Now Derry has to deliver

I’ve haven’t been listening in but I bet euphoria and cynicism in equal measure are greeting the news of Derry’s selection as the first  UK City of Culture .  A sentimental pat on the back  for coming out the Troubles. A bouquet of apology for Bloody Sunday. Probably, up to a point.  A sense of guilt should be mutual.  The bad old  past lingers. The Bogside, Creggan and Shantallow contain stubborn seed-beds of republican dissidence and the wider problem of aimless youth; the Fountain still languishes.

Braced for failure, the promoters of the Bid were already taking comfort in the success of how it was conceived.  As a joint project it compared well with the glorious University for Derry campaign of the mid 1960s, only this time, the  appearance of a united community will have been a crucial factor in the outcome. Well done, Martin Mc Guinness, it can’t  have been easy.

 The judges (and indeed the Department of Culture Media and Sport in London) are taking a big gamble on the power of culture to promote growth of all kinds – investor growth and the growth of self confidence among the people who are supposed to be the main beneficiaries. The whole future of the idea of UK City of Culture will rest on what Derry can make of it. Birmingham, Sheffield or Norwich would have been much safer bets. Bigger, with far better infrastructure of all kinds, and yes, still safer.

Presentationally the Bid was brilliant. Boldly and defiantly, they hung their hat on Derry’s chequered and divided history. Seamus Heaney’s lyricism set the tone for the high flown rhetoric of the culture industry. At the same time, they seemed aware of the danger of falling into the Derry trap of self-referential complacency. They were right to think big and outwards.

Derry-Londonderry has plans to invest more than £200m in its infrastructure to create a national cultural treasure at Ebrington and pursue World Heritage Status for the City Walls. The year of culture will ultimately create over 3,000 jobs, double visitor numbers and reach out to communities across Northern Ireland, the UK, RoI and the nine million Diaspora worldwide.

Without even reduced government money, I assume the new high speed digital links to the diaspora will be humming. Make Declan Kelly a Freeman of the City quick – or better still Bill Clinton.

Now comes the hard part, delivery. Can they really stage Big Events like the MTV awards on the site of the old Ebrington barracks? Without shared experience with wider audience the project will be an anti-climax, worthy no doubt, but without impact. A tough call for a small town.

In culture, above finance and logistics ideas are king. In the dizzy eloquence of the Bid document, you can detect a serious purpose. What does “cracking the cultural code ” to investigate our communities actually mean? Can Derry really ” create a new story?”

Just possibly they might. No , I don’t know what the story is.  That’s the point. It has yet to be written. If a convincing account can be conceived and a year of cultural ambition accomplished, it  may achieve  much for Northern  Ireland’s morale at home and reputation elsewhere. 

  For inspiration, I was dipping into that remarkable compendium about Derry warts and all, The Derry Anthology , edited by Sean McMahon. It shows how the place has compelled fascination much of it appalled, down the ages. In his memoir extracted here, the former minister Richard Needham wrote:

Derry’s history is a roller-coaster of success and hope followed by failure and despair

The energy behind the Bid suggests that the direction of travel for the roller coaster may be reversed at last.

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  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Yep that just about sums it up.
    Euphoria and Cynicism in equal measure. I lean towards Cynicism with a healthy dose of antipathy……because I am a people person at heart and I like “balance”.
    Id probably add hyperbole as well……five Slugger threads to choose from……can satisfy even the most euphoric and cynical.
    Small forunes will be made… the usual suspects in the PR business.

  • J Thomas

    I found it surprising they way Martin McGuiness had releshed the award to Derry, after all it is now “UK City of Culture”. It’s great that the city has won this award, but is it also a sign that Republicans are now accepting Derry as a UK city or is it a sign that Derry will be Diore by 2016? Gregory Campbell an unrelenting bigot is giving it a cautious welcome as it’s “nationalist city” well Greg if it is, then just call it Derry and stop impressing on the ‘London’ bit. Oh by the way Gregory could do us all a favour and shut the feck up when something like this makes the news be it this award or Bloody Sunday victims finally getting anknowledgement that it was innocent people that were murdered. As the saying goes – if you haven’t anything good to say, then don’t say anthing.

  • J Thomas

    Well done Derry!

  • IJP

    In fairness, an excellent piece, Brian. Sums it all up very well.

  • Barack Hussein Obama

    Yes we can’t

  • Jay

    Derry first city of culture , taints the prize from its very inception then.

    “Derry taxpayers may gulp at having to foot most of the bill for 2013, but the boost to the city could be substantial”

    Lets send tourists to a city with two names but if you say the wrong name to the wrong person you’ll get your head kicked in (or at least lambasted by a crazy MEP).
    I’d love to read the Lonely Planet guide of when to say Derry/Londonderry.

    Complete and utter joke.

  • Local Government Officer

    “Small forunes (sic) will be made… the usual suspects in the PR business”

    …only because if they DIDN’T employ them, people like you and the NIAO would use lines like ‘..the implementation of the bid could have benefited from professional advice and support, for example, from a public relations company…’ Imagine 2008, anyone, and the NIAO naysayers putting the boot in?

    The City Council is a small organisation by “normal” council standards. So are many of the other partners in this. They’ll do their fair share, but they won’t have the expertise to this completely on their own. So why not admit that the input of a really good PR company and a dedicated marketing and promotion team will do no harm whatsoever?

