Down Arts Centre reopens after £1.4m refurbishment
One of Northern Ireland's Arts Centres has reopened after a £1.4m refurbishment.
The Down Arts Centre in Downpatrick was shut for just over a year while much needed repair work was carried out.
The project has been funded by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and Down District Council.
The centre, on Irish Street, first opened in 1989.
The Downpatrick band Ash - which is celebrating 20 years in the music business - played one of their first ever gigs on the premises while their were still at school.
The band's lead singer, Tim Wheeler, has fond memories of the building.
"We performed a lot of early shows at the Down Arts Centre and this weekend we are celebrating our twentieth anniversary but it is quite strange the timing that this centre is having a rebirth at this moment as well.
"I used to come down and have my lunch here every day during school and yes it is a beautiful building.
"I think the last time we played here was 2004 and I would actually look forward to playing here again," he said.
Rachel Kennedy from the Arts Centre explained that the building was originally used as a market house in the 1660s.
"The main hall was used for dances in more recent years and Gracie Fields performed at the Arts Centre in World War Two," she said.
The Arts Council of Northern Ireland contributed more than £600,000 towards the renovation project which also included a new extension to the building.
The Chief Executive of the Arts Council, Rosin McDonough, said: "As principal funder of the capital project at the Down Arts Centre, the Arts Council is thrilled to see the new extension and refurbishment now complete.
"The £600,510 invested by the Arts Council is part of our commitment to improve the arts infrastructure here and we're proud of the fact that every person in Northern Ireland is now within 20 miles of a dedicated arts facility, such as Down Arts Centre.
"With an exciting programme planned for the year ahead, people in the surrounding communities will benefit from the opportunities available to participate in and enjoy the arts at the Down Arts Centre.
"It's also positive news for the local economy which will benefit from the enhanced cultural tourism offering and all that it brings," Ms McDonough added.
The MP for South Down Margaret Ritchie said she was glad to see the building "which has long been rooted in this society" restored.
"Whether you were from a local artists collective or band scene, so many people have go so much enjoyment from this centre over the past 20 years, Ms Ritchie said.
"Long may its good work continue," she added.
The Chairman of Down District Council, Dermot Curran, thanked all those who had funded and supported the renovation project.
"Down Arts Centre offers a busy programme of live theatre and music performances, exhibitions, workshops and classes across a wide range of art forms.
"In this 2012 year of celebration, I would encourage everyone to visit the Arts Centre to enjoy the cultural events which are on offer, Mr Curran said.
Those behind the project hope it will continue to inspire other artists, no matter what their field, in the future.