A staggering 60,000 people are expected to take part when the biggest technology festival ever staged in the North kicks off in Derry next weekend.
CultureTECH’s soaring reputation and growing footprint on the world’s digital and creative industries sector stage has put the city on the map.
So much so that over the nine days from September 12 to 20, some of the biggest players in the virtual and technology sectors will be presented at a series of major events.
Last year 43,000 people took part in the CultureTECH Festival, which is open to anyone who wants to come and get involved.
The first event back in 2012 was organised in a little over four months and was the brainchild of local man Mark Nagurski.
Speaking about those early days and the reasoning behind CultureTECH, Mark said: “Technology is everywhere, so it’s kind of important that people understand it and feel comfortable using it in creative ways. It shouldn’t be something that’s locked away inside technology companies.
“In particular it’s incredibly important that young people aren’t just consumers of technology but also learn to use it in creative ways.
“That’s what CultureTECH is about; bringing technology out into the open for everyone to engage with in a fun and informative way.
“It’s been great to see it grow so quickly over the last few years and we’ve been really privileged to have so many great partners get involved and help make it happen.”
Mark attributes the rapid growth of the festival to its wide appeal.
This city is doing some exceptional things, in particular in the way we’re starting to develop a new generation of digitally skilled young people.Mark Nagurski
“It’s really a community event and there’s a huge audience out there who are excited by technology even if they don’t work in the tech sector.
“CultureTECH is an event for them and there’s not a lot of other events that cater to that market, which is why it’s become one of the biggest events of its kind in the UK.
“And for all the people who do work in the digital and creative sectors, CultureTECH is a bit of a celebration; a chance to show off their great work, meet up with friends and colleagues and build new contacts.”
This year’s festival has been developed with an audience of young people and families very much in mind.
And CultureTech will also be partnering with the BBC’s ‘Make It Digital’ for a huge public engagement programme.
It will also host CoderDojo’s annual global conference, along with several industry conferences and Ireland’s largest ‘Maker’ exhibition.
Back in early 2014, CultureTech launched its first educational outreach initiative which has blossomed into the delivering of more than 250 events and workshops in over 150 Northern Irish schools.
In March 2015, CultureTech was included as one of 50 nationwide partners,and the only one in Northern Ireland, to support the roll-out of the BBC’s Make It Digital programme, which will include the distribution of one million programmable MicroBits to schools, while a huge Minecraft education project was also announced the same month.
Asked about the importance of having such a high profile digital, technology and creative industries festival taking place in the city as it tries to advance its own digital economy and attract more people, Mark said: “Anything that helps raise the profile of the digital sector in the city has to be a good thing.
“This year we have delegates and speakers coming from 10 plus countries and that means lots of chances to show what we can do and create new opportunities.
“This city is doing some exceptional things, in particular in the way we’re starting to develop a new generation of digitally skilled young people.
“If we build on this, it’s what’s going to set us apart as a real digital city. Getting kids excited about technology and creativity is what’s truly important and if CultureTECH can play a part in that then we’ll have created something to be proud of.”
Commenting on the feedback from festival participants and event organisers, Mark added: “Everyone who comes here has a great time and that’s how we sell it to all of our speakers and delegates - and it’s why most of them come.
“Of course that has more to do with the city and the people they meet than anything we do - but it’s a real advantage that Derry should learn to make more of.
“When people have a great time and meet great people, they want to come back and get involved. Fun sells.”