Irish Arts Center Celebrates Centennial at South Street Seaport

With less than three years until its centennial, New York’s Irish Arts Center celebrated this week a “flagship hub” refurbishment. New Yorkers will travel to the Manhattan venue on the South Street Seaport to…

Irish Arts Center Celebrates Centennial at South Street Seaport

With less than three years until its centennial, New York’s Irish Arts Center celebrated this week a “flagship hub” refurbishment.

New Yorkers will travel to the Manhattan venue on the South Street Seaport to see special exhibits, concerts, lectures, film screenings, and celebrations dedicated to Irish culture and identity. The center is providing help to children and teenagers in an effort to give them something to look forward to. And for Irish folk artists, there’s a space to showcase their art.

The building at 338 West 42nd Street is officially “a landmark of the centennial,” declared Ciaran Staunton, executive director and CEO of the center. But it wasn’t always so. It started off as a bowling alley called River Rock Bowling Center, and the Irish Arts Center took over in 1967.

Mr. Staunton hopes that this week’s upgrades will bring joy to the center’s 928 visitors and benefit the city and the Irish.

“We have a lot of pride in this building, and the role that we’ve played here,” he said. “We see this as being transformative for New York City and Ireland.”

He wants the students to feel “for us what we’ve done here, and, with us, something special, something special to help our Irish community in New York and New York state.”

For the students, it could be the start of a career in music or acting. One student learned that as the anniversary approached, she would likely be inducted into the Irish Arts Center’s Distinguished Irish Alumni Award — the only high school student honored with the honor ever.

“I’m in my first year,” said Elizabeth Coenane, 16, of Bronxville, a freshman in one of five honors classes at her school, Class of 2018. “I’m so excited. We really work to get to school early. It’s really the school for my dreams, to be able to help me in this.”

She’s excited for the repositioning of the center, and is hopeful that it will push her to make music a career path.

“I love to sing. I love to write,” she said. “All the arts are important, the Irish arts are also important to me.”

The Arts Center’s own efforts to push cultural engagement were the impetus for the center to build a separate space devoted to the arts of Irish folk artists.

Liam Durkin is vice president of Irish Arts Center Enterprises, and the program director of a handful of fusions — seminars on the history and formation of each of the Irish mother tongues.

“We are proud of the legacy that we have created for the people of Ireland,” Mr. Durkin said. “The Irish Arts Center is a valued partner in the community, and I think it’s important that we continue to push the theme of Irish living in America. I think that’s what’s important.”

The new space was built by designing with Irish artists in mind. The design makes the hall feel cavernous by packing in its chairs and displays. It features boxes, markers and tape as links to the icons of Irish culture — work by those in Irish folk art, as well as contributions from artists such as filmmaker Jim Sheridan and novelist Colm Toibin.

The second floor of the building was designated in 1991 to the Staten Island Community Library and is now the center’s new leadership center, the place where the Arts Center will hold Thursday forums on Irish culture and history. There, artists, government officials and academics will gather for discussions.

The first installment of the first week of the week-long program took place last month, and is part of the centennial celebrations.

With the Irish Arts Center going through the renovations now, it’s a chance to “time-travel,” and to re-imagine things as they were,” said Nicholas Breen, president of the board of trustees.

“The Irish Arts Center has always been ahead of its time,” Mr. Breen said. “The Irish Arts Center as an institution, as a place, as a collection, as a country, as a place — this is another window into that last century.”

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