A Helping Hand in New York

Jane McCarter, a 27-year-old native of Buncrana, is the Arts and Culture Director at the New York Irish Center. The centre’s artistic programme is on hold at the moment, though, as the team focus all their energies on providing vital assistance to local people in the areas worst affected by Hurricane Sandy.

Jane McCarter, a 27-year-old native of Buncrana, is the Arts and Culture Director at the New York Irish Center. The centre’s artistic programme is on hold at the moment, though, as the team focus all their energies on providing vital assistance to local people in the areas worst affected by Hurricane Sandy.

Jane is from a well-known family: her mother Breda is a teacher at Scoil Iosagain while her father John is Chairman of Fort Dunree and a former Chair of Inishowen Development Partnership.

Jane has aways been passionate about the theatre. She took her first drama lesson at the age of four and regularly appeared in local productions from the age of seven.

When Jane was twelve, she was the youngest cast member in a musical called ‘That’s All For Now,’ a tribute to the well-known Buncrana showband, The Syndicate. The band - Eamonn and Liam Cutliffe, Malachy Gallagher and Denis Eccles - were local legends in their time and the show, produced and directed by Patricia Doherty (Tinney), was a phenomenon.

“That was an amazing experience. For something that started so modestly in St Mary’s Parish Hall, it ended up touring the North West, Ireland and even going across the pond to Boston and New York.

“One of the best aspects about that tour for me was that my Mum, Dad and siblings came with me and we shared this once in a life time experience as a family. We are so fortunate that Mum and Dad have always been so supportive of the five of us persuing what we are most passionate.” Jane recalls.

Jane attended Scoil Iosagain then Scoil Mhuire, all the time still working closely with Patricia and pursuing different types of theatre. Throughout secondary school and university, she also worked seasonally at Fort Dunree as a tour guide. “I loved it because heritage and history are also big passions of mine as well.”

At UU Magee in Derry, Jane studied drama and psychology. “I really got my eyes opened and learned about all the different aspects of theatre. Psychology was fascinating too. Even though Drama is Arts and Psychology is Social Science, I was always amazed at how many times theories in each field overlapped and complemented each other.

In 2006, Jane was appointed as the first ever Heritage Officer at The Playhouse. “I was very, very lucky that the job came up so soon after I graduated. I was able to stay near home, which was very important to me, and work at what I’d studied.”

The job was a one year post but Jane’s contract was renewed and she moved into managing various arts projects with the community, including Artskills. “One of my favourite projects was the Children’s Arts Festival, it was wonderful working with so many great children and talented artists.”

Jane stayed at The Playhouse for just over four years and loved it there. “There is a very small core team of administrative staff at The Playhouse and there’s a real family feel to it, I’ve learned so much from Pauline Ross and my colleagues who became and remain life-long friends” she says.

But then she and her partner Robbie O’Dowd, a 25-year-old graphic designer from Buncrana, decided the time was right to make the leap across the pond. It was a big decision, as they both had jobs in Derry and neither had so much as the promise of a job in New York, but off they went.

Jane explains. “ I thought, if I’m going to have one big adventure, it was time to go. If I stayed put for for a few more years, I would probably never move which would have been fine. But I wanted to challenge myself and see the world from a different perspective.

“Also, ever since the first time I was in New York, I secretly always thought I’d love to come back and be part of the massive kind of energy that is New York.”

Jane’s very grateful to her uncle,Willie McCarter, who put her in touch with another Buncrana native, Turlough McConnnell , took her under his wing. “Turlough is such a gentleman, and a great friend to myself and Robbie. He brought me to loads of events and introduced me to so many people, including Paul Finnegan, the executive director of the New York Irish Center. The centre is one of the youngest Irish based organization in New York and in six years they’d built a great reputation. They wanted to develop their arts and cultural program and had just started looking for their first Arts and Cultural Director. After few meetings with the executive director and board, I was thrilled to be offered the post.

Jane returned to Ireland and spent a nerve-wracking five months waiting for her visa application to be processed. Finally, last April, it came through and she went back to New York.

“As soon as I arrived, The New York Irish Center was deep in the middle of fundraising season, I immediately got stuck into the production of the NYIC’s first gala comedy evening with Irish Comedy Legends Brendan Grace and Pat Shortt. Everyone was delighted at how successful the evening was. One of the first big projects I implemented was the Tir na nOg festival for young children with Irish roots to come and experience all different aspects of Irish heritage, through Irish arts and culture.”

At end of October, a new challenge emerged,when Hurricane Sandy arrived.

Jane and Robbie live in lower Manhattan and were without power, heat or water for five days but they consider themelves lucky

“They centre is very near the waterfront but miraculously it escaped any major damage. Ever since we re-opened we’ve been working as a relief centre because so many of the worst hit areas are right near us – the Rockaways, Belle Harbour and Breezy Point. We’ve sent about 5-6 truckloads of donated supplies out to the worst affected areas,

The Irish Consulate, the Irish Centers, and all the Irish based organisations and businesses, like the AOH, Niall O’Dowd and Irish Central, to name a few, came together along with New York City Council and organised a consolidated Meitheal Irish Day of Action on November 24. Almost a 1,000 volunteers went to the worst affected areas

“Robbie and I were on a team of six who helped a single mother whose home had been completely flooded. We cleared everything out, we even had to strip the walls and remove the soaking insulation. She was so grateful to still have her children and the shell of her house.

“All the Irish Centers are on the Meitheal steering committee and we are organising a Meitheal Na Nollag on December 15. We are also organising an Irish Christmas shoebox appeal, inspired by Irish Organization Team Hope, because it’s so close to Christmas.

“The trail of destruction isn’t going to be sorted overnight – it will take months and even years to rebuild. And the Irish community are going to be right here doing the best we can to help.”