Imma discussing ‘intriguing’ proposal for west of Ireland ‘satellite gallery’

Irish Museum of Modern Art in talks with arts department and locals over proposal to locate gallery in old Garda barracks in Ballina, Co Mayo

Museum staff hang a work of art in IMMA Dublin. Photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times

The Irish Museum of Modern Art (Imma) is considering an “intriguing” proposal to establish a satellite gallery in Ballina, Co Mayo. The suggestion was made last year by Pearse Farrell, an entrepreneur and investor who owns the Ice House hotel in Ballina. The preferred location is a disused Mayo county council-owned Garda barracks on Walsh Street in the centre of the town, close to both the new Mary Robinson Centre and the building that hosts the Jackie Clarke Collection.

Minutes of meetings of the board of Imma show that David Harvey, the gallery’s chairman, told fellow board members at a meeting on September 13th last about the proposal for a west of Ireland gallery that would be managed and curated by Imma. “In general, it was welcomed as an intriguing prospect that could extend Imma’s reach and bring art closer to communities who are distant from Dublin,” the minutes noted.

The board members discussed whether Imma would be in charge of the entity controlling the project or if it would be “a provider of services”. It also considered who would meet the running costs and whether capital funds would be required.

It was noted that the project does not form part of Imma’s 2022 to 2026 strategy and that it was “likely that Imma does not have the resources to lead this project”. Board members heard that any regionalisation policy should also be “coherent with a careful selection of the preferred location” and that over-spending should not be allowed.

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They also discussed whether the new gallery could “dilute” Imma’s existing outreach lending arrangements with regional galleries. The board subsequently sought further clarification from Mr Harvey on the proposal.

At a subsequent board meeting on November 15th, the board was told of plans to use the Immigrant Investor Programme (IIP) to raise funds for the gallery, but that programme has since been discontinued. Instead Imma said it would seek “a long-term commitment to funding” from the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media.

In a statement, Imma said it was discussing the idea with its parent department. “The initial proposal envisaged seed capital being generated through the IIP Scheme, but that avenue has now been closed off. The current status is that the project sponsors in Ballina are reviewing alternative ways to generate the capital required to refurbish the premises in Ballina,” it said.

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A spokeswoman for Mr Farrell said it was “a community-led proposition”.

“The context to it is that this region is home to a large and vibrant visual arts community, with a great number of artists and arts supporters both in north Mayo and our surrounding counties. Recognising the strength and value of this community, a number of local individuals are proposing that the old Garda barracks on Walsh Street in Ballina would make a suitable home for a regional visual arts amenity.

The site for the proposed gallery in Ballina, Co Mayo. Photograph: National Inventory of Architectural Heritage

“The site in question is owned by Mayo County Council and sits strategically located between the Jackie Clarke Collection and Mary Robinson Centre, which will open next year. There has long been strong support locally for the development of a cultural quarter in this area, with the Garda barracks identified as an ideal addition to existing cultural assets in the area and supporting the local tourist sector in adding scale to the destination experience for visitors as well as providing a resource for local artists and schools.

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“That group of local community members has met a number of times with Imma to explore the proposition, and Imma has indicated its interest in exploring the proposition, subject to the project’s successful funding. Work is under way to explore and identify suitable funding avenues to deliver the project and its benefits for the local community.”

The department said Imma “does not receive allocated funding for fixed projects that go beyond Imma’s national loans programme, and such a proposal had not been given consideration in the development of Imma’s new strategy”.

It added that the board of Imma has briefed the department on the proposal and said it had referred the project back to its proposers in Co Mayo following the closure of the IIP programme on which the original proposal depended.