Derry, UK City of Culture 2013

Cultural and civic figures give their reactions to Derry's historic victory

Never before has The One Show been so captivating. Comedian Michael Palin and the new female presenter – who doesn't quite have the charm of her Northern Irish predecessor – could have been anyone. They were irrelevant. Nor had thousands of Derry-Londonderry licence payers tuned in to learn more about folklore weather forecasts, the dangers of contracting leishmaniasis on holiday, or what inspired Holst to compose 'The Planets'.

On that glorious night it was all about the well-groomed new culture minister, Ed Vaizey, and the words he would utter when finally – mercifully – the producers cut back to Liverpool for the announcement of the winner of UK City of Culture 2013. When Vaizey said 'Derry' our collective heart skipped a beat. When he said 'Londonderry' we lost all control and took a massive, critical leap into a shared cultural future.

Here's some of the reaction after the event:

‘Derry is a city that needs to find its place on the world stage and the UK City of Culture 2013 will be the catalyst to help make that happen,’ wrote leading man Liam Neeson in a blog on the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s website after the announcement.

Neeson recalled starring in the debut performance of Brian Friel’s Translations in the Guildhall in Derry in 1980. ‘Back then, Derry was a shadow of what it is now – it was a city physically, emotionally and culturally divided. In the words of songwriter Phil Coulter, it was a town that had been ‘brought to its knees’. There were few arts venues in the city, yet the spirit of the people and the place made Derry the obvious choice for Friel to launch his masterpiece.’

Phil Redmond, chief judge on the UK City of Culture panel, was clearly captivated by the 'spirit of the people and the place' when stating his case on that cold Thursday afternoon, and in a blog of his own looked forward to a ‘year like no other’ for Derry in 2013. And he should know, having played a central role in securing Liverpool the title of European City of Culture in 2008.

Redmond went on to explain the selection process for UK City of Culture, and clarify why Derry-Londonderry ultimately came out on top, pipping Norwich, Birmingham and Sheffield to the post.

'If culture cannot be used to help promote harmony, tolerance, hope and aspiration; if it cannot be used to help people understand their past, inform their present and help shape their future - then what role does it have? I have no doubt that Derry-Londonderry will follow Liverpool and show what impact, what step change, a year in the media spotlight can bring about.’

Before the announcement was made, other big name celebs who had blogged in favour of the rival cities were the Brummie comedian Jasper Carrot, lover of Norwich DJ Mary Ann Hobbs and everyone’s favourite Twitterer (if such a word exists) Stephen Fry. If the Tory-Lib Dem coalition’s axing of a potential £80m worth of grants and building contracts in Sheffield had tipped the scales in that city’s favour, then surely Fry’s personal backing would seal the bid before voting had even begun.

It was not to be, however. According to Redmond, Derry’s bid was the clearest and cleverest of the lot. Derry, unlike the other contenders, fully understood the brief and managed to strengthen their argument through a shrewd use of online social networking.

‘The decision confirms what many of us in the province and further afield have known for many years, that Derry-Londonderry is a cultural powerhouse,’ commented the actor and chancellor of the University of Ulster, James Nesbitt.

‘Whether it is writers like Seamus Heaney and Seamus Deane, songwriters and performers like Phil Coulter or the Undertones, artists like Willie Doherty, filmmakers like Margo Harkin and Tom Collins or actors like Amanda Burton, Roma Downey and Bronagh Gallagher, the city has asserted a huge influence on the arts internationally. It is great to see that creativity and talent being recognised and rewarded.’

'I think this has the potential to be more than a three year party,' commented Gregory Campbell, MP for East Londonderry, in Derry's Guildhall. 'It has to include people rather than divide people. I think it has the potential to do that, and of course if everyone joins in, gives it their wholehearted support and we see the potential realised from that, I think we can have a tremendous outcome. So it's thumbs up from Londonderry.'

Declan McGonagle, the Turner Prize nominated curator and founder of the renowned Orchard gallery in Derry, said: 'Back in the 1990s, it was clear that arts organisations in the city weren’t talking to each other and there was no one taking an overall strategic view. That has been changing anyway in recent years, but now the City of Culture bid is bringing a range of organisations together to form a strategic plan which is brilliant.

'The work being done by organisations like ILEX is vital in that regard and organisations like the Playhouse, Nerve Centre and Void have created a platform for us to move to the next level. City of Culture can take our quality of life to that next level.'

Mayor of Derry Cllr Colum Eastwood - at 27 the youngest first citizen in Derry's history - thanked those who had put the 'Just Say Yes' bid together by saying 'No job has been too big. No request has been denied. No task too great or too small. In keeping with the message of our bid, whenever anyone was asked for their assistance, they ‘Just Said Yes' across the city, the region and beyond.'

Finally, town clerk and chief executive of Derry City Council, Valerie Watts summed up the mood in the city - once the noise had died down. 'We have been given a once in a lifetime chance not only to share our innate talent, creativity and energy with the rest of the world, but also to transform this region forever. This is a new chapter in our journey from plantation to peace, and its legacy will last for generations.'

Lee Henry


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