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The Centre Culturel Irlandais is turning 20!

In the Autumn of 2002, the Centre Culturel Irlandais was inaugurated in the unique 18th century building of the former Irish College in Paris following major renovation.

At the time it represented an ambitious new departure as regards commitment by the Irish State to the arts - the CCI was branded ‘Ireland’s first cultural centre abroad’. And so began a wonderful baptism by fire for a small team to establish a new space in the Parisian and Irish cultural landscapes, and transform a religious-orientated building into a contemporary arts centre. The CCI’s very first exhibition ‘Innocent Landscapes’ by photographer David Farrell focused on sites where IRA victims were secretly buried. This set the tone from the outset – the Centre Culturel Irlandais was not going to shy away from representing all facets of contemporary Ireland.

Two decades later, the successes of the CCI’s vibrant artistic showcasing and residency programmes are apparent in the reputation it now enjoys amongst practitioners, press and public in Ireland, France and further afield. Many of Ireland’s best-known artists have crossed the threshold over the last twenty years with Brian Friel’s 80th birthday celebration of performances and Seamus Heaney’s magical reading in the courtyard, just months before his passing, standing out in everyone’s minds. Another memorable evening dates from 10 years ago - Bob Geldof, Charlotte Rampling, Marianne Faithfull and Sinead Cusack gathered at the CCI to read poetry by Yeats in honour of Josephine Harte. The celebration, in 2022, of the centenary of the publication of Ulysses in Paris as a pivotal moment in Irish, French and European modernism has been a joyous and important opportunity to reconnect with our public post-lockdown.

Providing up-and-coming artists and musicians with a platform has also been an important thrust of the CCI’s vision with performers like Gavin James, Ye Vagabonds and Saint Sister playing at the beginning of their careers. The CCI is now considered one of the best places in Paris for Fête de la Musique on 21 June (Le Monde) - thousands gather in the courtyard to enjoy The Gloaming, Lisa Hannigan or Bell X1 and, this year, an international celebration of hip-hop! ParisPhoto is another cultural highlight that the CCI is now fully associated with each year – our exhibition openings (Paul Seawright, Hannah Starkey, Donovan Wylie…) have become an established festival destination.

The CCI has taken its role as a place of debate and discussion very seriously, from hosting an important conference on the Abolition of the Death Penalty in the early years and talks by John Hume and Bernadette Devlin McAliskey, to discussing the collective name used for the islands of Ireland and Great Britain or the challenges of Brexit. Issues of universal concern such as climate change (2015) and surveillance (2018) formed the themes of major group exhibitions curated by the CCI, while Ireland’s place in the world has been investigated recently through two curated series of addresses by eminent artists and thinkers: Addressing the Nation (2021) and Congress for Ireland (2022).

A residency at the CCI in Paris has quite simply become a benchmarker for Irish artists. Precious time to think and create without the wolf at the door, access to world-class institutions and peers, as well as unexpected meetings with other Irish arts professionals… these are the enduring benefits cited by the nearly 400 Irish artists who have spent time here. 2022 sees the CCI opening up to international artist residents – an exciting step towards diversifying the profile of those who spend creative time here.

The Centre’s multi-media library is the most important source of cultural information on Ireland in France – greatly appreciated by the general public, teachers, researchers and students of Irish studies alike. The collection of rare books in the elegant Old Library is one of the last of its kind in the Latin Quarter and over the last twenty years, a major Franco-Irish funded digitisation project has taken place. The paper catalogue painstakingly composed by Maurice Caillet during his retirement from the Bibliothèque nationale de France is now fully accessible on-line as well as digitised copies of 100,000 pages of books and archival material. Exhibitions of works from the Old Library are regularly organised on the ground floor and online versions of ten of these are launched in 2022. An annual Fellowship programme allows precious research into the collection to take place each summer.

The depth and variety of the Centre’s activities have progressively grown over the last two decades in tandem with support from the Irish State: our key partners, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Culture Ireland recognise that this organisation is their primary asset for deepening cultural ties on the European continent. The list of partners with whom the CCI is collaborating in 2022 is an indication of the rich tapestry of relations that has been woven over twenty years. The Arts Council and British Council of Northern Ireland are just two of the important connections that reflect the CCI as a platform for the arts of all traditions on the island of Ireland.