Features & Columns
Sister City Partnership Sparks Fruitful Artistic, Cultural Collaborations
economic development and arts and culture
I don't have any siblings but my city has many, so yet again it's time to celebrate the family. By now, most of my readers know that San Jose and Dublin are sister cities, or as they say in Europe, we're "twinned."
Last year saw the 30th anniversary of the relationship celebrated in grand-scale fashion when the San Jose-Dublin Sister City committee organized a large contingent of folks to be present in Dublin for the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising.
I was already traveling in Europe, so I met up with everyone for a few days on my way back home. It was monumental, historical, and a downright inspiring time to be in Ireland.
And when it comes to the Irish, a few weeks ago, San Jose once again hosted the lord mayor of Dublin for an annual visit. Every March, the lord mayor brings an entire contingent of people to visit with business, political and university folk to further cement various partnerships and swap ideas. What began with Tom McEnery having a pint with Bertie Ahern in the mid-'80s has now grown into a gigantic multigenerational family. The universities and the main libraries of both cities are now collaborating. A graduate student from Dublin, usually in engineering, comes to San Jose State every year and plans are in place to substantiate the same legacy in reverse.
Future arts exchanges are also in place, bur for now, an unprecedented collaboration between the two cities is already erupting at The Stage on South First Street. Written by Donal O'Kelly, The Memory Stick is an international co-sponsored co-production by San Jose Stage Company and the Dublin City Arts Office, world-premiering right now, as you read this. In fact, I fondly remember bumping into San Jose Stage honchos Randy and Cathleen King in Dublin, in the lobby of the Gresham Hotel, exactly a year ago, along with Dublin Arts Officer Ray Yeates, as they were plotting the collaboration to make this happen. That weekend, seemingly a zillion people from all over the world jammed the hotels and the streets for the Easter Rising anniversary weekend to celebrate all things Dublin—one of the literature capitals of the universe. In The Memory Stick, "mystical Native American and Irish history blends magic, politics and realism in this suspenseful examination of the 1916 Easter Rising." Amen.
In terms of sister cities, more and more ideas for partnerships seem to emerge every year. So many different San Jose-Dublin conversations and friendships have emerged over the last decade that it really feels like a family. It's not just a bunch of superficial political nonsense. (Well, there's that too, but you know what I mean.)
This year, the lord mayor's visit was made even more prestigious because Marie O'Flaherty received the annual Spirit of Ireland Award. Along with her husband, Ray, who is sadly no longer with us, Marie is the namesake behind O'Flaherty's Pub in San Pedro Square, but not after an illustrious career back in the old country. Marie was a premier Irish model at age 18, featured on the first color Irish magazine and later the cover of Ireland's first Vogue. Her image is still used today on Irish postcards.
Since Marie is insanely popular in these parts, the gala luncheon at City Hall was twice as big as normal, with music, dancing, food, and speeches galore. The folks from Cafe Stritch catered the event, as they did last year, a dramatic improvement on whatever drab caterer City Hall used to provide for these things. In fact, I don't even remember who used to cater these things.
Several other events transpired throughout the lord mayor's visit. SPUR San Jose, a local planning and urban research outfit, hosted Yeates of the Dublin City Arts Office, the same chap I encountered in Dublin a year ago. (Ireland is a mystical country, so synchronicities are part of the family.) Talking with SPUR Director Teresa Alvarado at The Stage, Yeates offered a matrix of concepts as to how Dublin deals with warring factions in the arts community, skyrocketing rents, and displaced artists, with a clear message that arts and culture, both necessary components of a city's identity, are inseparable from economic development. Well done. Now I feel like I have a sibling.