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Incredible new Irish Arts Center taking shape in New York

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Irish Arts Center
A new Irish Arts Center is in the works.

As the postmortems continue on the Democratic Mayoral primary, so too begins a discussion of the remarkable legacy left by Speaker Christine Quinn.

Among her many tangible accomplishments was securing a site and millions in funding for the development of a new Irish Arts Center on Manhattan's West Side, which with city funding secured is past the point of inevitability and on track to be built – hopefully in time for Ireland's centenary celebrations in 2016.

Quinn's support for the project -- matched by Mayor Bloomberg and Borough President Scott Stringer, now sure to be elected City Comptroller in November -- allowed the Irish Arts Center staff and board to leverage additional support from the Irish government and the private sector.  And they are succeeding in rallying New York's corporate elite and Ireland's most accomplished business and philanthropic leaders to the cause.

Hosted by longtime supporters Gabriel Byrne and Liam Neeson, their upcoming Spirit of Ireland Gala on October 4th will honor Daniel Day Lewis, three-time Oscar winner, and Anne Finucane, Global Marketing Officer from Bank of America, with sponsors  including Bank of America, Citibank, Goldman Sachs, KPMG, Teneo, Mutual of America, and Tourism Ireland, and lead patrons including Adrian Jones, Michael George, Tom Moran, Declan Kelly, James Houlihan, Gerard Boyle, and, of course, the beloved outgoing American Ireland Fund Chair Loretta Brennan Glucksman and her successor John Fitzpatrick.  Other recent supporters of the Center include three of Ireland's billionaires: Denis O'Brien, Dermot Desmond, and JP McManus.

The new IAC project is led by Aidan Connolly, executive director since 2007, and Vice Chair Pauline Turley, who has developed deep reserves of affection from the Irish community over her more than fifteen years at the Center.    Connolly is a recent Wharton MBA with a wealth of experience in politics and nonprofits, including a tenure as chief of staff to Senator Eric Schneiderman, now the state attorney general and a frequent attendee at Center events.

In recent years, the Center has bolstered their board with the additions of corporate brains like Shaun Kelly, Vice Chair of KPMG, food entrepreneur Mike McGrath from Newman's Own, and technology investor Shane Naughton joining the ranks of longtime board members such as real estate developer James Houlihan, construction executives Gerard Boyle and Cel Donaghy, and restaurateur/investor Andrew Breslin.  And they enjoy the enduring support of New York power couple Maureen White and Steven Rattner, who host an annual event for the Center in their elegant Fifth Avenue home.

In addition to Quinn's Irish pride, no doubt the City's huge support is due to the steady growth of the current organization’s operations and impact – from just $700k in annual revenues just six years ago to $2 million this year, despite the Great Recession.  While maintaining a commitment to community through classes and free programming like Book Day and their annual dance festival, the Center has also developed increasingly high profile, diverse programming such as residencies with contemporary musicians Declan O’Rourke and Julie Feeney, both acclaimed by NY Times Chief Pop Music critic Jon Pareles.  And they have sustained collaborative relationships on both sides of the Atlantic with such institutions as Baryshnikov Arts Center, St. Ann's Warehouse, Symphony Space, Harlem Stage, Landmark Productions, Fishamble, and the Abbey, Ireland’s National Theatre, which is making its Irish Arts Center debut this fall.

Designs for the new building are at an advanced stage and expected to be completed in the coming months, after interviews and consultation with hundreds of practitioners and professionals, overseen by Ireland’s Chief State Architect, Ciaran O’Connor at Office of Public Works, and architects of record Davis Brody Bond, who also serve that role for the National September 11 Museum.

With more money left to raise to realize the project's potential, the Center is starting discussions about naming opportunities with prospective donors.   Who knows -- perhaps someone will choose to make a gift in honor of the remarkable City Council Speaker who has done so much to bring the project to life.


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