NCAD’s great opportunity

THE physical condition of the whole NCAD campus is so poor that there is a danger of a patchwork solution being implemented when something very, very much more extensive – and exciting –needs to be done. What is required for this oldest part of the ancient city of Dublin is a comprehensive urban renewal plan backed by a Development Agency similar to that employed in the very successful Grangegorman project in the north inner city area. Some time ago, Dublin City Council, in conjunction with Fáilte Ireland, established a Public Realm Strategy covering the area from College Green to Kilmainham – but this was a modest plan related primarily to tourism development. What could be more appropriate for NCAD than to produce an Architectural and Urban Design vision for its own future and that of the surrounding area of the Liberties?

The future incarnation of this institution needs to be drawn on a larger canvas where its strategic, educational and cultural potential can be harnessed as an engine of transformation for this part of Dublin

Surely it’s time for NCAD to put behind it the financial neglect of the past and to take a completely new initiative with the objective of developing into an international college of art and design to compete (especially in the post-Brexit era) with the best in the EU? The future incarnation of this institution needs to be drawn on a larger canvas where its strategic, educational and cultural potential can be harnessed as an engine of transformation for this part of Dublin with accommodation for foreign students, new specialist facilities and galleries. At the same time, the Dublin project could be dramatically animated by a publicly permeable campus and its extended facilities. Right now there are over 150,000 international students studying in the UK paying minimum fees of £10,000p.a. Surely there is potential to attract at least 10,000 students of art and design to an international English-speaking college in Dublin?

So where would these students come from? Probably the first and most fruitful source would be those from Arabic/Muslim countries who would also contribute to the study and understanding of Islamic culture in Ireland. So, too, would China be only too pleased if given the visas. Incredibly at the moment there are less than 3,000 Chinese students studying in Ireland. Apparently there are almost as many Irish studying in China! And then there’s the Scandinavian connection. The NCAD stands on the very site of the original settlement established by our Viking friends a mere 1,200 years ago. Today the Scandinavians are better known for their design skills than their former belligerence and would be welcome partners at the international college. So, too, would our American connections with their contributions on contemporary art for which there is, strangely, not a single dedicated museum/gallery in Europe. And the funding? With potential income from fees running into the millions, and tax concessions on educational investment, substantial private funding (some from abroad) is certainly not impossible. Last year Cardiff University borrowed £300m in bonds which mature in 2055 at a rate of 3.1% p.a. This year Bristol University borrowed £200m in a 40-year private placement through Pricoa Capital Group, an arm of the US group Prudential Financial which already has an operation in Ireland. Why are we waiting?

John Mulcahy, Editor of the Irish Arts Review

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