2014 sees our city presented with a once in a lifetime opportunity to maintain a world class art gallery.
City of Culture status brings a new dynamic in the form of a legacy that enables the city to grow in confidence and stature. 2013 showed the possibilities of what is achievable.
Visual arts in this city is not always appreciated. An international gallery is an amusement to some and remarks like ‘… arty stuff, what we need is jobs’ can be heard.
There is an inability by some people in our city to understand the importance of the visual arts.
Some of the most important assets we can have are creativity and imagination and the ability and courage to see ideas through to the end.
Visual arts drive the regeneration of cities. It brings cultural tourists to the city as proven by the Turner Prize - 53,000 people in two and a half months, a number of whom explore what else is happening throughout the city and stay one night or more, putting money into the local economy.
The gallery itself will create jobs. Other businesses grow up around this hub creating jobs, and foreign companies are encouraged to invest in the city because it has a cultural life.
The campaign to save buildings 80/81 as a gallery is made up of a very diverse group of people and they have worked on behalf of the entire population, including the surrounding catchment area of Ulster, Sligo and Leitrim, in fact the whole country.
There needs to be an independent international gallery that will have the backing of brands such as the Tate galleries.
Unlike organisations that exist purely to draw down public money, income will be generated from a variety of private and public sources.
The economic benefits of this gallery will be seen in many ways, not least in the creation of badly needed jobs and not just in the balance sheet.
We were told that we couldn’t have a theatre or a footbridge in the City but we have both and the Ebrington site will work because it is connected by the Peace Bridge. Now that we have a world class gallery half the Business Plan is complete because there is no need for capital expenditure.
The development of Ebrington, starting with this gallery, will be of huge benefit to the Waterside and the whole city.
The remit of Ilex is that anything developed on the Ebrington site is in addition to that which currently exists in the city.
The gallery, built at a cost of £2.5m, in desperate times, will be in addition to any existing arts organisation in the city and is in a league so far removed from what we presently have that the only organisation that can run it has to be of international standing.
A worldwide search will have to be made to find a curator/director for this most sophisticated gallery space in Ireland. Satisfying the lending criteria of Tate satisfies every gallery/museum in the world. It just can’t get better than that, apart that is from having the same fit-out for the Clock Tower building, but that could come later.
With partners such as Tate, Guggenheim and others from around the world, old and modern masters which have only been studied by our students in text books could now be seen in reality.
Art harnessed with education is a powerful tool. Ebrington as a Cultural Hub, inclusive of a Maritime Museum, the story of the Battle of the North Atlantic in WW2, the City Archives and creative industry SMEs would be viable if developed coherently and incrementally as a model with high levels of participation and engagement and with links into formal education thus demonstrating a skills and knowledge transfer. If we lose this gallery we will be the laughing stock of Europe and beyond, or if the organisation that ends up running it has anything less than an international reputation of the highest order, then the future for our city is, in my opinion, lost.
What was City of Culture for? It’s up to you.