Celtic Junction Arts Review
Action in Unprecedented Times
Natalie Nugent O'Shea
NICCoNA – January 28, 2021, 4th Annual Convention
Celtic Junction Arts Center is a founding member of the Network of Irish Cultural Centers of North America (NICCoNA), attending regularly since its launch in 2018. Cormac and I were delighted to attend this year’s virtual event with over ninety delegates, and all the representatives of the US Irish diplomatic force of both the United States and Canada present.
The meeting was hosted by New York’s Consul General, Ciaran Madden, Culture Ireland, and the Irish Embassy, headed by Ambassador Daniel Mulhall, who had just attended the US presidential inauguration the week before (and whose reflections on the inauguration were scintillating – read his recount of it here!) . Together, they expressed delight with the extended audience for this virtual meeting, and the clear commitment that this collective of attendees shows for Irish Culture, saying it clearly displays the strength in the power of culture to connect and serve us in these modern times. Additionally, they feel that the importance now, more than ever, of our writers, our musicians, and our performers is paramount.
We couldn’t agree more.
The Junction is so very proud to be a part of this international ecosystem as it grows and develops in strength. While no sponsored travel out of Ireland for artists in the next six months is likely, we have found many ways in engaging together across the ocean. CJAC supported Shades of Green, Ireland Performs, produced seminars as part of our new Social Justice Series for the Frederick Douglass Talks during Ireland’s Black History Month, on Irish Language Revival for the Consulate’s Éire-Athbheochan Exhibition and welcomed presenters from Irish Community Services on Citizenship Classes, Senior Services, and Youth and Family Programs.
Coming up, we look forward specifically to enjoying the rest of the Trad Fest Ireland, Culture Ireland Artists in the Folk Alliance Showcase, artists from Ireland In Music Week, and the Embassy’s A Farther Shore, as we plan for next year’s Centenary celebrations. All of the exciting plans that have started to connect the cultural organizations to artists and to each other will certainly continue to go ahead – they stand reinvented – until we can travel again.
Meanwhile, CJAC remains active as ever, with all four of our programs in full swing. We hope you can take part in our upcoming concerts and classes, exhibitions, and especially our new series of seminars, exploring upcoming topics in coordination with our US Embassy. These topics will focus on youth, women, BIPOC voices, LGBTQIA representation, and other contemporary subjects. They lead the cultural calendar, recognizing important contributions to Ireland throughout its history and into modern times. They have asked cultural centers across the country to plan for the upcoming centenary of 2022 and to continue to forge community connections around the nation.
Our next CJAC Social Justice Seminar event features a special collaboration with our sister cultural center in Ireland, Aonach Mhaca, called “Anamchairde/ Kindred Spirits”, featuring connections with Native American and Irish cultures as we reflect on shared moments in history, preservation of indigenous language, oral traditions, and cultural exchange.
We will continue to stay engaged and to take action in these unprecedented times. Below – it is our pleasure to share the words of New York’s Consul General, Ciaran Madden, and of Ambassador Daniel Mulhall, as they address the NICCoNA convention:
CIARAN MADDEN, NY CONSUL GENERAL OF IRELAND
“Three years ago, Christine Sisk – Director of Culture Ireland, and myself convened the first of these meetings in New York. The simple goal of the meeting was to extend the reach of Irish Culture across the United States – in all forms – beyond the east coast, and beyond New York, specifically. While we would never say that we have a surplus of culture here in New York, we know that the riches available to us in normal times are not broadly available across the country, and that is a loss for audiences, for the artists, and it is a loss for all of you as conveners and presenters.
As we brought this meeting together, connections were made, and by this time last year, we were seeing direct results of those conversations. At the Culture Ireland Showcase last year, kindly hosted by the Irish Arts Center, specific plans were being made to bring shows to venues across the country. This week last year – it was fantastic to see it. Then the pandemic hit and changed our world. We know this has been a very difficult year for all of you, for artists, for presenters, promoters etc. We know that the online world gives greater reach – we also know that we would exchange it for last year’s version in a heartbeat. The government, rather than retrenching at this time, which might have been expected, has decided to invest instead, in a range of areas, including in culture.
Christine can speak about the remarkable work Culture Ireland have done during the pandemic, but I would like to mention one action that was taken – the appointment of cultural specialists – in London, Berlin and here in New York. For the New York job, we had more than 350 applications. That wasn’t for the great riches the job would bring to the person, but because of the opportunity it presents to do really good work to help and promote Irish Culture. We were delighted to make a joint appointment with Culture Ireland of Nik Quaife. Many of you have been in contact with him coming up to this meeting and will get to know him very well in the years ahead.
