Irish Arts Center (IAC), 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.
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 $65MM 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.”
“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,” said Irish Arts Center Board Chair Shaun Kelly. “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.”
Ireland’s Prime Minister, An Taoiseach Micheál Martin, T.D., 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-US relations and a platform for creativity, innovation and diversity.”
“We are so excited for Irish Art Center’s amazing new home,” said New York City Cultural Affairs Commissioner Gonzalo Casals. “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.”
Designed by New York-based architects Davis Brody Bond (National September 11 Museum, The Ronald O. Perelman Performing Arts Center), with consultation and support from Ireland’s Office of Public Works, the new Irish Arts Center is an historic collaboration between the people of Ireland and New York, signifying a new era in the cultural life of the global Irish diaspora, and providing an important new canvas for the development and presentation of the performing arts in New York City. Reflecting Ireland’s emerging position as a diverse, modern European country, and building on its legacy as a land of poets, the new Irish Arts Center will provide a home for innovation, collaboration, and development in the world’s cultural capital.
The building’s centerpiece is a flexible performance space, designed by Davis Brody Bond with theater design firm Fisher Dachs Associates (The Shed, Park Avenue Armory), and acoustic design by Jaffe Holden Acoustics (Lincoln Center, The Kennedy Center, The Juilliard School), that will serve as a site for theater, dance, music, visual arts, interdisciplinary work, residencies, and special events. The building also includes a new studio for classes, rehearsals, and community gatherings; an intimate, warmly appointed library classroom and patron lounge; and an atrium bordered by the former Cybert Tire building’s interior historic brick façade housing inspiring visual art.
President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins said, “For more than four decades, the Irish Arts Center has provided a space to showcase Irish culture in New York. Now the Center begins a bold new chapter, in an impressive building that is a dynamic space for artists. I would like to congratulate all who worked so tirelessly to bring this new space into being and wish them every success.”
The new building includes a generous ground-floor café operated in partnership with the popular local Hell’s Kitchen establishment Ardesia. It is a physical manifestation of the core value of hospitality that is central to Irish Arts Center‘s identity and characteristic of Ireland, famously “the land of a thousand welcomes.” The café and lobby furniture is by Irish craft furniture designer Orior, using authentic Irish materials repurposed in a modern aesthetic, and the bar/servery counter was constructed using a solid slab from a century-old walnut tree, not only evocative of the warmth of Irish hospitality but also a reminder of the wood paneling in Irish Arts Center‘s beloved 51st Street theater.
The new Irish Arts Center will be a place for people of all backgrounds to come together to celebrate our common humanity in the environment of Irish hospitality for which Ireland-and this organization-are renowned.
Architect Carl Krebs, Davis Brody Bond, said, “The design and materials of the new Irish Arts Center manifest a deep connection to both New York and Ireland. As architects, we embraced the challenge of preserving and incorporating the original brick façade of a relatively unassuming two-story garage, knowing this would seamlessly knit the new building into an intact streetscape of pre-war buildings. Exposing the garage’s rough construction brick on the interior of the building also reveals a connection to the New York tradition of repurposing industrial spaces as incubators for the arts. But the overall character and disposition of the new building’s spaces draw on essential qualities of Irish culture, with an emphasis on hospitality, intimacy, and social engagement. Altogether, the new building is a perfect physicalization of the Irish Arts Center‘s identity and a wonderful new home for world-class arts.”
Irish Arts Center Vice Chair Pauline Turley said, “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.”
With a versatile, state-of-the-art theater in a still-intimate environment, the new Irish Arts Center can now offer a home for innovative, emotive theatrical work that moves and thrills.
The premiere event for the inaugural season is Camille O’Sullivan’s Where Are We Now? (December 4, 2021-December 31, 2021; officially opening-and opening the building-on December 8), a dramatic and eclectic offering of music and spectacle from the Cork-born Irish-French cabaret chanteuse who “performs with mesmerizing intensity that threatens to shatter the stage” (The New Yorker). From February 16-March 6, 2022, acclaimed Tony-winning playwright Enda Walsh returns to New York City with The Same, an emotional-psychological portrait produced by Corcadorca and featuring two of Ireland’s most virtuosic actors, Catherine Walsh and Eileen Walsh, with audiences seated in an immersive setting in the flexible new theater. The new Irish Arts Center bursts onto New York City’s musical theater scene in a partnership with Lyric Theatre Belfast that demonstrates the vast potential of IAC’s new space: Good Vibrations, based on the beloved film of the same name, charting the life of punk legend Terri Hooley (July 13-August 14, 2022). Dead Centre returns to IAC with Chekhov’s First Play, deconstructing the Russian playwright’s Platonov in an “iconoclastic and joyful” work that “returns to the essence of theater” (Le Monde), October 19-November 6, 2022.
Rachael Gilkey, Irish Arts Center‘s Director of Programming, said, “We are deeply appreciative that our artistic community-inclusive of both traditional and contemporary artistic practice, across all disciplines-has chosen to take risks with us, to grow with us. The artists are the heart of the New Irish Arts Center, and our new building is for them.”
As Ireland’s stature in contemporary dance grows internationally, the new Irish Arts Center provides a launching pad and adaptable artistic canvas for a thrilling new cohort of artists and collaborations reflective of modern Ireland and the Irish diaspora. Kicking off dance programming in the building is Hard to Be Soft, from Oona Doherty, winner of the Silver Lion award at the 2021 Venice Biennale, January 13-23, 2022. The Guardian named Hard to Be Soft, an homage to the artist’s hometown of Belfast, the best dance work of 2019, and wrote that it captures “the carapace of swagger and sass, rage and resilience built up by men and women in a place where the conflict seems intractable and horizons are limited by constrictions of class and religion.” Mufutau Yusuf makes his full-length New York debut as a choreographer with Òwe, his multimedia meditation on the ritual of archiving ancestral knowledge, intuitions, and value, April 21-24, 2022. IAC’s Masters in Collaboration series, catalyzing explosively creative collisions of artistic practices, continues this year with legendary New York contemporary choreographer Seán Curran leaning into his Irish heritage to develop a new work with modern Irish American dance-maker Darrah Carr (September 28-October 2, 2022).
