ON THE occasion of the first public Annual General Meeting of Wexford Arts Centre, the directors of the facility were delighted to announce that funding was being sought for a €3m development.
The plan, which will see a comprehensive extension to the front of the building, has been finalised by the Board and Wexford Co. Council and an application has been submitted to the Department of Arts for funding.
Speaking about the proposed development, Council CEO Tom Enright explained that the building was a protected structure, dating back to 1775 and was owned by Wexford Co. Council. Wexford Arts Centre Ltd. has a 99-year lease on the building, dating back to 1974.
Mr. Enright remarked: “It’s a beautiful building but it has some problems. Access is poor, there is no lift and there is poor visual contact with the street outside meaning that people don’t realise events are happening inside or that the café is there.
“We need to bring more visitors into the building to make it financially sustainable. The extension will be about 6,000 square feet – about 60% of an addition. It will provide proper access and enhanced display areas as well as being more energy efficient.”
He explained that planning permission had been granted for the development in March 2014 and the estimated cost was €3m. Funding, he said, had come about after pressure was put on the government to reinstate grants for Arts Centres.
“It’s been many years since there was an injection of funding in this area and Brendan Howlin, when he was Minister, provided funding to the Department of Arts for a new Capital Programme that would allow for grants of up to €1.5m. The rest of the money will be provided locally through the Co. Council and possibly through some corporate sponsorship.”
He added that this was an important project for Wexford, saying that having a strong centre for the arts was vital.
In response to a question on the timeline of building, Mr. Enright said that he envisaged around an 18-month to two year process, taking into account the planning, tendering and construction process.
Wexford Arts Centre CEO Elizabeth Whyte, in response to a question about space for artists, said that they were constantly in high demand and that the new build would allow more space for either exhibitions or possibly studio space.
“We want to maximise as much space as possible. The moving of the café will give us a new space and we also want to explore the possibility of utilising the attic. We hope that by using space in the new glass construction that it will entice people inside to see what’s happening.”
She added that care would be taken to ensure that the old part of the building would blend with the new. It was hoped that disruption to the day-to-day running of the centre would be as minimal as possible.