The Wexford Arts Center occupies a prominent place at the center of the county’s cultural community

Wexford County Executive Tom Enright said the Wexford Arts Center was no longer the ‘poor relation’ of the town’s cultural backbone following the completion of a refurbishment and extension project of 3.2 million euros, which was officially opened by Minister of State Peter Burke this weekend.

The council boss, who has been a member of the centre’s board for eight years, said the new fully accessible building, which complements the state opera house and nearby Wexford Library, is now ready to meet artistic needs and culture of Wexford and the south. Eastern region for many years to come.

“We all know how important art and culture are, not just for our well-being, but for the well-being of society as a whole,” he told the large crowd. included TDs, advisors and artists who witnessed an impressive aerial performance. music in the high-ceilinged reception room and listened to a set by the ukulele band Cool Hand Ukes.

The Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media provided €1m in funding for the development of the arts center while the rest of the cost was met by the council County Wexford, with Mr Enright explaining that the local authority is able to fund capital works of this nature through ‘modest’ increases in property tax and commercial rates.

The historic structure which dates back to the 18th century has been redesigned to include a grand three-storey extension with improved accessibility and world-class visitor facilities, including a new gallery named after the famous Wexford professor and historian, Dr. Billy Colfer, where the first exhibit is one celebrating his life and work.

The project was designed by Dublin-based architects ODKM, whose previous projects include the Irish Embassy building in Tokyo, Japan, and completed by McKellen Construction of Macmine, Bree, who have been praised for their vision and their outstanding work by Project Manager Sean Meyler, Acting Director of Services. with the county council.

Wexford Mayor Maura Bell said she was proud and delighted to be in a historic building, which was originally built in 1775 on a site obtained three years earlier from John Grogan of the Johnstown Castle. It began as the Brunswick Social Club for recitals and later became the town hall where municipal elections were held until the time of the renovation project. The Wexford Arts Center opened here in 1974 and is now the oldest regional arts center in Ireland.

The mayor said she hopes the mayoral election will return to the building next year when she hands the chains over to a new incumbent.

“The amount of creativity that has taken place in the arts center over its lifetime has been incredible. This is the first time the building has been fully wheelchair accessible and will now provide a powerful platform for the arts in the region,” she said, thanking staff and local businesses for their support. patience during construction work.

“I encourage everyone to visit the center and be inspired by it. Kudos to the Wexford County Council team for delivering such a high quality project.

Minister Burke, who performed at the Arts Center as a member of the award-winning Slogadh Choir 25 years ago, said the renovated building will be a huge asset to County Wexford and the region.

He praised Wexford County Council for their stewardship of the extension as well as their careful financial management which has enabled them to deliver projects like this.

Rosemary Hartigan, Chair of the Arts Center Board of Trustees, said, “There is great history here and great history is being made here today. We can now truly deliver according to our motto – Arts For All, Arts for Life.

She thanked former board members for their guidance and work, and the department and Wexford County Council for their support in completing the three phases of the renovation programme.

She reminded everyone that additional funding was needed for ongoing improvements to the building, including theater windows and floors, as well as rising energy bills, and encouraged people to become Friends. from the Wexford Arts Center at a cost of €120 per year.

Arts Center Director Elizabeth Whyte said the completion of the project is a major cause for celebration for the region.

“Today is a momentous occasion as we celebrate the arts center’s largest redevelopment project since it opened nearly 50 years ago. The new development will allow us to significantly expand our dynamic artistic and theatrical programming. The center now has the potential to become a major creative hub for the South East of Ireland, an important new amenity for the local community and a key attraction for visitors to the region”.

The new center gallery space is named after the late Dr Billy Colfer, originally from Slade on the Hook Peninsula, who died in 2013. The former CBS professor, historian, author of classic books on Wexford history , artist and scenographer played a decisive role in the creation of the Center des arts, of which he was a member of the board of directors.

Karla Sanchez O’Connell, co-curator with Rosemary Hartigan of the Dr Colfer exhibit which runs until December 23, thanked the Colfer family for their support in creating the tribute to their father which offers insight into the many facets of an incredible man.

The exhibition includes research, writings, drawings, maps and photographs together with valuable watercolors and drawings belonging to the County Wexford collection and the private collections of Dr Colfer’s five sons, Paul, Eoin, Donald , Niall and Eamonn.

His son Niall, an archaeologist, spoke at the launch and gave a personal insight into his father’s life, saying he would have been extremely touched by the event, adding that it made the Colfer family extremely proud.

Her son Eoin, the best-selling author, said their only regret was that their mother Noreen, who sadly died two months ago, did not live to attend the gallery’s opening.

“My dad loved this place and it’s wonderful to have his work recognized as the center embarks on the next exciting chapter in its history.”

“Right of Way”, an exhibition by visual artist Laura Fitzgerald, winner of the 2019 Emergence Prize, is also on view in the center which will present the Frederick Douglass Civil Rights Festival from November 24 to 27, in memory of the famous abolitionist who visited and spoke in the old assembly halls in 1845.

James C. Tibbs