For St. Patrick’s Day I wrote this post, noting that I was art director of the Irish Arts Center in New York City back in 1972. The founder of the center, Brian Heron, was one of those people I’ll never forget. His dark hair always flying in all directions, this black mustachioed firebrand, a former organizer for Ceasar Chavez and advocate of Irish freedom and Justice, devoted himself to peace. The way to find it was through Irish art and culture – especially music.
I hadn’t seen nor heard of Brian in almost 40 years, though I’d often invoke his name as an exemplar of passionate advocacy. And, of course, I wrote that Daily Heller post, which prompted a few new conversations about him. Sadly, the other day, one of those coincidences that can drive one mad occurred. I received an email telling me of his passing on March 10.
What does this have to do with design? He was the perfect “client.” He so keenly understood that to create a movement – and a center like the IAC – it was necessary to tap into a variety of talents. He was the quintessential organizer. He had an ego, but it was aimed at the end result. He let others do their thing as long as it was committed to the cause. I cannot find anything I designed from that time, but I recall how proud I was making the flyers, posters and videos that were used for the young center. Brian enabled them to happen – and allowed me to fall hard on my face from time to time.
A tribute to him (he changed his name to a Celtic/Irish one) was published on the IAC website. Below is an excerpt along with a 1972 clip from the New York Times (click for a larger viewing) about the founding of the Irish Arts Center.
Brian was a strong, eccentric, very intelligent, witty & often argumentative character, especially with respect to his deep-seated convictions about the Irish language, culture & political freedoms. He was also the charismatic visionary and founder of An Claidheamh Soluis/The Celtic Arts Center in Los Angeles; An Claidheamh Soluis/the Irish Arts Center in New York City; the Brave Hearted Woman Theatre Company in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia; and An Claidheamh Soluis Gaelic Adventure, an International project, all of which were created to preserve the Irish language, music and theatre.
Born Brian Samuel Connolly Heron in Dublin, Ireland, on January 24, 1941, he was the son of Ina Connolly Heron and Archie Heron and grandson of James Connolly, the General, Commander in Chief and martyred hero of the historic Easter Rising in Ireland in 1916. Like his famed grandfather, Heron was a true champion of workers’ rights and first came to America with the assistance of Mike Quill of the Transport Workers Union. He subsequently worked as a union organizer, risking his life by organizing the exploited Chinese sweat-shop workers of San Francisco. Alongside Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, he was an influential leader of the United Farm Workers. He also worked with the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, was nominated as Vice President of the Peace and Freedom Party, and helped organize the anti-war protest in Chicago during the infamous Democratic National Convention in 1968. Brian was also a founding member, keynote speaker and fundraiser for both the National Association for Irish Justice as well as the National Association for Irish Freedom in support of Ireland’s complete freedom from British colonial rule. He was also a lifetime supporter of Native American rights, language and cultural preservation, and took his entire family traveling across the United States, Canada and Central America visiting Indian reservations and forming alliances with Native American tribes.
Above all, Brian was devoted to the preservation of traditional Irish language, Celtic arts and culture. At the time of his death, Heron was involved in the recently formed “An Claidheamh Soluis Gaelic Adventure,” a multi-media/living-theatre piece. Much like his grandfather James Connolly, Brian never shied away from posing challenging concepts, striking up unpopular dialogue or asking heated controversial questions. One of the most dramatic of these was regarding the Irish language: “Can a person of Irish descent really call themselves Irish when they cannot even speak their own language?”
An Claidheamh Soluis The Irish Arts Center in New York City which Brian founded on West 51st Street in the early 70’s and An Claidheamh Soluis the Celtic Arts located in Hollywood, California founded a decade later by Brian in 1985. Both of these Cultural Art centers have flourished and successfully carried out his vision of supporting the Irish language and culture, training thousands of artists, musicians and dancers, producing plays, showcasing Celtic music, and teaching Celtic dance. . . .
. . . .Brian returned to school in his fifties and received a P.H.D. in theatre from U.C.L.A. He then went to Nova University Law School in Florida and passed the Bar on his first try at the age of 57. He also received a fellowship in International Law, sending him to represent the marginalized poor in Ireland more commonly known as ‘The traveling people;’ he then received another fellowship inviting him to Moscow to study law. In addition to all these achievements as well as being admitted to the Supreme Court bar in Washington D.C., he sincerely said, “I didn’t do enough!”
(Have smart sex on Nightly Heller here.)