Prominent arts figure Declan McGonagle says it’s an abdication of responsibility by civic reps

Professor Declan McGonagle.
Professor Declan McGonagle.

I am wondering if any of your readers find it disturbing that the development process for Ebrington is being stretched – long fingered, even – up to 2033?

Although I live away from the city now, I return regularly and was directly involved in aspects of cultural programming and the plans for the development of Ebrington, including, among others, the Feasibility Study for Ebrington as an Arts and Cultural Hub and the Council’s Maritime Museum Proposal, as well as the successful Bid Document for UK City of Culture.

I can think of no better example than the tried and tested model of how Ebrington worked across the City of Culture year and how the site could and should be developed immediately, for that sort of use, on the basis of that success.

I would refer people to the groundwork for this process contained in research and proposals in a number of reports, including the successful 2013 bid document, which described a viable model for the development of Ebrington as an art and culture hub, broadly defined as an ecology of social and economic as well as cultural capital and directed towards wide public participation. Even though only parts of the Ebrington site were used, 2013 proved the value and viability of that model. The need to continue that process, as a legacy of 2013, has been obvious since the public protests about the closure of the gallery spaces used for the very successful Turner prize and now used for other purposes.

We are now in 2016 and we have a long fingering of a target date for the realisation of the potential of Ebrington, as a strategic focus for social/cultural as well as economic renewal for the city and its communities. If this long fingering approach holds, then it suggests - along with the dissolution of ILEX and the continuing investment starvation of the city - an abdication of their responsibilities by the city’s public representatives.

Ebrington proved its particular worth in 2013 and contributed to community pride and cohesion, to cultural experience and participation and, it should be remembered, attracted huge numbers of visitors/tourists to the city as a whole. We should also remember that arts and culture represent a substantial and quantifiable economic proposition in their own right. So, I wonder if people in the city are concerned? Or are they happy with the proposed long finger approach, when, instead, the development of Ebrington could be pushed, now, as an argument for an immediate process of investment? Of course, in planning, one always works through short, medium and long term processes. But in this case it seems to be just long term. This allows the civil servants to kick Ebrington’s potential down the road which, in my opinion, means kicking the potential of the city down the road.