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Linenhall keeps the lights on

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EXCITED FOR THE FUTURE Bernadette Greenan, pictured in the Linenhall Arts Centre in Castlebar, said the centre has a lot of exciting projects in the pipeline for 2021.  Pic: Michael Donnelly

‘Creativity is a natural extension of our enthusiasm’ – Earl Nightingale

Michael Gallagher

In these days of restrictions, lockdowns, grief and sadness, it is sometimes hard to find enthusiasm. Humanity faces challenges never experienced before, and it’s sometimes difficult to see the beauty of life.
However, that’s certainly not the case in downtown Castlebar. A beacon of light, colour and excitement emanates from a famous old building where hope and history rhythmically rhyme.
The Linenhall has been central to life in Castlebar since General Humbert danced victoriously across its floor at the end of the 18th century, and today it’s home to one of the most progressive arts centres in the land.
The woman currently skippering the Linenhall Arts Centre grew up around the corner. Bernadette Greenan is a proud native, but never once pictured herself back working in her home town.
“I was away 20 years and never, ever, ever imagined myself back in Castlebar but the Linenhall was impossible to resist,” stated the woman who successfully managed the Irish Writers Centre in Dublin before returning west.
“The Linenhall is wonderfully community-based while my previous job had me working with people all across the country, so it was a big adjustment but a very worthwhile one,” she added. “I was nervous joining a small team in a close-knit community and an arts centre as renowned as the Linenhall whose name is synonymous with excellence around the country. But the support from the team and the board was strong from the very beginning. It was a tough first year but it was also a great one.”
Bernadette followed in the impressive footsteps of the retired founding director Marie Farrell determined to continue and develop the vibrant, exciting experience enjoyed by so many. She met the challenge head-on and was revelling in the role when Covid-19 came calling.
“I was brought in to implement change and we faced no bigger change than when March 12 2020 arrived and the first lockdown initially brought everything to a standstill. Thankfully, there’s an amazing team here and everyone works together to embrace and adapt to new opportunities, so things were going very well up to that point. Everyone was floored but we were determined to pivot and adapt to the challenges facing us.
“Our role is to support artists and to provide access to high-quality arts experiences to all in the community and no matter the circumstances this role doesn’t change. So we immediately shifted our focus online with a series of online workshops and events across a range of artforms as well as developing our artists’ supports.
“Over the past year we’ve developed two new residency programmes, the Bolay Residency and an Arts for Young Audiences Residency both of which audiences will see the benefits from post-Covid. We’ve invested in live-streaming equipment so that we can offer blended experiences to the community and we’re also developing a new artists’ studio in the building which should be completed this summer. We want to see these changes be of benefit to artists and audiences, not just during lockdowns and closures but long into the future.
“We were also able to run our annual RoolaBoola festival entirely online with a range of offerings, including resource packs for schools, live streamed concerts and interactive theatre experiences for schools around the county.
“Support from the community over the past year has been incredible. From engaging with us online to attending our online events to financial donations - we are incredibly lucky and it’s this kind of support that motivates us to keep going.”  
Of course, there are days when Bernadette and the team find enthusiasm hard to muster, but thankfully the sense of enthusiasm soon returns.
“There are days when motivation can be low and you can feel like you’ll break but we continue to be inspired by the artists we work with on a daily basis.
“Artists around the country have risen to the challenges we’ve faced in the most inspirational and creative ways and continue to remind us of the important role they have played in sustaining us over the past year.  
“Artists are adaptive and resilient and The Linenhall Arts Centre reflects that. The thing is if you keep pivoting for long enough you eventually come full circle and we’ll keep working towards that point for as long as we need to. The building will be open with live events again and we’re excited about the future when the building will buzz with excitement and creativity once more. We have lots of exciting projects in the pipeline for 2021. We can hardly wait.”

ILH 40084-21-02 Hastings Benefit MPU v4