The future of the Mullingar Arts Centre was assured this week with the unanimous acceptance of the Corrigan Report by the members of the county council after meetings with both its author and directors of the arts centre.
“The arts centre of Mullingar was never under threat,” said Cllr Mick Dollard in a prepared statement issued at the end of this month’s council meeting on Monday which followed a two-hour private meeting with two members of the board of directors of the arts centre.
“There was never any question of its amateur ethos being removed or of it being closed,” he added.
The previous Tuesday, 20 members of the council met with Caoimhín Corrigan, arts officer with Leitrim County Council and author of the report that was commissioned into the arts centre by Westmeath’s county manager, Danny McLoughlin, to raise their concerns.
“Sean’s position is not under threat,” said Cllr Fintan Cooney to the Advertiser this week, referring to the poisition of Sean Lynch, chairman of the arts centre since its inception in 1998.
“His commitment is unparalleled and he’s not in it for the money, but he could do with some help. That’s the way we hope it will develop”.
While he said the full council accepted the report, he felt he had to reassure the concerned members of the public who believed that one recommendation of the report - a proposal that the board of directors resign and be re-formed - was a done deal.
“Westmeath County Council does not want this to happen. The existing board is quite open and quite capable,” he said.
Both Cllrs Dollard and Cooney regretted the premature leak of the report which they believed led to a lot of the misunderstanding.
“This has proven to be particularly unhelpful in the context of orderly discussion,” said Cllr Dollard in the prepared statement.
“It is the collective view of the council members that the report be welcomed as a useful platform on how the arts centre can be further developed and enhanced in the interests of the entire community.
“The report’s positive endorsement of aspects of the current programme and the commitment of staff is particularly welcome.”
“The report is, in essence, about the promotion, betterment and corporate governance of the Mullingar Arts Centre.”
Cllr Dollard also wanted to stress the inclusion of amateur dramatics, the fear of whose loss was a major driving force in recent protests.
“The council will engage with the board [of the Mullingar Arts Centre]...in a manner which embraces the ethos of an integrated arts centre, including amateur dramatics,” said Cllr Dollard.
After a three and a half hour meeting with the author of the report on September 21, the councillors agreed to allow the Mullingar Arts Centre’s board of directors a right to reply, which they availed of on Monday.
“The board believed there were some inaccuracies in the report but accepted the criticisms and the good things that were said in it,” said Cllr Cooney.
“The biggest problems were the leaking of the report and the recommendation the board of directors had to resign, but the central thrust of the report was accepted by the members.”
Caoimhín Corrigan believed the arts centre is “poorly funded”, receiving €125,000 from Westmeath County Council and €45,000 from the Arts Council, with running costs of around €330,000. This compares unfavourably with the estimated €400,000 in public money received by a similar venture in Leitrim.
Cllr Dollard felt the centre “is not being put to its full potential” and that “integration is the problem. The bigggest deficit is visual arts”.
Cllr Cooney suggested that Westmeath County Council could provide extra funding for the centre in return for greater control and accountability, but praised the €80,000 raised in “home productions” last year, saying: “The place wouldn’t function without it, but more funding will mean more staff, take the pressure off”.
Sean Lynch was unavailable for comment at time of going to print.