Success should be savoured at mid-point of culture year

(Photo - Tom Heaney, nwpresspics)
(Photo - Tom Heaney, nwpresspics)
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Culture Company chair Martin Bradley evaluates how the last six months have gone and says he’s looking forward to the rest of 2013.

As we reach the halfway point in the Derry-Londonderry 2013 celebrations it’s an opportune time to pause for thought and consider the achievements of the first six months of the year.

Being named the first ever UK City of Culture presented Derry-Londonderry with an unprecedented platform and it’s already apparent that the city has endeavoured to maximise the potential benefits of this opportunity.

Alongside our partners we have built a vibrant programme of events, participation, education and learning from across the whole community.

It’s impossible to articulate within a single article the success that has been achieved in such a short space of time. The best of local talent has been showcased to the world at events like The Return of Colmcille and Music City while the local audience has welcomed talents of global renown through visits from the Royal Ballet, The Turner Prize, the BBC Radio 1 Big Weekend and the London Symphony Orchestra.

There have been personal highlights for me. The staging of Brian Friel’s performances in a setting so intimate that one felt less a spectator than part of the production was unforgettable as was the life affirming sight at Radio One’s Big Weekend of our young people enjoying pop, rock and dance acts previously only seen in this city via television.

Externally the narrative told about us has changed. The city has been the subject of major features in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Guardian, Observer and Sunday Times to mention just a few. There has also been substantial UK network television coverage as well by media in Australia, The United States, Germany, Spain, France, Holland, Scandinavia, Canada and Italy. There were a staggering 170 accredited media staff working at the recent Return of Colmcille festival alone.

It’s too early to have a definitive evaluation of the economic impact of the City of Culture year but early indicators in terms of visitor numbers are very positive. May 2013 was a record breaking month for hotel sales in the city with over 16,000 rooms sold.

All these visitors to the city, tourists and media alike, have experienced the new story of Derry-Londonderry, one which confounds previously ingrained but outdated perceptions of our town and they have left here evangelising on our behalf.

Just as importantly we the people of the city have rediscovered the qualities that make this city such an amazing place - new skills are being learned and a new-found sense of confidence engendered among our own people. The Hofesh Shechter dance event allowed young local musicians to be part of a production normally seen at venues like Sadler’s Wells. The Walled City Marathon has seen an astonishing increase in the numbers of people taking up running. The Music Promise is providing opportunities for music education on a scale not available anywhere else in the UK and Ireland while communities across the city are learning digital imaging and archiving skills through BT Portrait of a City.

2013 has already delivered in spades, and with The Fleadh, The Walled City Tattoo, The Turner Prize and a myriad of other projects all still to come there is still so much to savour in the second half of the year.

I said at the opening of this piece, Derry-Londonderry has been granted an unprecedented platform for telling the world its story of transformation and regeneration. The first half the year has seen the city grab this chance and the second half will present even more fantastic stories and opportunities.’