History of The Ark
Founding years: 1991-1994
In 1991 the Irish Government decided to renew the Temple Bar area of Dublin as the city’s Cultural Quarter. Martin Drury, who later became Director of The Ark from 1995 to 2001, was engaged by Laura Magahy, Chief Executive of Temple Bar Properties (now Temple Bar Cultural Trust) to look at the feasibility of providing dedicated cultural services for children. This landmark study recommended a unique cultural centre which would be custom-designed to present and facilitate a wide range of arts experiences for children from all backgrounds. This ambitious proposal fired the imagination of many decision-makers. It won financial support and The Ark was launched.
With support from the Irish Government and the European Regional Development Funds, the construction programme for the 1,500 square metre centre began in the spring of 1994. The inspiration behind the project attracted many visionary corporate partners and with their support, and through the support of grants from the Arts Council, Dublin Corporation, the Department of Education and Skills and the Ireland Funds, The Ark, A Cultural Centre for Children, opened its doors in September 1995.
Background to the name
The centre was named The Ark for several reasons. Firstly, it was considered important to have a name that children would be able to say, read and write easily. It was also important that the name had some meaning for children, and the story of the ark is familiar to most children. Finally, The Ark was chosen as a descriptive title which neatly encapsulated the spirit of the mission of the building: safe, adventurous voyaging.
In September 1995, after three and a half years of planning and preparation, The Ark opened its doors as Europe’s first custom-designed arts centre for children. During its first full year of activity The Ark’s characteristic and innovative programming began to take root through a wide variety of original work, commissioned especially to strike a balance between the ‘child as looker’ and ‘child as maker’. By the late nineties The Ark was producing an increasing amount of commissioned work, and won the Judges’ Special Award in the inaugural Irish Times/ESB Theatre Awards.
After four years of operation, the challenge of demand exceeding supply is manifest and The Ark began to develop work outside the centre to meet this demand. The Ark’s mission to reach more children was also underpinned by the introduction of the 20% Scheme, which offered a ticket discount for schools serving disadvantaged areas, and by the ArkAngels friends scheme which has helped secure The Ark's commitment to keeping admission charges low for all children.
In 2000 The Ark Cultural Trust for Children, a sister organisation of The Ark, A Cultural Centre for Children was established. The Trust was dedicated to raising funds to develop the work of The Ark outside the centre and, in particular, to reaching children who for whatever reason, could not access The Ark. With funds raised through the Trust, The Ark initiated a four-strand outreach programme in 2000: in hospitals (The Healing Ark), in the community of Fatima Mansions (ArkLink), through new media and technology (ark.ie and Arkimedia) and a touring initiative (The Mobile Ark).
Other highlights of the first years of the new millennium included The Ark’s participation in the Special Olympics World Games in 2003, a ground-breaking percussion show called Elements, which toured internationally in early 2005, and the Ark’s first in-school visual arts exhibition: Leonardo Da Vinci; The Art of Invention. In 2005 Arkimedia brought record numbers of children and families through The Ark’s doors during Save the Robots, The Ark's first extensive public summer programme, attracting 9,000 people to the exhibition and workshops and 5,000 to accompanying free outdoor events. In its first ten years The Ark presented 110 different programmes and welcomed 228,916 children and 30,900 adults cross its threshold.
In the years following its tenth birthday, The Ark has continued to develop the multi-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary quality of its programming, reflecting new paradigms in children’s lives. The focus on programming partnerships with festivals like the Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival, Dublin Dance Festival and Temple Bar Tradfest has been strengthened and The Ark has continued to provide a national leadership and advocacy role, championing the pursuit of cultural excellence for children.
In 2006 The Butterfly Effect: An ArkLink Retrospective, celebrated the captivating artwork of the participating children of ArkLink, the culmination of the six-year programme in partnership with Fatima Mansions. In 2007 The Ark celebrated its 12th birthday (the organisation’s last year as a “child”) with a year-long programme of collaborative artistic projects which expressed the varied nature of contemporary children’s lives through visual art, theatre, music, dance, science and design. That year's summer project, TOYS! broke all previous box office records attracting nearly 11,000 visitors in 39 days.
The Ark was the first venue in the world to secure the rights for the world premier theatre production of the best-selling book Beware of the Storybook Wolves in 2008. And Mandscape, a project funded by the Arts Council Touring experiment allowed children across Ireland to access and engage with contemporary visual art. The world premier of The Giant Blue Hand by Marina Carr received a nomination for an Irish Times Theatre Award in 2009, and renowned traditional singers Maighread and Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill, Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh and Moya Brennan, performing together for the first time, appeared at The Ark during Temple Bar Tradfest.
In 2010 Louis Lovett was appointed The Ark’s first Theatre Maker in Residence, and The Girl who Forgot to Sing Badly, presented by The Ark in association with Theatre Lovett enjoyed critically acclaimed runs in spring and as part of the Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival ReViewed, followed by a national tour. StorySpark, a literature event presented in partnership with Children’s Books Ireland and Poetry Ireland was the first major literature event in Dublin as part of the UNESCO City of Literature designation.
In 2011 The Ark's focus on partnership continues, and Crafted Creatures, presented in partnership with the Crafts Council of Ireland in celebration of Year of Craft 2011 saw more than 7,000 people attend the free exhibition of animal-themed craft (curated by Brian Kennedy) and related workshops and events. Crafted Creatures also incorporated a family treasure-hunt trail between The Ark and the National Museum of Ireland, Decorative Arts and History.
The Girl who Forgot to Sing Badly enjoyed a successful run on The Abbey Theatre's Peacock Stage, and will tour to the prestigious Imaginate Festival in Edinburgh in May 2011.
In June 2011 The Ark will launch the start of its three-year focus on music with an ambitious summer-long programme for schools and families.