Saturday 21 April 2018

Culture award can be a renaissance for city

Prestige: Chloey Turner and James Grennan at the announcement that Riverdance will be the flagship January event for Limerick National City of Culture 2014 celebrations.
Prestige: Chloey Turner and James Grennan at the announcement that Riverdance will be the flagship January event for Limerick National City of Culture 2014 celebrations.

Aedin Gormley

Limerick has over the last few years been in the news for the wrong reasons. It's a city I have spent a good bit of time in over the last decade or so as it is home to RTÉ lyric fm. News broke in July 2012 that Limerick would be the first designated National City of Culture in 2014.

"I think we are entering a period of renaissance," artistic director Karl Wallace told me this week. I first met Karl in Limerick when he was artistic director of the Belltable Arts Centre. He then went on to become chief executive officer and creative director of Siamsa Tíre in Kerry. A native Londoner, he has lived and worked in Ireland for 23 years and is thrilled to be back in Limerick, his favourite city, to create a cultural programme of events for Limerick next year.

"I always felt that because I had cut my teeth in venue management at The Belltable that I wanted to come back to the city to do something that would support local cultural or arts groups," he said.

Karl believes that Limerick has always been an incredibly creative city. Urban and edgy, it is a city that doesn't always shout about itself. He feels that people in the city want to change the perception of how Limerick is viewed and that it's high time to show off the great wealth of music, heritage, literature and theatre that Limerick has to offer.

Karl has looked at both Derry and Liverpool as models of successful Cities of Culture. He admires the fact that each included local grass-roots activity in terms of programming. However, Liverpool's lead-in time was five years, and the city of Derry had two-and-a-half years. Karl will have had about six months to programme the year ahead in Limerick. He is not complaining though.

"Even though the project started in July 2012, I started last April, so my first job was to pull together a team."

Karl wants to make Limerick a key destination for international or high-profile acts. He is particularly excited about Fuerza Bruta. "This South American dance-rave event hosts 2,000 people in a warehouse full of acrobatic work with lights and rain and wind and fans."

On the other side of things, Riverdance will be the inaugural event in January. Bill Whelan is one of the freemen of Limerick and to have Riverdance kick off a European tour in Limerick shows that the city has the capacity to deliver.

Karl's main interest is local and how local can have a national profile. "We don't want things to come into the city or develop here that don't have some connection, it will just be a fantastic party but it won't mean anything."

Legacy is hugely important. Karl is keen to support local cultural groups. As a sector there are about 400 groups across the city. "I would like 2014 to mark an initial investment in their growth in the city and nationally, which will play a significant role in the economic development of Limerick."

It's sure to be an interesting year for Limerick and the programme of cultural events so far is impressive. Let's hope there is also a longer-term positive impact. For now, mark it in your diary, Limerick is the place to visit in 2014.



Irish Independent

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