Athlone’s new contemporary art gallery has really impressed the arts minister, who said he is blown away by the facility and its contribution to Athlone’s cultural landscape.
Minister Jimmy Deenihan was “very impressed. Really you’d be blown away,” he said, describing the gallery as part of the cultural revival of a town which, with the castle and the history of drama has “a great cultural heritage”.
“This will enhance it still further, it’s quite exciting,” he said, adding that it will serve artists all over the region.
“Artists didn’t have spaces like this before,” he said, pointing out that they need to exhibit to earn the money and profile to continue their work.
He also had praise for Athlone’s “very dynamic town council”, and the support of the county council, and paid tribute to Senator Nicky McFadden, whom he said urged him to find a date in his diary to officially open the gallery.
At a cost of €3.4m and baptized by local people who chose the name by public consultation, it is the first ever custom built contemporary art gallery in the midlands, and the first built in the country in the last three years.
And, since Friday it has been open to the public, free of charge.
Its roomy spaces already play host to an exhibition entitled Borrowed Memories, on loan from the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin.
It includes several installations, photographs, and an eye-catching work inspired by the letters written by hunger strikers in the Maze prison in 1981, which takes up the full wall looking out over the Shannon.
Also included is ‘Ark of Dreaming’, a painting by Westmeath artist Patrick Graham, which inspired some of the children who visited the gallery in advance of the opening and made their own art which hangs on the walls of the downstairs workshop.
County manager Danny McLoughlin described Luan Gallery as “a fantastic piece of social infrastructure”, which, along with the Abbey Road artists’ studios will continue to contribute towards the development of the west side of Athlone “to make a historical and cultural quarter”.
London-based architect Keith Williamson spoke of the challenges he faced in taking a more than 100-year-old riverside building, once a temperance hall which hosted Count John McCormack, and transforming it into a welcoming and functional modern gallery.
Gallery manager Miriam Mulrennan was delighted with the large attendance at the opening ceremony, which was broadcast over the gallery’s two floors and balcony.
“It’s important to look at the breadth of what we can offer. We’ve enough interesting and different spaces to do very different things. So it’s a case of here’s where we’ve started, so watch this space,’’ she said.