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Opinion: Time is running out to save Ormston House - here's why it's important to Limerick

Ormston House is for sale – but the chair of its board says that for seven years it has contributed a huge amount to Limerick society.

Mark Mulqueen

IN THE HEART of Limerick City, a hub of artistic and community expression has become a template for urban cultural spaces nationally – but it may now face closure.

Ormston House is on Limerick’s Patrick Street, in an old retail space boasting large street-level windows. For seven years, it has hosted just about everything including the most global and the most local of cultural activity.

Limerick is certainly a city that has suffered severe economic decline. When it was in the despair of our great recession in 2010 and 2011, a group of young artists and creative people combined with Limerick City and County Council to transform an elegant but defunct old retail space into a hive of creativity and ideas.

From the beginning, Ormston House has had a genuine ‘open-house’ spirit where all sorts of creativity met all sorts of people. New immigrants to Ireland, local and international artists, young people and community activists from Limerick’s inner city converged in this bright place at a time when most other aspects of street life in Limerick looked bleak.

Nearly seven years of thriving activity involving exhibitions, festivals, live performances and a particularly unique regard for the creative and communal power of food have built a deep loyalty in the city.

Fox Jaw gig. Photo Ken Coleman Source: Ken Coleman

Now, the building is being sold and the precarious status of the cultural organisation leaves it having to consider closure by December next.

A few weeks ago, the ‘For Sale’ sign in the window of Ormston House was spotted by an Ormston supporter who took a picture and then took to Twitter. One tweet had a domino effect as a public outcry at the pending closure of Ormston House formed into a social media campaign to save this unique Limerick creative hub.

The power of social media has yet again been on display as that one tweet galvanised thousands of people from both Limerick and throughout Ireland as well as from far corners of the global arts world to call for Ormston House to be saved.

It is a success story on any level, it represents incredible value for money in terms of the return on relatively small public funding, it brought all-day life to a neighbourhood suffering from retail shutdown and vacant streetscapes, it merged local communities with new migrant communities, and brought the resulting cultural melting pot audience to the sometimes not-so-accessible world of the contemporary arts.

Squeezed cultural space

The background story to pending closure is one of Celtic Tiger property speculation turning into NAMA property before being sold on to a vulture fund that is now reaping its due reward on having acquired a bundle of Irish assets at knockdown prices.

In the middle of this speculation is a squeezed cultural space that serves new Limerick talent and a generation that will inherent very little from Ireland’s property market collapse other than a lifetime’s national debt and possibly now the closure of their creative space.

Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone. Photo Jed Niezgoda Source: phot. Jed Niezgoda www.venividiphoto.net

Culture, texture and personality are all features of thriving cities. The recovery of cities that experience severe economic and social decline often begins with a type of cultural renewal that is connected to the community and that particularly involves and empowers young people.

This makes sense as the unemployment arising from economic collapse tends to hurt and disenfranchise young people the most and renewal is equally dependent on youth and the next generation.

Over 3,000 people have signed an online petition against its sale. Ormston House is engaging with the relevant authorities and words of support have helped but time is now running out.

The mayor of Limerick has publicly intervened and there is a glimmer of hope that this unique cultural enterprise may not now be allowed to become another footnote in Limerick’s turbulent social and economic story.

This matters because cities that become real global destinations tend to be the ones that care about culture and creativity as well their economic well-being. Ormston House gives Limerick something unique, something you cannot simply purchase, and helps the city to limit the urban-sameness that is making all of our cities more uniform and, therefore, less interesting places.

The board of Ormston House will make a decision on its future by September and will then host an open meeting to consult its many supporters.

Mark Mulqueen is chair of the Ormston House board and works at the University of Limerick. 

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Mark Mulqueen

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