    That’s what I did in my private sector days up to a few years ago, and if you don’t understand how it works, drop me a line, and I’ll explain the difference it can make; slowly, and with short words.

  • I’ve haven’t been listening in…

    Isn’t that your responsibility?

  • Stephen

    The ceefax report said “Londonderry will now be more viable as a host for (among other things) the Brit Awards.” Having the Brits in the most separatist city in the UK. Oh, the irony. . .

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    The great triumph of Advertising and allied trades like PR is persuading people to buy something that they dont actually need or want……like a City of Culture.
    Fair play to the PR. Derry fell for the spiel.
    A process whereby Ratepayers lose money and PR people make money. Everyones a winner……well obviously the Ratepayers arent actually winners at all but theyve been persuaded.
    Still “winning” the bid is a bit cunning isnt it. So create a false competition. Like selling time shares I suppose.
    But Derry won an an easy group…if you cant win against Sheffield (never been) and Norwich (been there) then you might as well give up. Its a bit like being drawn against Slovenia, USA and algeria in the World Cup.

    This City of Culture thing reminds me of something.
    The Springfield monorail ….Mayor Quimby and the citizens of Springfield were easily enough persuaded that they wanted and needed a monorail.
    I mean the alternative was that Shelbyville and Ogdenville (or Sheffield and Norwich as I like to think of them) would get the monorail. And that would be very bad…apparently.

    Of course the Springfield monorail gave us a lot of laughs.
    And Derry City of Culture will do the same.
    Even without Homer Simpson.
    D’oh. (sic)

  • DerTer

    As someone who is not at all starry-eyed about the victory of the Derry-Londondery bid, I’m surprised to find myself getting annoyed by the cynicism here. Brian set the tone by his hesitancy, and it was all downhill after that. Maybe it will be a failure; maybe the people who put in such a competent bid will not deliver; maybe there won’t be enough loot forthcoming – from whatever source – to support the venture; maybe the people of the city will not be culturally moved by what is happening. But then maybe the Gulidhall will fall down and the Peace Bridge topple in to the water. Come on! My only real complaint is the constant harping on about the potential economic benefits; the whole thing can surely be a success without necessarily being a great economic one

  • Local Government Officer

    Well that pretty much sums up you. There’s no point in engaging. Curmudgeonry rules the day for you as far as I can tell. I just hope that if they DO happen to have some gigs or events on that may be of interest, that you don’t demean the whole thing by dropping in.

  • My only real complaint is the constant harping on about the potential economic benefits; the whole thing can surely be a success without necessarily being a great economic one

    To the deep-rooted Ulster curmudgeon in me it appears the only way certain sections believe they can sell things like this to the sizeable yet apparently uncultured sceptics (“city of culture? Pile of shite”) is by counting aloud how many jobs for the boys will be handed down out of thin air.

    However, I find the notion of culture – which is ubiquitous – being epitomised by a one-off event as a complete red herring. Artificial set pieces do not enrich culture. They bottle it up and sell it off to the highest bidder. Therefore the only benefit that can possibly come out of it is economic.

  • Not really, I expect most people are well used to it now what with the Brits being there for a good number of years now.

  • Not that Maiden City ratepayers will notice too much of that…

  • sammaguire

    “…… the most separatist city in the UK”

    Think you got that one wrong! Newry takes that proud honour!!

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Local Government Officer,
    The essence of “Culture” is that poor people pay the bill and rich people benefit.
    Which is why theArts Council prefer to subsidise Opera and Ballet to subsidising pigeon racing. (although in fairness Mrs Windsor has a loft at Sandringham).
    I dont see why I should exclude myself from visiting Derry…..I liked Derry even before the artsy crowd discovered it.
    And who knows..they might have an exhibition of snake oil.
    God knows theyve bought enough this week.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Well said.

  • Local Government Officer

    Ballet and opera. Nicely and conveniently cherry-picked about the Arts Council’s work there…

  • lover not a fighter

    Maybe we should all start calling it Derry-Londonderry

    Its a place that has been named twice

    Can it be so good that it deserves to be named twice.

    Best of luck Derry-Londonderry

  • sdelaneys

    Don’t forget Londondree which gives it the unique status of a triple named town and if we carry on into Doire Colmcile…

  • Stephen

    Newry’s not really a city though 😛

  • Brasco

    this is as bad as Lisburn becoming a city…

  • aquifer

    Derry Londonderry has rythm even before the music starts.

    All it needs to do is to get 5 licensed premises within walking distance each with a capacity of 250 people and a stage for live music.

    If the hotels cannot be built in time consider a well secured large caravan site and camping, and set up a B&B booking service to match hosts and hosted by age and interests.

    Consider running cultural courses of one or two weeks duration to give young people an alibi for their evening escapades and a chance to meet drink free.

  • Jeff

    Everyone seems to be still getting confused about the name of Derry.

    The county is offically known as London Derry (Not that I like it but you can’t win them all.)

    The City is offically known as Derry City.

    Get it right people of the tourists won’t know were to buy maps for.

  • Reader

    Jeff: The City is offically known as Derry City.
    Trolling? The city is officially called Londonderry, and is run by Derry City Council. If you find that confusing – Bangor is run by North Down Borough Council.
    Derry City Council keeps on losing court cases over the name of the city, (Wild guess – the optimistic legal advice is free to the council; the doomed legal case costs an arm and a leg from the same law firm.)