact study by Theatre Forum, 2,504 artists were involved in projects during the National City of Culture.

The lessons learned from the National City of Culture will be invaluable for the 2020 bid. One crucial lesson proved in Limerick was that the arts have a hugely positive economic impact. As the Limerick Leader has reported, the National City of Culture generated €44 million for the local economy.

As we move closer to the 2016 celebrations, the EVA international biennale, and the 2020 bid, we will hear a lot more about the positive economic impacts of the arts. Of course, the arts does have a positive influence on the economy. If we want to be smart about the “smart economy” then the arts has a vital role to play. No major city in the world can expect to compete internationally without a strong cultural infrastructure. The arts is essential in attracting investment and retaining an educated workforce, amongst other things.

Yet, there is a real danger in seeing the arts sector in purely economic terms, and believing that culture should always be justified in terms of money instead of being of value itself. Limerick’s vibrant arts community was essential in generating the €44 million for the National City of Culture. But, the more we think of the arts as something to be used, to be monetised, the more we threaten the community spirit that created it in the first place. Artists are part of the community, and add life and energy to society. The €44 million wouldn’t have been possible if that’s what our objective had been in the first place.

As a candidate for the European City of Culture, Limerick has a lot of strengths. From my point of view, one of our most unique strengths comes from our vibrant arts community. Since 2008 Limerick has been fostering its local talent, and developing as a cultural hub. As we look towards the future, the more we focus on empowering our local, talented and ambitious people, the more we will see Limerick thrive socially and culturally, as well as economically.

It’s an exciting time to be in Limerick. We have a real opportunity to be brave - to get active, interested and involved - and make this something great; something Limerick deserves.