UK City of Culture launched with confidence and flair



Aside from our own unique brand of cynicism, there is bound to be angst on a smaller scale to that which foreshadowed the London 2012 Olympics. For Derry, the word “transformational “ is already familiar and will soon be overworked.  But transformed  already is what will become the main events venue, the old Ebrington Barracks ( see above, the arena depicted  is pending). This is now  linked to the old city via the Peace Bridge, for which the word “iconic” however also overworked, seems inevitable.

The relative scale of events for Derry UK City of Culture will in fact be greater and longer than the Olympics were for London, although hardly comparable in terms of world attention. 148 events of various sizes lasting over a year is quite an undertaking. And there are bound to be the sort of flops associated with any artistic endeavour.

When you think about it, it was improbable and inevitable at the same time. Inevitable that when they came up with the wheeze of adding a UK City of Culture competition  to the successful European one that Derry would be the city chosen to launch it.  Improbable but eye catchingly daring and if a failure, well, there would be special circumstances, from Derry’s small size and supposed remoteness to dissident republican troublemaking.

Although the Turner Prize had featured before with Willie Doherty’s video of a man running along the lower deck of Craigavon Bridge, Derry isn’t the most obvious venue for the London Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Ballet.  The last symphonic appearance I recall was the BBC Symphony Orchestra in the Guildhall in about 1962, when the men in the orchestra had to change in the gent’s toilet. Changed times in so many ways, even if you smile at some of the hype .

Lonely Planet this week named Derry as the fourth best city to visit next year after San Francisco, Amsterdam and Hyderabad. “I don’t think we’re more interesting than Beijing [fifth], to be fair,” said Michael Bradley, who was – and still is – bass player with the city’s best-known musical sons, the Undertones.

The overall cost is in the region of £25m, with £16m for programming. The lion’s share, £12.6m, is from the Northern Ireland Executive. “It is the biggest single investment on this island ever made for cultural programming,” said McCarthy. “A total vote of confidence.”

So far the launch promotion seems to have made only modest impact and co-ordinated publicity seems to have been a problem. It’s still early days.  One can only hope that the problems that the popped up on the surface only a few weeks ago are being sorted. Public spending in Derry has had its own piratical quality recently.

Who will turn up from further afield than Belfast and Letterkenny and what will the quality of the “visitor experience?  In the vast programme, is there a lack of coherence , too much of letting everyone in on the act for fear of disappointing them,  too many many events for any conceivable audience to sustain and for the available funding? What will Derry contribute to “culture” beyond its traditional fondness for balladry and diddly-dee? What will be the legacy?  One familiar criticism can be treated robustly, that it will do little for community relations. If folk sit back grimly and wait for something wonderful to happen to them, nothing will. The secret of improving community relations is to take part.

Alongside  the sheer exuberance of promotion,  I look forward to hearing more about the “transformational.” case.

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  • “the problems that the popped up on the surface only a few weeks ago”

    Does anyone on Slugger know the background to these alleged problems? Was the lack of promotion by the city of culture team the real reason or did the city council hi-jack the event or was it, perhaps, a combination of the two? Would such a change have taken place under the former DUP-led DCAL ministry?

    I submitted a suggestion to the city of culture team on January 30 that BT should be invited to add the city of culture to its logo as BT is the main sponsor. I received the following reply on February 3:

    We are on the same lines of thinking on this one and have proposed this to BT informally last year and formally on Tuesday. We understand that we are more likely to achieve this once the Olympics is over. We are definitely thinking big on this request. Will hear back soon and keep you updated. Thanks for your support

    The Olympics is long since past, no addition was been made to the BT logo or website and I’ve had no further update. I sent a reminder to the team yesterday and copied it into a BT director. The BT director has passed the suggestion to a relevant colleague but there’s been no response from Derry.

  • son of sam

    Attending the Millennium Forum on Thursday night,I requested a copy of the City of Culture programme only to be informed that no copies had been delivered to them.As this is arguably the main artistic venue in Derry,it beggars belief that a large quantity of these programmes was not delivered to this location!There may well be a plausible explanation for this omission but I have yet to hear it.It probably isn’t the done thing to give the general public the information that they need.Much better to restrict it to a privileged few!!

  • sonofsam, the programme was only officially released on Thursday. You can download a copy at my city of culture link @ 2:04 pm.

  • son of sam

    I’m aware of that,but being a partial Luddite ,I still prefer to have the brochure at hand.Apart from that ,it appears that organisation and distribution of the brochures was somewhat less than efficient .

  • sonofsam, we have this comment from the Irish Times:

    Thousands of programmes were brought downstream on the River Foyle on a motor boat yesterday [Thursday] morning before being distributed to dozens of citywide locations by teams of athletes.

    Stunts can come unstuck; perhaps they got lost on the way to the Forum 🙂

  • son of sam

    Apparently fleets of local taxis were used to distribute some of the brochures to outlying areas of the city.Maybe the fact that approx 1000 people were going to be at the Forum on Thursday night didn’t occur to some of the bright sparks organising the whole thing.As long as the D FM and the Mayor got their photo opportunity,that’s really all that counts!!

