Launch of Imagine Ireland

Culture Ireland CEO Eugene Downes, Cultural Ambassador Gabriel Byrne, Minister Mary Hanafin, author Colum McCann and speaker Christine Quinn
Culture Ireland CEO Eugene Downes, Cultural Ambassador Gabriel Byrne, Minister Mary Hanafin, author Colum McCann and speaker Christine Quinn / Photo by Will Ragozzino, Patrick McMullan Agency

By Sheila Langan, Deputy Editor
February / March 2011

A year of arts and culture in the U.S.

2011 is going to be an exciting year for the Irish arts in America. On January 7th, Culture Ireland announced its expansive project for the coming year, titled Imagine Ireland.  Launched in New York City’s Lincoln Center by Cultural Ambassador and renowned actor Gabriel Byrne, Minister for Art, Sport and Tourism Mary Hanafin, and Culture Ireland CEO Eugene Downes, Imagine Ireland will bring over 1,000 Irish artists and producers to the Unites States, and will encompass more than 400 events across 40 states. The two seasons (Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter) will cover the entire spectrum of the arts, from dance to theater to music to literature and visual art. The founders’ hope is that these performances will breathe fresh life into the strong cultural ties between America and Ireland, create new partnerships, and appeal to a wide range of audiences throughout the country.

The Irish government has invested $5.2 million in this year of arts and culture – what some might consider a risky move in times of economic crisis. Imagine Ireland’s representatives were quick to address this question and confident in their response. New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, one of the speakers at the New York launch, stated:“The arts are particularly important in times of economic downturn. We should not forget about them; rather, we should treat the arts as an economic engine.” Speaker Quinn also commented on the great power of the arts to “fill up not only revenues, but also people’s hearts and souls.”

Minister Hanafin echoed Speaker Quinn’s thoughts, expressing Imagine Ireland’s goal of reaching out to all corners of America’s Irish diaspora – and beyond. “Culture is the means by which most Americans encounter Ireland,” she explained. “It connects with the deep sense of pride and belonging of more than 40 million Irish-Americans and also with the many millions of Americans who love great art. We have invested in Imagine Ireland because the arts and culture are so vital to Ireland’s recovery and it will bring Irish culture to new audiences and generations across America.”

Almost more impressive than the number of artists and events is the geographical scope of Imagine Ireland, which will extend far beyond the major tour destinations of New York and Los Angeles. Chicago, Washington D.C., Atlanta, Boston, and San Francisco are all set to be  hubs of activity, as are many other smaller towns and cities – from Chincoteague Island, VA to Bay City, MI.

“New York is amazing, we love New York,” said Fiach Mac Conghail, Director of Dublin’s  Abbey Theatre,  “but it’s not the entire United States. We think that it’s important for the Abbey to go to other cities that it has a connection with as well.” That’s precisely why the Abbey’s production of Mark O’Rowe’s new play Terminus, like so many of the other shows and events, will travel. In this case,  to Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Durham, Middlebury, and Baltimore. People all throughout the states will now be able to share first-hand in Ireland’s rich cultural past and its rapidly evolving artistic future.

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