Cork’s independent arthouse cinema The Kino closed its doors on Sunday last following thirteen years in operation. The decision to close was the result of a high court injunction taken by an architectural firm against the owner, Mick Hannigan, for unpaid fee of €60,000. This arose from an aborted expansion plan for the cinema that would see it developed from a one-screen/one-storey structure to a three-screen complex with a bar/restaurant. Having secured a grant of €750,000 from the Cultural Cinema Consortium through the Arts Council to contribute to the cost of the redevelopment, which was anticipated to be completed for Cork’s year as European Capital of Culture in 2005, the costs of the proposed venture had begun to soar. Despite securing additional loans Mr. Hannigan was still €1 million short of the mark, and was forced to abandon the project.
Although the grant money was never drawn down in the end, sizable costs had stacked up for preparatory work including architectural designs. The Kino has always run under a precarious financial situation, bolstering itself through a few big hits throughout the year, which allowed the cinema to take a hit on the less popular films that were screened. After exhausting other options, Mr. Hannigan announced at the beginning of November that he would be closing the cinema in order to sell the building in order to pay back creditors. This sparked a series of grassroots actions. The setting up of a Facebook page helped gather public support which was translated into a public meeting and ultimately a website (www.savethekino.com) and a trustee bank account through which people could donate money to the cause of keeping the cinema open.
Despite these efforts, it seems, for the moment The Kino (at least in its current location) is no more. As an important cultural institution in Cork (but not just for Cork: it is the only independently run arthouse cinema in Ireland outside of Dublin) the loss of the Kino is a serious blow to the city’s cultural infrastructures. Combined with the closure of the Capitol Cinema a few years ago, whose owners moved their operations to the newly opened Mahon Point shopping centre, the loss of The Kino means that there is now only one cinema (The Gate) in Cork city centre. For a city that has used its perceived status as a ‘cultural city’ to bolster property development and investment over the last decade, this is a poor reflection.
What is interesting about the case of The Kino is what it says about the priorities of the state’s current interventions in the property market, epitomised by NAMA. The paltry unpaid fee that has forced The Kino to close its doors is way below the threshold for development loans to be taken into NAMA. On a lesser scale, however, this story is part of the same set of processes. At a time when development was the name of the game, the owner attempted to expand the cinema, got part way along the process, and was forced to abandon it due to inflating costs. Perhaps this is an example of a poorly timed speculative attempt at expansion, but much of the NAMA portfolio is characterised by the same set of conditions. While the banks and the major players are taken care of through NAMA smaller scale initiatives (of which the plans to redevelop The Kino are an iconic example) escape from the net. Granted, The Kino’s problems go way beyond that of their creditors: with poor attendance figures and increasing competition by the mainstream cinemas in the market for more high-profile independent films, the cinema has not found a way to run at a profit for some time, and this latest crisis has merely pushed it over the edge. Nevertheless, I still think it is worth considering the plight of The Kino side by side with NAMA for a moment, in that it starkly contrasts the state’s massive investment in the carcass of the property market and the simultaneous disinvestment in the arts (on a related note check out http://www.ncfa.ie/). The loss of such an institution as The Kino to many aspects of Cork’s cultural and social life should not be underestimated, and it flies directly in the face of the development discourses propagated by City Council for the last decade. It is also characteristic of the lack of spatial and social priorities of the government through their backing of NAMA. Rather than looking at the impact of the economic crisis on cities and towns around the country, NAMA sees everything one big property portfolio. There is a need to escape this logic in order to take stock of what we are really (and rapidly) loosing in the places we live.
Cian O’ Callaghan