Counting down to City of Culture’s big 2013 lift-off

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City of Culture Chairman Martin Bradley says that the 2013 celebrations will be a defining moment for Derry. In this article he explains how the cultural revival will feed into the transformation of the city.

Next Thursday will mark exactly 12 months to the first signature event in Derry-Londonderry’s UK City of Culture 2013 celebrations.

That event on Saturday, January 12th 2013, will be an iconic Sons and Daughters concert that will see our city’s most celebrated performers return home to display their talents in front of their own people – there could be no more fitting event with which to initiate our programme.

In a period when the North West has, like every other part of this island, seen many of its most able young people depart for foreign shores in search of work, the Sons and Daughters concert is a symbolic event with which to begin our celebrations in 2013. As with Sons and Daughters, the City of Culture celebrations will be a beacon, bringing people back to these shores and providing opportunities to ensure that our best and brightest no longer have to leave this region to fulfil their undoubted potential.

Viewed from the outside Derry-Londonderry wasn’t the most obvious destination to receive the first ever UK City of Culture designation. We didn’t start with a city glorying in massive cultural infrastructure but we what did have is a population with talent and a vision of what this city can be.

It was the people of the city who enabled us to receive this opportunity. It was the people of the city who rejected the myth of this city as a place on the periphery. It was the people of the city who provided the irresistible wave of momentum that delivered the City of Culture accolade. And it will be through the full engagement of the people of this city that we will ensure that 2013 is an irreversible step in achieving the social and economic regeneration of this city through a cultural revival.

Even at this early stage we have begun to see the economic benefits of City of Culture. Transport Minister Danny Kennedy cited City of Culture as the reason for bringing forward the phased upgrade of the Derry-Belfast rail line which will start in July 2012, two years before the original plans. The catalytic effect of the designation is already reflected in tourism figures that have shown substantial increases in 2011. Work on creating the tourism infrastructure required to service the influx of visitors we will receive in 2013 is already underway, with plans for six new hotels having been submitted. The Derry-Londonderry boat in the Clipper Round The World Yacht race is carrying the City of Culture message to a global audience.

In 2012 the city will play host to a series of events of international significance including the Peace One Day Concert, the North Atlantic Fiddle Convention and our host leg of the Clipper race.

Yet all these achievements represent only the overture. There is much hard work still to be carried out to make sure that we maximise the benefits offered to us by City of Culture. We know the tasks that confront us are substantial but together there is no limit to what the people of this city can achieve over the next two years.

In that past we have been told what can’t be done here but success in achieving the City of Culture designation has ignited a flame of confidence that will not be doused by any choruses of cynicism.

The Department of Culture Media and Sport in Westminster which awarded City of Culture status to Derry-Londonderry has charged us with delivering a substantial programme of cultural activity that will lead to a demonstrable step-change in the city, and a lasting legacy. Those who are sceptical of our ability to meet these targets cite the challenge of funding such a programme. However, the Northern Ireland Executive pledged in its programme for government to ‘provide financial and other support across government to ensure the success of the Derry-Londonderry City of Culture 2013’ and we are working in partnership with the Executive to secure the necessary funding.

Quite rightly, everyone is desperate to know the programme of events that we have planned for 2013 and the sense of expectation is intense. The full programme will be released later this year and while I am not in a position to confirm specifics I can assure you that it will be world class and open to all. We are striving to ensure that our programme is financially accessible to the people of the North West and affordability is a key facet of our programming strategy. Similarly, inclusivity has been one of the watch words in putting together the City of Culture project and our team have been working on a programme of community engagement that continues to reach out to every single citizen.

Our city has seen some difficult times - City of Culture does not shy away from this. That is why, alongside ‘Joyous Celebration’, the second major theme of the project is ‘Purposeful Inquiry.’ Only by examining where we have come from can we move towards the shared future we all desire.

Even during the darkest days the sense of hope in this city was never extinguished and over the last 18 months City of Culture has infused people with a belief, many for the very first time in their lives, that a better day awaits, that Heaney’s ‘farther shore’ is within sight. It has been a long time in coming but the next two years can be a defining moment for our city and region.