In this year of imaging Ireland as a bubbling cultural cauldron where promoting the Irish arts and its practitioners across America would serve as a much-needed stimulus reviving the economically-challenged Four Green Fields on the island of Ireland, we noticed a very interesting parallel.
We have long marveled at the worldwide influence and dominance the small nation in the North Atlantic exhibits through its literary and musical traditions that owes more to its cultural creativity, imagination and ingenuity than it does for the 70 million members of its diaspora distributed around the globe.
Mirroring that impact is a small but ambitious cultural center on Manhattan’s West Side where the Irish were more famous -- or infamous -- for the working class denizens who populated the tempestuous Hell’s Kitchen and gave rise to the Westies, the storied Irish gang based there.
This fall the Irish Arts Center, operating from its headquarters in a small three-story garage, has probably experienced its most prolific period in its almost four decade-old existence, and like the country that inspired its founding by Irish immigrant Brian Heron (who passed away earlier this year), it has had an impact far beyond its size.
Like much of the neighborhood around the former Hell’s Kitchen now gentrified as Clinton, the Irish Arts Center would like to expand and refurbish its grassroots center known for its strong educational mission, now enhanced as one of the more prominent performance and exhibition presenters in the culturally vibrant Big Apple.
A massive capital project has been underway to acquire more space in the neighborhood, and thanks to the insightful and highly collaborative efforts of vice chair of the IAC Board Pauline Turley (and former executive director) and current executive director Aidan Connolly, they are well along the way.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn have committed over $11 million to a new Irish Arts Center, as well as the municipal might to acquire the space in the same neighborhood.
Even the cash-poor Irish government committed $3.5 million in funding in 2009 towards the project based on the positive programming and attention that the IAC brought to the Emerald Isle.
In a similar vein, Culture Ireland has partnered with the IAC as its go-to entity from way back in 2005 as a well-placed organization to advance its mission of promoting Irish arts and artists abroad, and never more so than in the current year-long Imagine Ireland campaign.
Along with that, Irish Cultural Ambassador Gabriel Byrne, actor Liam Neeson and Loretta Brennan Glucksman and Kieran McLoughlin of the American Ireland Fund have led a bevy of fundraisers in recognition that the IAC is the horse to back when it comes to consistently worthy and diverse Irish cultural programming.
Connolly and Turley have built their own well-oiled and staffed machine to parlay these assets with their own hard work, and at its most recent October 14 gala at the New York Athletic Club they realized another $500,000 towards their goals.
From September to December (www.irishartscenter.org
) there are 30 different dates offering a robust selection of cultural events highlighting music, education, literary, visual arts, comedy, dance, film and exhibitionary events either as a once-off or a longer duration.
In October alone some of Ireland’s most innovative minds like Dr. Mick Moloney, Bill Whelan and Colin Dunne headlined in programs that benefited from smart, well publicized and executed productions spearheaded by the Irish Arts Center.
Moloney’s latest variety show “A Tribute to Harrigan and Hart” not only provided great entertainment and history about early Irish American music, but once again graced the important Upper West Side stage of Symphony Space, one of New York City’s most vital institutions.
For Riverdance composer Whelan and fiddler Athena Tergis, the chance to fine-tune a very successful Masters in Collaboration from last year returned to the intimate Donaghy Theatre at the IAC this time over four nights in a calmer atmosphere.
But the pièce de résistance of the October fare was the New York premiere of Colin Dunne’s “Out of Time” solo performance at the Baryshnikov Arts Center over four nights.
The superb one man show produced by Dunne proved a perfect “ménage a trois” by Culture Ireland’s Imagine Ireland, the Baryshnikov and the IAC which saw the opportunity to collaborate in a meaningful way and present an artist who deserved such attention for this creation.
This weekend the Darrah Carr Dance Company collaborates with choreographer Sean Curran into its latest “ModERIN” shows that include a family friendly Saturday morning show (11 a.m.). Visit www.irishartscenter.org
Below, check out a promo video for Darrah Carr Dance and modERIN: