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The Irish Arts Center (IAC) opened last night on 11th Avenue with a ribbon-cutting on a “Poetry Staircase” and a musical performance by Camille O’Sullivan.
The 50-year-old organization has used every bit of charm and ingenuity to raise over $54 million to fund the project that converted the former Cybert Tires building to a world-class performance space next to its long-term Hell’s Kitchen home.
Speaking at the event, IAC Vice Chair Pauline Turley struggled to hold back tears as she told the invited audience of donors and friends: “We are so grateful and humbled by your friendship and generosity”.
In September, Micheál Martin, Ireland’s Taoiseach (Prime Minister) “dedicated” the new building in Hell’s Kitchen — unveiling a single red brick. At opening night on Wednesday evening, a ribbon was cut to the Poetry Staircase that leads to the new theater.
The Irish Arts Center was founded in 1972 and had been based in an aging tenement on W51st Street since 1974. The new purpose-built home just around the corner on 11th Avenue is linked to the previous arts building. The old tenement will now be refurbished along with the wood-paneled 100 seat theater to complete the complex.
More than $54 million was raised for the project. Gabriel Byrne and Liam Neeson were honorary co-chairs, and Byrne can be credited with the idea of a new center. “Gabriel is our visionary,” said Executive Director Aidan Connolly in a 2016 interview with W42ST.
In September, the Irish Prime Minister described it as a fantastic venue and said that it “will showcase the best of Irish art and culture and the best of Irish American art and culture — and the connections between the two.”
The IAC worked with Clinton Housing Development Company — landlords for both IAC and Cybert Tires — to “complement the urban context of today’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood while engaging in dialogue with history”.
The state-of-the-art contemporary performance space will host world-class Irish theatre, dance and music performances, cross-disciplinary works, installations, and special events. The new theater has flexible seating for up to 200 (with room for more for standing events).
Camille O’Sullivan took to the stage with her show Where Are We Now?, performing songs from Leonard Cohen, David Bowie and even a little Sondheim. She chose The Pogues for her finale, with Fairytale of New York.
The ground floor bar will be operated in partnership with Hell’s Kitchen’s Ardesia Wine Bar. “We are thrilled to be part of this,” said Mandy Oser, owner of Ardesia. “The Irish Arts Center wanted a neighborhood partner. The project has been extremely fun. I’m married to an Irishman — and we’ve definitely enjoyed creating a menu of simple dishes of Irish ingredients with a twist.”
The new venue will continue to showcase Irish and Irish-American art and culture. The first season’s program through to December 2022 can be found on their website at irishartscenter.org/whats-on