UPDATED April 1 with one new article from the Irish Post
UPDATED March 24-26 with 3 new articles and a new picture or two
UPDATED March 21 with 3 new articles
UPDATED March 20 with another Irish Times article
UPDATED March 19 with more links to articles and a video of the White House Event!
UPDATED March 19 with audio interview for RTE Radio 1 Morning Ireland
Original posting March 16
Cultural Ambassador for Ireland
The Twitterverse is all abuzz with news that Gabriel Byrne has been named Ireland’s new Cultural Ambassador.
And now it has been officially confirmed at RTÉ News:
Tuesday, 16 March 2010 20:12
Actor Gabriel Byrne has been announced as the Cultural Ambassador for Ireland.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen made the announcement in Washington this evening.
Making the announcement Mr Cowen said that ‘Gabriel Byrne is an internationally renowned, award-winning actor and is already well established as one of Ireland’s great ambassadors through his work in film and theatre, as well as his endeavours behind the scenes in supporting and promoting Irish artists’.
This was apparently announced earlier today on the Charlie Bird Drive Time Show on RTÉ Radio.
The Irish Times [article is now behind a paywall] has more details on long-term plans:
The Dublin-born actor will work closely with the Government and artistic bodies to develop “an artistic vision” that is inclusive of the Irish diaspora throughout the world.
His role will include the creation of a programme of art, ideas, debate and reflection to help foster a renewed cultural relationship between Ireland and America.
Kudos to Mr. Byrne, who will make an outstanding cultural ambassador for Ireland. He has been doing this work for a long time now and it is wonderful to see him be recognized for it.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen, actor Gabriel Byrne and
Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin
in Washington DC yesterday after Byrne was announced as
Ireland’s first cultural ambassador.
Photograph: Leslie E Kossoff-Nordby 3.16.2010
UPDATE: The Irish Times reports [article is now behind a paywall]:
‘Honoured’ actor Byrne aims to build artistic bridges
“I’m extremely honoured,” Gabriel Byrne began his acceptance speech. It wasn’t the Golden Globe – which he won for his role as Dr Paul Weston in the hugely popular HBO drama In Treatment – but the unprecedented role of Ireland’s cultural ambassador.
Byrne stood on the lawn in front of the Saint Regis Hotel, where the Taoiseach Brian Cowen had just said that Byrne’s appointment will “broaden Ireland’s cultural footprint” and “add a string to our bow in relations with the US”.
The White House, where the Taoiseach will be guest of honour and Byrne an honoured guest tonight, seemed to beckon down the street. The Irish actor wore a silver Claddagh ring, a dark suit, an open-necked pale blue shirt and black suede runners. His blue eyes squinted in the sunlight.
“The worlds of culture and economics may seem to be strange bedfellows,” Byrne said. “Harnessing one of our greatest national strengths, our culture, will give us the strongest possible identification. It will build an artistic bridge between Ireland and the rest of the world.”
UPDATED March 19:
Independent.ie: Ambassador Byrne signs on as Washington DC dons the green
“We need to redefine the kind of Ireland we want to present,” he explained, “and then interlink that vision with the economy. It’s about connecting the diaspora.”
And he reckons that the artistic community can be relied upon to try and help the country out of the quicksand. “Irish artists have never let Ireland down,” he said pointedly.
Gabriel Byrne and Taoiseach Brian Cowen
More from the Irish Times [article is now behind a paywall]:
To all his roles, including that of the not-so-stable psychiatrist Dr Paul Weston, Byrne brings subtle and rich emotion.
Asked about the “American dream” quality of his success in US cinema and theatre, he replies: “Nothing is as wonderful as it seems . . . Life is a thorny path.”
How will he reconcile a demanding acting career with his new, unpaid role as Ireland’s cultural ambassador? “It’s not going to be a job where I get up at 8am every day and work non-stop; I wouldn’t have taken it on,” Byrne said. “I’ve worked a lot on this for the past three or four years. This appointment makes it official,” he continued. “I didn’t want it to be a political appointment. The cultural agenda transcends whatever happens to the Government over the next three years.”
We might guess that the intersections of art, business, and politics would be messy, so while reactions to Mr. Byrne’s appointment have been uniformly enthusiastic and positive, I did note a naysayer.
Inside View, from Bernie “topgold” Goldbach in Ireland: “The Green Gene is the Creative One”
America is a giant English-speaking market for Irish culture. It’s a market with good will that extends well beyond Paddy’s Day. To a great extent, vibrant Irish culture defines the Republic. I think Irish visual culture makes strong indelible mark on what it means to be Irish. I wish Gabriel Byrne good luck in advancing the cause of Irish culture abroad.
Sinead Ryan, writing for the Herald.ie: “Why Gabriel’s the right man for this starring role in the US”
“The excellent appointment of His Excellency Gabriel Byrne as the new Cultural Ambassador to the US prompts the obvious observation: why didn’t we think of this before?”
Kevin Doyle, from his blog: “Ambassador Gabriel Byrne and ‘Brand Ireland’…No Thanks”
“This selling of a ‘cleansed image’ of Irish art and cultural production as part of Gabriel’s efforts will have an negative impact right now. It will add impetus to the current trend that homogenises and streamline cultural production in this country. Is is already hard for those outside the ‘official’ and ‘accepted’ art production areas to make a living; this will worsen our situation.”
Mr. Byrne has his work cut out for him, but he knows this already. He’s been toiling away at this intersection for a long time now. We wish him all good luck and congratulate him mightily on his appointment. It will be difficult, however, to stop referring to him as “Mad Handsome.” But “His Excellency, the Ambassador” does have a romantic ring to it, yes?
