Tullamore Arts Centre campaigners protest at council meeting
An action group demanding movement on the long-awaiting Tullamore Arts Centre have staged the second protest in as many months outside Offaly County Council buildings.
The action group, made up of professional and community arts sector organisations and individuals organised the protest on Monday, April 15 after it emerged a presentation from the board of the arts centre was not included on the agenda for the April meeting on Offaly County County.
The same group had gathered ahead of the March meeting of Offaly County Council to impress on members and management that action is needed on their part to further plans for the centre. Cllrs Frank Moran and Dervill Dolan had asked for a presentation to be given in March and when that did not go ahead, the same members demanded an appearance by the board at the April meeting.
Chief Executive of OCC, Anna Marie Delaney, said she would extend that invitation for April but a presentation did not appear on the published agenda for the meeting.
Cllr Dolan said in March that the protesters are a reflection of a deeper frustration among people who think that the council is not doing enough.
The February meeting of the council was told that there is a €900,000 funding shortfall on the project, with that news coming on foot of a blow in January when the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government stipulated that €3m in funding designated to Offaly under the Urban Regeneration Fund could only be spent on the ambitious Grand Canal Greenway project and street enhancements currently underway in Tullamore.
The committee behind the project for an arts centre, which includes sitting councillors Danny Owens, Declan Harvey, Tony McCormack and Tommy McKeigue, had hoped a slice of that funding could make up the shortfall for the arts project which would cost in the region of €3 million.
The action group said on Monday that they were outside the council offices again "as the Board of Tullamore Community Arts Centre has declined to deliver a presentation to Offaly County Council and the people of Tullamore and the county."
"It's disappointing news again for the people of Tullamore as yet again there is no public update on the progress of the development and securing of funding for our arts centre," the group said.
"We are requesting that our elected representatives on our behalf demand to know why the board have declined to present at the April meeting and continue to fail to communicate on the status of the Arts Centre."
"We are requesting that Cllrs McKeigue, Owens, Harvey and McCormack, current members of the Board are held to account and address the question of the status of the arts centre."
The structure of the Board comprises a combination of four members appointed by the CEO of Offaly County Council, four councillors representing the Tullamore Municipal District and currently three community members from the business sector.
"Through the action group’s communication with the professional and community arts sector and the wider community, there is an awareness that people within Tullamore feel disengaged and let down by the lack of communication about the arts centre and the board’s management of its remit."
The remit of the board is to secure €3.6 million in funding and manage the building of the arts centre. The deadline for drawing down the €2 million ringfenced by the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht is December 2020 and these monies cannot be accessed without all the funding being in place.
Almost €200,000 was raised by fundraisers in Tullamore in 2011. OCC Chief Executive Anna Marie Delaney told councillors in February that council officials had met with Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan to seek additional funding and also told the meeting that work would not begin until "all revenue streams are in place."
Updating members on Monday, March 25, the Chief Executive said documentation requested by the department, including a business strategy, had now been submitted to the department. She expects queries to return on foot of that but stressed that the council was seeking a possible additional allocation of €500,000 from the department.
Anna Marie Delaney said that more fundraising would be needed locally and stressed that the council remain "100% committed to bringing this project to fruition."
She said she appreciated the frustration and said OCC has shown dedication to this project, investing by paying €405,000 for the Kilroy's site and more than €250,000 on various reports and studies there to date.
The action group said: "We are lobbying for an arts centre as a cultural, social and economic investment in Tullamore and county. We do not want Tullamore to further fall behind our neighbouring county towns - Portlaoise and Athlone."
"We want councillors and Offaly County Council to hear and prioritise the public demand for our arts centre. The arts centre is for everybody. It can facilitate and host a range of activities for all communities, with drama, dancing, painting, building, music workshops, plays, comedies, musicals, puppeteering, spoken word, live music and comedy."
"It can be a place for younger people, older people, people with disabilities, intergenerational and new communities to meet and participate in a vibrant programme of activities."