  • 241934 john brennan

    The DFM was ‘bursting with pride’ at the launch of the 2013 UK City of Culture year.
    It’s a pity Katherine Aiken, Frank Hegarty, Joanne Mathers, Patsy Gillespie and many others like them, are not alive to see it.
    Phil Coulter wrote … ‘For deep inside was burning pride in the town I loved so well’. But until the truth about such murders remains concealed and denied, rather than revealed and acknowledged, the sense of ‘burning pride’ in the Derry air will continue to be polluted with the revolting and shameful whiff of concealed murder.

  • “didn’t occur to some of the bright sparks organising the whole thing”

    sonofsam, the recent council takeover/hi-jacking of the city of culture event is bound to have caused a degree of confusion.

  • son of sam

    Given that “my learned friends” are involved in relation to the dismissal of the former Head of Communications at City of Culture company ,it is probably wise not to offer any opinions as to the rights and wrongs of that particular aspect.All the same,to use the old cliche it’s hardly rocket science to organise the distribution of programmes.Maybe in due course we will hear what the print order was and what person was responsible for distribution.

  • galloglaigh

    One culture that is becoming apparent in the City of Culture, is the greed of certain publicans, led by the chairman of the Vintners Association, who have a history of blocking drinks licence applications. Their connivance has driven quite a number of business to the wall. Two of the bars named, The Metro, and Downey’s, are owned by a former county footballer and his brother. They had a bar tent during the Clipper event this Summer, and were charging excessive prices for their drink. This time someone else has beat them to it, and they object. Seems strange to me!

    Derry’s corruption today, is as bad as it ever was under unionist gerrymandering!

  • Dixie Elliott

    £25,000 for a piece of so called art which any graffiti artist could have done for £25…

    Add that to the money wasted on the opening ceremony of the new foot bridge…£263,410.

  • Dixie Elliott

    If David Shrigley’s ‘art’ is worth £25,000. The Bogside Artists should be worth a fortune. Then again they don’t count being as they come from Derry.

  • galloglaigh


    You could add a lot more to that – for example £500 a day consultancy fees, and other outlandish expenses left at the foot of the rate-payer in recent times.

    Or the £40,000 spent sending officials to Florida to attract cruise ships, and how many have come to Derry? One… yes one, and that trip was more than five years ago…

    DCC refused to carry-out their statutory duties during a few recent bad Winters. They wouldn’t even grit Guildhall square, let alone the city’s kerbs. That is until a public outcry put them on a collision with Road Service, and they agreed to do it ‘jointly’. Talk about leadership, I’ve seen more leadership on a stag party to Newcastle.

  • Isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing! Don’t dare try to be innovative because you will sometimes fail and someone will jump up to call you stupid for even trying.

  • IrelandNorth

    Given that the loyalist denizens of the City of Derry might understandably be historically predisposed to look to the English capitol for sponsorship of their City of Culture, where does this leave the disloyal citizens of Lundyderry under the brand UK. And to what extent does the fact that the Irish Government had already flagged up 2013 as the year of their diasporic Gathering inspired the belatedly Derry City of Culture celebrations. A case of corporate piggybacking, perhaps? Or a knee jerk reaction thereto?

  • galloglaigh

    Pure Derry, facebook’s comedy take on all things Derry, has a good take on the Christmas Market fiasco. It’s a funny read, but the comments speak for themselves!

  • son of sam

    241934 John Brennan
    Don’t hold your breath waiting on the truth to be told in the local nationalist papers about these murders.For some reason,the D F M’s party locally seems to be able to exert significant control over the political content of the Derry Journal.Is it coincidental that there always seems to be room for even the most trivial of Sinn Fein activities ,while other parties struggle for the inclusion of their press releases?

  • Dixie Elliott

    Son of sam…

    If it wasn’t for Eamonn McCann’s articles, I would safely say that the paper could be renamed…’An Phoblacht Derry Edition’.

    Here’s a wee take on it…..

  • Dixie Elliott

    Knowing Derry wans…being wan myself…and the fact they canny see…er…the smelly stuff but they want it, I expect to see Halfords taking orders from all over the city for anything from pop-up beer tents to 6 man beer tents.

    “£4.50 for a can of Harp are you takin’ the piss?”

    “No this is a Christmas Market Beer Tent!”

  • son of sam

    Dixie Elliott
    It begs the question what editorial control or lack of it exists in that paper!I think I am right in saying that the Johnston Group are the ultimate owners of the paper but as long as there are satisfactory sales,presumably they are not too worried about the political sympathies of the Journal.

  • babyface finlayson

    In honour of the Dalai/LondonDalai Lama visiting the city of culture.
    Stroke City
    The no L Derry its a city
    The one L Derry its a county
    And I’ll swear by Anderson Gerry
    That there is no three L Derry.

    Please forgive me, Ogden Nash.

  • FDM


    Its Londonderry, but the ‘Londons’ silent.