THE Irish arts scene will be used as a tool to send a positive message to thousands of Americans with more than 400 events in 40 states this year.
The traditional and contemporary arts will be celebrated across the United States under a plan unveiled by actor Gabriel Byrne in New York yesterday.
Byrne, in his role as Ireland's Cultural Ambassador, launched the largest ever programme of Irish film, theatre, music, dance and literature to entertain American audiences.
Imagine Ireland is an unprecedented celebration of Irish arts that will see more than 1,000 artists and producers stage works in 200 cities.
As the biggest ever celebration of Irish arts was launched in America yesterday, the movie star admitted some people would see the year-long series of cultural events as a story of regeneration after an awful economic period.
But he preferred to view it as an opportunity to show how Irish artists were continually evolving.
"The arts ironically will always survive and triumph over politics and this is the voice of young artists from Ireland who have something to say to the whole world," he said.
"Americans have a tendency to think of Ireland as being about certain buzz names.
"It goes something like this ... Wilde, Yeats, Beckett and so on . . . and then U2. What's largely unknown is the rich history of what came before that, and what's happening now."
Byrne said he was most looking forward to events that fused different cultural forms.
"It's like that video 'Horse Outside' by Rubberbandits, they're merging with rap music to go outside the traditional Irish sphere and using technology to be available to a global audience," he said.
Award-winning author Colum McCann, who is based in New York, said: "This is absolutely necessary. This is the cusp, this is the edge. This is the way that we have to talk about ourselves."
Arts Minister Mary Hanafin also attended the launch of the €4m event in New York's Lincoln Centre yesterday.
The money has come from government funds allocated in the December Budget.