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CORK, Ireland — In a country where artists get tax breaks, it is not surprising to find 33 Cork credit unions coming together to support local talent as part of a county-wide cultural program. Although donating to this project was voluntary, the participating Chapter XI credit unions contributed _60,000 (US$73,000) to the project, according to Helen Courtney, Business Development Officer of the Bishoptown Credit Union and Alan Duff, Marketing Committee Chapter XI Marketing Committee. Irish credit unions are grouped into geographic chapters. The idea began as Chapter XI credit unions were looking for new ways to reach out to the public in the face of mounting competition from banks. At the same time Cork city and county businesses were gearing up to support local culture. The concept was to give up to 20 grants to a variety of local artists selected from those who had completed a nine-page application, describing the aims of their project, a description, projected outcomes, budget, artist’s CV and credits, samples of previous work and benefits to the anticipated audience. The grants were to be a maximum of _3000 (US$3680). The credit unions partnered with the Arts Council, Cork City and Cork County Councils. The 2005/Credit Union Residencies Programme, as the program was named, was presented to a special Chapter XI meeting in November 2003. “It was enthusiastically endorsed by the delegates,” Duff said. The formal start of the program was June 2004. There were no restrictions on who could apply. Applications were received from poets, writers, script writers, sculptors, dancers, architects, web site designers as well as those participating in the performing arts. Winners were announced in October 2004 giving winners six months to develop their projects. The credit union initiative was well timed. Cork had been named as a European Capital of Culture and the County and City Councils wanted to create what they termed, “A necklace of exhibitions” throughout the area during 2005. The recipients of the credit union grants were varied. Four schools won a grant for a celebration parade. A group of African asylum-seeking women under the direction of Pauline Agnew designed a Web site. The Gare St. Lazare Players and People wrote and will perform the play Now Our Voice. Fantasy Frolics won a grant to make life-sized dolls that will be part of a special dance program. The project is headed by Jo Nichols and Cathie O’Neill. In Ireland there are over 500 credit unions. Almost every citizen including the president of the country is a credit union member. -

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