While I’m a reasonably regular visitor to The National Concert Hall and thought I knew exactly what it offered, my recent visit to the NCH with the ‘Dublin’s Culture Connects’ project team of Dublin City Council, proved me wrong! Our meeting with Chief Executive, Simon Taylor; Nigel Flegg, Head of Education, Community and Outreach; and Rosita Wolfe, Head of Marketing & Communications, was an eye opener in terms of the comprehensive range of projects and initiatives it is currently involved in across diverse groups, together with its ambitious strategic plans for the future.
Their ethos is “Music for all. Music for Everyone”.
The NCH was established in 1981 as a Company, but will shortly become a Statutory Body. The main concert hall can accommodate 1,200 people and has a superb programme throughout the year with favourites, internationally renowned musicians, themed programmes e.g. 1916, Starboard Home with Dublin Port, and some eclectic musical offerings. The John Field Room hosts smaller numbers and the newly opened Kevin Barry Room is also available for smaller recitals, workshops, etc. They are home to the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, the Irish Baroque Orchestra, Music Network and Music Generation. They also provide space for choirs, a percussion group and a Senior Citizens orchestra.
The positioning of the NCH in the new Cultural Quarter of the city and the potential to develop the vast labyrinth of rooms and additional concert halls (currently needing considerable restoration work) in the building, allows for NCH expansion, as funds become available. Also, the planned Children’s Science Museum, Exploration Station, separate but adjacent to the NCH, should bring more people to the vicinity and heighten awareness of all that is on offer by the NCH.
The Education and Community Outreach programme is very progressive with a 3E philosophy of ‘Engaging, Enhancing and Encouraging’ and they see their role as not just getting kids connected with the NCH and music, but also connected with culture and the city in general. The also see many of their projects and activities as having positive non-musical outcomes. Activities and programmes range from music workshops for diverse groups such as school children, OAPs, senior musicians (fondly known as ‘Dusties’, a shortening of their official name ‘Blow the Dust Orchestra’), Choirs, Travelling Community, Islamic Foundation and they also have very successful ‘Tea Dances’ and music events for people with dementia. In addition, they partner with hospitals and mental health related projects like Rathmines Gateway, providing percussion and voice initiatives for people with mental health issues. They also input to curriculum development for teachers and schools and provide creative space for musicians to compose and share.
The NCH generates 70% of its own income and gets 30% income from the State. It has a progressive and well defined strategy for the future, but it also has challenges in terms of remedial, upgrading and up to date health and safety work for the main concert hall, including greater accessibility for the balcony areas. It also plans on converting the old UCD Medical Library to become a 500 seater concert hall for smaller events and ultimately restore the rest of the building which requires extensive work. The delivery of some of the strategic objectives depends on the NCH continuing to offer the classical, contemporary and international musical offerings, together with forging greater networks with other national institutions to promote and maximise potential. As part of planning for the future, the NCH has also committed to a brand review to help it optimise its reach nationally and within Dublin City itself.
Finally, many thanks to Simon, Nigel and Rosita for sharing their time, vision for the future and their undoubted commitment to the future of this great national treasure.
Cllr. Anne Feeney
Member of the Arts, Culture and Recreation SPC of Dublin City Council