UPDATE March 19 – Gabriel Byrne spoke to RTE’s Washington correspondent Charlie Bird about his new role as Ireland’s Cultural Ambassador, click to listen to a clip with the interview from March 17:
UPDATE March 19 – Ireland’s Arts Council congratulates Gabriel Byrne
The Arts Council has sent its congratulations to Gabriel Byrne following the announcement that he is to be Ireland’s first Cultural Ambassador.
Speaking following the announcement, Arts Council Chairman, Pat Moylan said, “I am delighted that Gabriel Byrne has been appointed as our Cultural Ambassador – a role he has been carrying out on an informal basis for many years! I look forward to continuing to work closely with Gabriel, and I know that he will fly the flag for Ireland, and for Irish arts, as only he can.
“This appointment is a clear acknowledgement by the Irish Government that the arts will play a key role in our economic recovery, and I commend the Taoiseach for his foresight and vision.”
UPDATE March 20 – The Irish Times: The man with the key to Ireland’s international cultural relations [article is now behind a paywall]:
Byrne will be working closely with Eugene Downes, chief executive of Culture Ireland, a State agency that promotes Ireland’s arts and culture internationally and advises on the development of the country’s international cultural relations. “For some time now, we’ve been looking at new opportunities to promote Irish culture abroad,” Downes explains. He sees Byrne’s appointment as helping to “redefine Irish culture in the world,” pointing out “most Americans now encounter Ireland through culture. It’s a crucial way of developing an awareness of Ireland. Culture is a real asset a country has in times of recession, because it’s unique; it can’t be replicated by other countries.”
One of the challenges Byrne faces is that of updating the often-clichéd generic American perception of Ireland. The most recent high-profile example of this is Leap Year , an American-made rom-com set in Ireland, and recently derided by critics for bounding from one terrible cliché to the next. This is a film purporting to be set in contemporary Ireland, yet it includes the line “Top of the mornin’ to you” as a sample of ordinary conversation.
The big announcement
Images from RTE News
UPDATE March 21 – From Independent.ie, Medb Ruane’s article: The art of selling us short: can Gabriel really make a difference?
Byrne’s return to TV fame came in the award-winning In Treatment, where he mesmerised viewers as the psychotherapist Paul Weston, whose personal life unravelled while he worked with patients on his couch. The format was old-style fireside story meets ‘what’s-my-life about?’ with Byrne as the curious listener with plenty of questions for himself.
US viewers were hooked after a week of watching it on five successive nights, after the first episode was aired in January 2008. It went worldwide. Byrne is smart enough to know that his first task is to play star so doors can open for other artists and performers. He’s already used his influence to help literally open doors at New York‘s Irish Cultural Centre.
“We need to redefine the kind of Ireland we want to present and then interlink that vision with the economy,” he said. “It’s about connecting the diaspora.”
Redefining that Ireland has to start at home. It means encouraging new voices, ideas, sounds and sights to picture the present and future. Byrne’s appointment may trigger official Ireland to connect what’s happening home and away. Because it makes no sense strategically to drip-feed emerging artists and companies within Ireland if those long-term plans are to pay off.
And The Tribune [article no longer available] provides a pocket profile of Gabriel Byrne that will make you laugh (“Next time you see an O2 ad on the telly, listen very carefully to the voiceover–that’s the voice of Irish Culture, that is”) and notes that May 12 is His Excellency’s birthday, suggesting it be made a national day of celebration, to which we concur!
UPDATE March 24 – The IrishTimes.com – Pursued by a Bear: With this Cultural Ambassador you are really spoiling us
So Gabriel Byrne is the new cultural ambassador. And we at Pursued by a Bear do love culture. Mr Byrne will be helping to raise the profile of Irish cultural exports on the international stage, and there’s no doubt the man knows people in places that most people don’t get to. But what do you think? Do we need a Cultural Ambassador? Should we celebrate his appointment, and if we do, what are we hoping it will achieve? At a time when the Government is cutting spending on the arts, does this mark a change in attitude and a new willingness to recognise our cultural currency?…
Be sure to visit the blog and leave your comments!
The Irish Echo Online: Gabriel Byrne is Ireland’s cultural ambassador
The world is now his diplomatic as well as artistic oyster. U.S.-based Irish actor Gabriel Byrne was declared Ireland’s global cultural ambassador on St. Patrick’s Day in statements issued in Ireland by arts minister Martin Cullen, and in Washington, D.C. by Taoiseach Brian Cowen.
Notice that the ambassadorship is now “global”…
The Irish Playwrights and Screenwriters Guild Blog: Byrne New Cultural Ambassador. This article quotes the official statement and adds:
“Let’s hope this new zeal for the Arts from the Irish government translates into better funding in the coming years.”
Cheers to that!
UPDATE April 1 – The Irish Post [article no longer available at The Irish Post website] reports that the reach of the new role of Cultural Ambassador for Ireland is truly global and that Gabriel Byrne is the one and only. We already knew this!
He is Ireland’s new cultural ambassador.
He’s US-based, but it seems Gabriel Byrne will be the one and only.
The Irish Government told The Irish Post this week that they will not complement the new role with a “similar” British posting because the position is a “worldwide one”.
Culture Ireland said there were no plans to appoint a second ambassador to Britain, or anywhere else, despite the fact that appointee Gabriel Byrne spends most of his time in the United States.
And despite the existence of Britain’s huge Irish population, Madeline Boughton from Culture Ireland said: “There are no plans at present to appoint a second cultural ambassador specifically for Britain or any other region.” Culture Ireland also described the request for the designation of a second position in Britain as “interesting”.
Thanks to everyone for pictures and links!