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This event (promotional description at the end of this post) began with a presentation by the consultant Neil Peterson who framed the terms of the discussion through a power point presentation. In addition to a breakdown of ‘cultural spend’ in Limerick and a breakdown of the points that were considered during visits to other cultural models in Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow, one key slide laid out ‘What We Want to Achieve’, outlining the goals of the process.

  1. Limerick recognised as a ‘go to’ place for culture.

  2. Recognised as having the best model for funding and delivery.

  3. Better at bidding – within Limerick and bringing funds in

  4. A recognised centre for artist development.

  5. Structured regular dialogue between politician and cultural sector.

  6. Limerick culture is recognised as being celebratory and inclusive.

  7. Strategic investment in development of key areas.

Before the discussion began these terms were contested by two speakers; one questioning the absence of references in the introduction to the county (over-emphasis on the language of city, although the consultation is a county-wide exercise) and one from a local councillor, James Collins, who challenged the narrow terms of the debate, suggesting that the exercise should not be framed from the outset as directed towards one particular goal (the establishment of a Strategic Policy Committee) but was beginning with a ‘blank sheet’ to consider how the arts are administered and delivered in the city and county.

In spite of these interventions, a specific set of questions and tasks were placed on-screen, and the facilitator at each table stuck quite strictly to that script. These questions were as follows:

  • What are your priorities? How do they align with Limerick’s priorities?

  • What is the sequence of events needed to will bring this about?

  • What are the milestones?

  • How would you measure success for culture?

  • In 1 year? In 3 years.

As an experiment, at the second table I questioned the narrow terms of reference and the homogenising nature of the exercise (manufacturing consent in the form of a set of agreed tasks). The facilitator at my table argued against my views, saying that positive tangibles were being sought and this was a solutions-focused exercise (although the nature of the problem had been pre-determined by the questions). My dissenting views were not included in the feedback from the table given by the facilitator.

In spite of the intervention at the start by Councillor James Collins to say that all matters were open for discussion, and in spite of the declaration that new models for the delivery of arts and culture are sought through this exercise, the terms were pre-determined to shape the contributions of those present in a very specific way. Contributors were asked to align their priorities with those of ‘Limerick’, presumably a reference to the goals outlined in the ‘What We Want to Achieve’ slide (see above), in a period of 20 minutes. They were then asked to identify specific events and tasks that would give measurable and tangible outcomes in 1 and 3 years, also in a period of 20 minutes.

The terms ‘culture’, ‘artist development’, ‘key areas of development’ ‘inclusive’ were presented as givens rather than areas of exploration or consideration. The values implicit and explicit in the presentation and in the formulation of goals and questions were largely economic – ‘Creative Industries’, ‘Tourism’, ‘Cultural events’ ‘cultural offering’ with two references to the ‘social side of culture’ - ‘Inclusivity’ , ‘well-being’ (quoted from the Creative Ireland goals). The philosophical underpinnings of these terms were not open for discussion, and existing negatives such as precarious labour in the cultural field, cultural alienation along class lines, social injustice and the possibility of contestation through culture were not included in the terms of reference, although they did come up in responses from the tables.

The context of the discussion –existing political, economic, and social contexts, the dominance of market values, forms of pro-business governance and the contrary existence of social critique – was rendered invisible, although some tables managed to exceed the terms of the questions that were given.

‘The Limerick City and County Council cross party Culture and Arts Working Group are looking at developing a model of delivery for Culture and Arts for Limerick. Recommendations on this model will be informed by the views and experiences of individual creative practitioners, arts and cultural organisations, communities of interest, community groups, the third level sector and anyone interested in the strategic investment in culture in Limerick.

This consultation event will enable you/your organisation to contribute your views,that will form the recommendations that will go to Council on a new model of delivery for Culture and Arts in Limerick.

Neil Peterson will moderate the World Café Public Meeting. He is Director and Founder of Inside Track, a consultancy group which focuses on helping clients to deliver positive social and economic changes.

In 2005, Neil joined the Liverpool Culture Company to lead the Liverpool Welcome programme in the build up to Liverpool’s 2008 year as European Capital of Culture. This programme has become the benchmark for European Capital of Culture volunteer programmes. He also led Liverpool’s International work during the build up to and during its European Capital of Culture year.

From 2009 until setting up his Inside Track business, Neil was Liverpool’s Head of International and Commercial Relations. He continued to lead the City of Liverpool’s International work and its work on securing external funding and major bids, including the City’s successful 2018 World Cup Host City bid and being a key writer of Liverpool’s UNESCO City of Culture bid.

The Chair of the cross party Culture and Arts Working Group, Councillor Kieran O'Hanlon, The Mayor of the City and County of Limerick is delighted to invite you to a World Café Consultation Event on Tuesday 16th May 2017, 6.30PM The Savoy Hotel, Henry Street, Limerick.'

[Extract from email notification sent by Limerick Arts Office, May 9th, 2017].

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