Across musical acts that experiment with and gorgeously transform tradition (Martin Hayes and Common Ground Ensemble, February 3-6, 2022; The Bluegrass Situation Presents St. Patrick’s Festival featuring Jake Blount, Nic Gareiss, Tatiana Hargreaves, Allison de Groot, March 17-19, 2022; Ye Vagabonds, April 7-10, 2022; Ragas to Reels: Utsav Lal, Sam Comerford, Linda Buckley, Ganavya, Nitin Mitta, November 17-19, 2022) and encompass the sounds of today (Anna Mieke, May 19-22, 2022; Pillow Queens, September 12-18, 2022; and Ireland in Music Live, a concert bringing together Enda Gallery, Tolü Makay, Clare Sands, and Strange Boy, March 10-13, 2022), IAC’s new theater will be reimagined and reconfigured to create a range of intimate, impactful, live experiences over multi-night engagements. Prizing and uplifting the eclecticism of music in Ireland, IAC similarly transforms its theater to create the ideal atmosphere for presenting world/traditional fare as well as standing-room, club-style offerings.
In the new building, Irish Arts Center builds on its legacy as a center for ideas, having throughout its recent history convened leading authors, poets, and intellectuals from Ireland, New York, and around the world. Beloved recurring events continue this year, including Muldoon’s Picnic, curated by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and songwriter Paul Muldoon, returning February 7, March 14, April 11, September 12, October 10, and November 14, 2022. The 13th Annual PoetryFest, curated by Nick Laird with guest curator Katie Raissian, convenes poets from North America and Ireland, December 1-4, 2022.
With the new Irish Arts Center, the organization has significantly expanded its capacity for displaying visual art and inaugurates a new, rotating Curator-In-Residence program, with Miranda Driscoll, former Director of Sirius Arts Centre in Cork, Ireland, and currently Executive Director of Solas Nua in Washington DC, as the first to be appointed to the role for the inaugural season. Driscoll curates the New Irish Arts Center‘s opening exhibition, The Space We Occupy-with work from George Bolster, Neil Carroll, Colin Crotty, Katie Holten, Fiona Kelly, and Ailbhe Ní Bhriain (December 4, 2021-May 22, 2022)-and a summer installation of work from Maud Cotter, a consequence of – a dappled world (May 27-September 5, 2022) Alongside guest curator Moran Been-Noon, Driscoll will help bring to life the dedicated visual arts canvases within IAC’s theater, atrium and ground floor gallery walls, and in interstitial spaces throughout the organization’s new home.
Between classes and family programming, the organization continues its approach to growing and nurturing community around Irish culture, for participants of any background and every generation. Kids can interactively learn about Irish tradition through Oíche Shamhna/An Irish Halloween (October 30, 2022) and engage their imaginations through the vivid puppetry of Branar Teatar do Pháistí’s How to Catch a Star (May 4-15). IAC’s Open Day (March 13, 2022) provides an “annual extravaganza…an Irish favorite for kids and parents” alike (Time Out New York), while for Book Day (March 17, 2022), books for people across ages-offering distinct glimpses into Irish and other cultures-are freely given out by the thousands. Taught by experts in Irish music, dance, language, theater, and storytelling, IAC’s classes this year return in-person after moving online during the pandemic, offering open environments in which participants of all ages and skill levels can engage the intricacies and joys of Irish expression.
While the Center has sustained its community education program through online classes since spring 2020, which will continue moving forward, the opening of the new building heralds a return to in-person classes in January 2022, housed largely in the Center’s studio and library classrooms, as well as in other spaces throughout their Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood. Classes include a range of offerings including music (fiddle, guitar, mandolin, harp, whistle, bodhran and voice), dance, storytelling, theatre arts, literature, and Irish language, taught by the Center’s dedicated team of teaching artists. The Center’s Winter 2022 eight-week term will commence January 18 and is on sale December 7, with the Spring 2022 term commencing April 11 and a Fall 2022 term commencing September 19.
Irish Arts Center today allso announces a new partnership with the New York-based Emmy-winning arts and culture hub ALL ARTS. The organizations will collaborate on a suite of upcoming programs as part of ALL ARTS Radio Hour, available on 88.3 WLIW-FM, Long Island’s only NPR station, wliw.org/radio, and podcast platforms. The collaboration will begin with the radio premiere of the 13th Annual PoetryFest and the 12th season of Muldoon’s Picnic, an evening of music, storytelling, and poetry hosted by Pulitzer Prize-winning Irish poet Paul Muldoon.
This ongoing collaboration follows the fall premiere of The First Twenty: Afterwards, written and directed by Enda Walsh in partnership with Irish Arts Center, for the groundbreaking ALL ARTS original series The First Twenty, now streaming nationwide at AllArts.org/TheFirstTwenty and the ALL ARTS app.
ALL ARTS Artistic Director James King said, “For almost 50 years Irish Arts Center has bridged cultural connections, building community with artists and audiences of all backgrounds. We are very pleased to continue our partnership with the organization and expand the digital reach of its programs, beginning with the radio premiere of the 13th Annual PoetryFest and the 12th season of Muldoon’s Picnic on ALL ARTS Radio Hour, available on 88.3 WLIW-FM or wherever you listen to podcasts.”