This is part of a program of work and among the priority locations for the next round of these appointments is the Consulate General in Los Angeles. Those roles are there to assist you, to assist us, and to assist the artists. I might mention, just in passing, that, unlike the meetings which we convened in New York, the entirety of Ireland’s Diplomatic Network, north of the Rio Grande, is here with you on the call. That includes two Embassies and Seven Consulates General. We are open to all kinds of ways of supporting you, and one of those is the Emigrant Support Programme, which might be relevant in some cases. Our colleague, Eimear Friel will speak to that later.
I spoke earlier about the richness of Irish Culture available in New York. I might indulge myself and mention just a few things that are going on right now, and highlight some of this. Origin Theater Company, their annual festival, is online, and it runs until this coming Sunday. They are bringing shows from Ireland to New York and elsewhere. The Irish Repertory Theater has gone from being what the Wall Street Journal called “New York’s best off-broadway theater” to what Theater Mania have called “The leader in streaming theater production”. And the Irish Arts Center have carried off first-class programming online and classes, while overseeing the completion of their Landmark new premises on 11th Avenue, which the Irish Government has been proud to support. The work that these and other institutions put together in this new world is available, of course, across the country – anyone might tick one or more of the boxes we sought to tick first, three years ago. I think we would all give it up in a heartbeat to meet in person, to plan in person, for shows in person, and that you could bring them to your respective towns, cities, and venues, but in these strange new circumstances we are planning for them, and for beyond them.”
IRISH AMBASSADOR TO THE US, DANIEL MULHALL*
“Thank you to everyone who has tuned in to this event this morning. As you say, I’ve always been a passionate advocate for what we now call “Cultural Diplomacy”. I was practicing it before I heard those words used – because it wasn’t the case when I started on this path in the 1980s. Diplomacy was very much a formal thing that was done between foreign ministries and embassies, and host countries, and so on. The cultural side of things was not very well developed at that stage, but of course, that has all transformed over the last 40 years of my career.
I’ve been delighted to be part of a foreign service that has given more and more profile and weight to our cultural dimension, and to the work of our embassies around the world. Over the last ten months, of course, I have been holed up at the residence, doing everything on Zoom and through telephone and email, and so forth – very little face to face contact with people other than embassy staff. But the previous two and a half years I travelled widely around the United States, and everywhere I went, I was uplifted – and that’s the word I use – it’s genuine – I was uplifted to discover first of all a passion for Ireland, that I came across not just in places that you think of being quintessentially Irish-American like Boston, New York, Chicago, San Francisco – but everywhere. In Savannah, in Charleston, in Texas – everywhere I went I came across communities who were passionate about their Irish Heritage, which really is an uplifting experience for an Irish Ambassador. I hadn’t served in the US before, so this was new to me. It really has been a very positive and energizing revelation to discover so many people with a passionate interest in Ireland, even though they may be 2, 3, 4 or more generations removed from our country – but their ancestral heritage means a lot to them.
In particular, the culture of Ireland means a lot to people here. I would say this probably nowhere in the world where you get this level of interest in Irish Culture… I don’t think anywhere compares to the United States, wherever I go there’s always a musical group that will perform at a function I attend, there’s always a dance troupe that dances at events – and at a very high standard, indeed. I come across people with a significant interest in our literature and whenever I give a talk on Yeats or Joyce or some aspect or Irish literature or history, big numbers of people turn up. So the interest there is genuine, and it is very important to us. It is something we will never take for granted, because it is not normal – it doesn’t happen with many of our European partners in the EU, who have big diasporas here – but theirs don’t really connect with their culture and their country in the way ours does. We have a unique asset here, and we treasure it. And we will, always.
Under our new Diaspora Policy, as part of Global Ireland Policy, culture and the Diaspora are two major planks of the future direction of Irish policy in the world, and of Ireland’s profile in the world. So – I know that our diplomats here have always used Irish culture to good effect. I came across a book recently about de Valera and Roosevelt and their relationship in the 20’s and 30’s, and even that early in the history of our foreign service diplomats were using culture and “soft diplomacy” to get the Irish message across, and we continue to do that to this day. I’ve always been an advocate of this strand of diplomatic life- but I’ve become even more convinced because I see just how it relates to the communities we are trying to connect with, here. The best way of linking with them is through history and culture.
We recognize that the arts community has had a particularly bad time over the last year, because the Arts is a face-to-face business, after all. I know that organizations and performers have found ways of getting themselves out there virtually, but it is not the same. I yearn for the day when I can sit down at a live concert. My message to all of you is that the Embassy is completely supportive of everything you do, and so are our consulates, because although we have 35 million people in this country who claim an Irish heritage, that’s only a reality when people come together.
The organizations that you represent, are what gives people an opportunity to express their Irish identity in real ways that connect them – in very concrete ways with Ireland and with Irish culture. Thank you for that, and we will always be grateful for the effort of your organizations in representing and profiling and promoting Irish culture across this great country. Your success is our success.”
*Excerpts from Daniel Mulhall’s address on Jan 28, 2021