The Irish Arts Center in New York, long more of dream than a physical reality, is now set for a very real opening on December 8.
Those who take note of religious holidays will know this date as the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.
But there is nothing immaculate about the Arts Center arrival in the world. It is born of years of planning, fundraising and construction.
And the center already has programming extending from this year until the end of 2022.
The center has been in existence for years of course. But the new facility is a massive leap into a bold new future.
Said a release: "Irish Arts Center, based in New York City and renowned for presenting dynamic, inspiring, collaborative experiences of the evolving arts and culture of Ireland and Irish America in an environment of warm Irish hospitality, will open the doors to its long-heralded new home, a 21,700 square foot hub for the arts at 726 11th Avenue, with a monumental inaugural season of programming, from December 2021 to December 2022.
"As the organization approaches this pivotal moment, the culmination of a more than a decade-long transformation into one of New York’s most beloved multidisciplinary cultural institutions, they today announce the year-long program that will bring the landmark new facility to life."
Continued the release: "Founded in 1972, Irish Arts Center for decades operated within New York’s Off-Off Broadway theatre landscape, while also promoting Irish culture through classes in traditional music and dance, from the humble three-story tenement at 553 West 51st Street in Hell’s Kitchen.
"As part of the evolution of the neighborhood, in 2006 the organization was given an opportunity to potentially acquire the site of Cybert Tire, on a city-owned property on 11th Avenue, adjacent to Irish Arts Center’s current home. The opportunity inspired fundamental questions, including: What should an Irish Arts Center be in 21st Century New York City? How best to reflect Ireland today? What will best serve New York, artists, and the community?
"After surveying the Irish and New York cultural landscapes, Irish Arts Center undertook an ambitious transformation into a vital, inclusive multidisciplinary institution deeply integrated into the cultural ecosystems of Ireland and New York.
"Over many years, the organization built artistic and financial capacity through high-impact collaborative programming in its 51st Street home, partnerships with dozens of New York City cultural institutions, significant special events anchored by longtime Honorary Chairs Gabriel Byrne and Liam Neeson, and its enduring education programs. In parallel, the organization and project and design team commenced a robust, iterative consultative process with hundreds of artists and stakeholders to establish the scope and program for the new building, while gradually growing the Center’s annual budget from $690,000 in 2007 to more than $4 million in 2020 -and securing more than $65 million in capital support from the City of New York, the State of New York, the Irish Government, cultural and corporate foundations, and hundreds of private donors."
"In 2020, amid construction of the long-awaited landmark new facility, with the support of its board, staff, and project team, government partners, and community of stakeholders, Irish Arts Center rose to the tumultuous moment of the pandemic, and its ensuing shutdown of construction and the arts in New York, with grace and grit.
"The Center’s staff, teachers, and artists quickly adapted its approximately 40 classes-per-season and multidisciplinary program to an online format to provide modes of engagement and joy from home, and commissioned a groundbreaking series of new works—Grásta: Grace in Uncertainty—to be experienced virtually, reaching more than 400,000 people in 49 states and 123 countries.
"The building resumed construction in July 2020 and was completed within its $60MM budget, ensuring the successful opening of a magnificent new cultural amenity for New Yorkers, as the cultural soul of Ireland and New York is restored and enlivened with the receding of the pandemic. Having moved through hardship with adaptability and an unflinching dedication to its mission, Irish Arts Center is poised for another huge metamorphosis and new beginning."
Irish Arts Center Executive Director Aidan Connolly said: “The new Irish Arts Center is a dream realized and a tribute to the broad coalition of people in New York and Ireland who have brought it to life, at a time when we so eagerly need a place to come together with inspiration and hope. But it’s only the beginning. Our opening season is a statement of promise and possibility. We invite artists and audiences of all backgrounds to see themselves in this welcoming new home.”
Said Board Chair Shaun Kelly: “This new Center is the result of years of hard work by our incredible staff and colleagues, and the generosity and leadership over the years of our board members, supporters, and many stakeholders.
"It’s a gift from all of this community to the future, and we look forward to filling it with great performances, arts, and education, and many joyful memories, for generations to come.”
Successive Irish governments have been involved in the project for all its years.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin said: “When I first visited the old Irish Arts Center in 2009, this new building existed only in the imagination. It was a delight to return to the site this September, in anticipation of its official opening, to see that idea made real - and so excellently executed.
"The Government of Ireland is proud to have supported this new building, which is a new cultural landmark in New York, a celebration of Ireland-U.S. relations and a platform for creativity, innovation and diversity.”
Said Center Vice Chair Pauline Turley: “When you walk around New York there are so many fine cultural institutions proudly promoting their heritage - Asia Society, Alliance France, Scandinavian House, and the Jewish Museum, amongst many others. To finally have a state-of-the-art home that can stand proudly alongside these great institutions, that will celebrate the evolving Irish and Irish American story, is a dream come true for so many who have labored to make the New Irish Arts Center a reality.”
Said New York City Cultural Affairs Commissioner Gonzalo Casals: “We are so excited for Irish Art Center's amazing new home. We owe New York City's cultural vibrancy to people coming from all over the world to collaborate and create.
"We're proud of the City’s investment in Irish Arts Center’s new building, which will serve as a major hub for these sorts of creative exchanges between artists and audiences for years to come.”