Picture Palace campaign hots up as city aims for UNESCO City of Film status

Far from being idle or derelict, work is “proceeding satisfactorily” at the Solas Picture Palace site, and the group behind the project to bring an art house cinema to Galway is launching a major campaign to ensure its completion within the next year.

Solas Picture Palace Teoranta - which includes representatives of the Galway Film Society, the Galway Film Fleadh, the Galway Film Centre, and the Galway Arts Centre - has launched a three strand campaign to raise the needed funds to secure the completion of the building.

The campaign will focus on increasing public support for the cinema; raising funds for its completion through donations; and applying for Galway to become a UNESCO City of Film.

There was also good news for the cinema this week when it emerged that Galway Oireachtas members will be meeting Environment Minister Phil Hogan to discuss the funding situation and see how the issue can be progressed.

The Galway City Council granted planning permission for the cinema at a site on Lower Merchants Road, across from the Galway City Museum, in 2009.

Due to the delays and problems with the original construction work, and the need to appoint a new contractor after the original contractor went into liquidation, there is a shortfall in funding of €1.1 million.

This has given the impression that work has ceased permanently on the site and that money is no longer available for the cinema, however Solas has moved to counteract these impressions.

Work is currently proceeding on the site through Galway company, JJ Rhatigan & Co, and a Solas spokesperson said: “We are getting on with the building of the Galway Picture Palace. We are more than ‘shovel ready’. We are actually building. The only additional obligation is the rebuilding of the adjoining property damaged during the previous construction work.”

Furthermore the Department of the Arts, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht is to release €2.1 million in grant-aid through its ACCESS II programme for the cinema. However it is understood that the Department wants to see Solas raise the €1.1 million before it will release the funds to the cinema. Hence the need for the fundraising campaign.

The first strand is encouraging public support for the project and encouraging the public to let city councillors, local TDs, and senators know that they wish to see the cinema completed. Solas hopes that this will see the elected representatives lobby for the funds to be released and show the Department that the project has public backing.

The upcoming meeting with Minister Hogan shows that the county’s politicians are lending their weight to Solas.

Solas also argues that the cinema will be a boost to the local economy through providing employment; generating revenue; and being a tourist attraction, and education centre, and a support base for creative industries, especially film.

“The consequences of the project stopping will be devastating for the aspirations we hear from Government: enterprise, the creative economy, ‘shovel ready’ projects,” said the spokesperson.

The second strand is a campaign for members of the public to help in the raising of the €1.1 million through the ‘Endow a seat for €1,000’ campaign. Here an individual can choose a seat in the cinema; have his/her name on the cinema’s roll of honour; be invited to the gala opening in 2013; and invitations to special screenings and events. The donation is eligible for tax relief.

The third strand is to make Galway an UNESCO City of Film. For this, Galway must have a “notable infrastructure related to filmmaking”; “historic links to production of films”; tradition of hosting film festivals and screening; and depiction of the city in films.

Solas believes that the presence of an art house cinema will be an important component of a successful application.

“Although Galway is the home of the Irish film Board and acts as a cultural hub and film location, it lacks a dedicated film theatre,” said a spokesperson. “Galway’s application to become European City of Culture lost out to Cork some years ago due to its lack of civic cultural facilities.

“The city already possesses audience for specialised cinema, is one of the fastest growing cities in the EU, is a university town with a long tradition of artistic and cultural creativity, and has a vibrant business population.”

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