Dunamaise at crossroads financially

“FINANCES are not good,” admitted Mr Louis Brennan, chairman of the board of directors of the Dunamaise Arts Centre, last week announcing a €24,000 deficit which has put this local arts amenity in such dire financial straits the board are now on the hunt for secondhand computers and desks just to handle the centre’s day to day administration.

“FINANCES are not good,” admitted Mr Louis Brennan, chairman of the board of directors of the Dunamaise Arts Centre, last week announcing a €24,000 deficit which has put this local arts amenity in such dire financial straits the board are now on the hunt for secondhand computers and desks just to handle the centre’s day to day administration.

Some 40-odd people attended the supporters and stakeholders meeting in the theatre of the Dunamaise last week, where Mr Brennan revealed the “disturbing” state of the arts centre’s finances. Despite some quarter of a million customers having attended numerous events at the Dunamaise over the last 13 years, with commendations lavished on the centre from both the Arts Council and President Michael D Higgins, the board have recently had to implement a plan to renew, re-invent and re-engage the facility.

Mr Brennan said that the centre’s main funders, Laois County Council and the Arts Council, are both strapped for cash, which combined with a drop in box office attendance and a depletion in fundraising has left the Dunamaise in serious need of support.

“Finances are not good, but we’re tackling it at the right time. No problem is insurmountable,” he said. “The figures are disturbing but if you break that €24K down, three gigs here in the theatre at €20 and we’d take the lot.”

His anxious sentiments were echoed by other board members in attendance. Michael Turley said that the centre could not sustain the constant deficit, while Arthur Lapin warned: ”There is a very real threat. The Dunamaise is at a crossroads.”

The meeting, which was attended by representatives of numerous local arts, musical and drama groups, was held to try to establish a fundraising committee and Friends of the Dunamaise group. Since the departure of the arts centre’s previous director, Louise Donlon, the board undertook reviews of the organisation to define their successes, challenges and future plans. As a result of these, the open meeting was organised to update supporters and stakeholders of the results and plans for the future. The centre’s volunteer programme was also launched on the night, wherein anyone with any time to spare is asked to do their bit for their local arts centre.

Introducing the volunteer programme, acting director of the Dunamaise, Ms Roisin McGarr said that while the centre can not reimburse people in a financial way, volunteers would get to see free shows and have something to put on their CV. Ms McGarr reminded the audience that any amount of promotion is good for the centre, as “we desperately need to get the information out there”.

Besides extra helpers, Ms McGarr said the centre also needs extra resources such as furniture and computer equipment.

“Office administration is bread and butter stuff, but we only have two people full time,” she said. “We’re tight on space, desks and computers. We would love an old computer or laptop to ramp up admin.”

Laois county arts officer, Muireann Ní Chonaill said it was very humbling to “put out the ask”, but she believed that the public were needed to strengthen the arts centre. She thanked the audience for all the fundraising suggestions they had offered, many of which were “very doable solutions”.

“The Dunamaise is meeting the needs of our community,” she said.

The meeting concluded with the announcement of the Dunamaise’s first ambassador to help promote the arts and the work of the arts centre. Popular singer Michael English is the first ambassador and there will be two more appointed in the coming months. Michael was not present on the night due to illness, but Mr Brennan revealed that the singer is putting on two free shows in the Dunamaise to raise funds.

“Everybody can help, by attending functions and increasing the box office. The centre is a real part of Laois,” Mr Brennan said.