City of Culture Highlights

A selection of those involved in Derry~Londonderry's unforgettable year in the spotlight recall their most memorable moments

Shona McCarthy, Chief Executive of Culture Company

Choosing highlights from Derry~Londonderry 2013 is no easy task. I tried to share in the joy of the year by getting to as much of it as possible, but with the best will in the world, I know there were some gems that I just couldn’t make. The truth is that every day brought something that made me proud of the city and the cultural programme.

But there are always going to be some moments which, for one reason or another, strike a chord with you, and the very first event in the Venue, the Mayor's Tea Dance, was one for me. It brought together 1,000 of the city’s senior citizens in style to dance on a rainy January afternoon, and dance they did. It was just a brilliant occasion, and I felt at the time that it set the tone and got the year off to a perfect start.

Neil Cowley, City of Culture Musician-in-Residence

My City of Culture highlight would have to be Music City. I was involved in a concert at St Augustine's Church, which added to the interest for me personally, but the whole day was a feel good fest. Though I couldn't make it to the hot air balloon Sky Orchestra or the sunrise at Grianán Fort, there were still a thousand and one musical happenings to indulge in at every turn – not even the local supermarkets were left without some in house entertainment.

Our concert was a coming together of different elements, including a kids choir put together by the staff at the YMCA. They were so endearing, in fact, that once they'd performed with us I had to end the concert – the response to them had been so overwhelming that to follow them would have been career suicide.

It was a particularly good time of the year all round, with Derry~Londonderry at the height of its powers and I remember enjoying a drink at Sandinos towards the end of the day with a very warm feeling that I was in the best possible place.

Jenni Doherty, Owner of Little Acorns Bookstore

I've not had a week without attending some event, and yet I missed as many. But I was especially blown away by Hofesh Shechter's Political Mother, Shakespeare’s The Rape of Lucrece starring Camille O’Sullivan and Feargal Murray, and the London Symphony Orchestra featuring the film music of John Williams.

I also met so many fine writers in Little Acorns, and through my work with Guildhall Press, like Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, Melvyn Bragg, Edna O'Brien, Jon Ronson and Jennifer Johnston. I got them all to sign the Legenderry Little Acorns Bookstore's Writers' Chair, which I'm very proud of.

It's been a fabulous year for literature, with so many local publications released and writers unleashed. Events have come and gone, but the memory of all this and the experience has been so precious and will not be forgotten. I have been speechless, overwhelmed and in awe many times, and think that this is really just the beginning.

Colin Bateman, Writer

I think creating a new musical, Teenage Kicks, and putting it on in one of the biggest theatres in Ireland, the Millennium Forum, was hugely ambitious. When rehearsals started a month before curtain up, we had a script that was barely finished and didn't make much sense, and we had the rights to exactly one of the 12 songs we needed. It was always going to be a punk musical, but I don't think any of us imagined that all that anarchy would apply to the production as well.

But team work is an amazing thing. I just write it and hope for the best, but once you apply a director, producers, cast, choreography, set design, sound, lights – I mean, these are people at the top of their game. So to go from what looks like a disaster to being there for the final night when the audience are dancing in the aisles and give a standing ovation, it just beats anything. I loved the whole experience.

Mark Nagurski, Director of CultureTECH Digital Arts Festival

It's nearly impossible to pick out just one highlight. Big stuff like the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann and BBC Radio 1's Big Weekend are pretty hard to beat, so they'd top my list in terms of one-off events. But my personal highlight(s) would be the homegrown creative industries events like the Humdinger! Children's Book Festival, Celtronic, Cinema City, 2D Comics Festival, and (even if I do say so myself) CultureTECH.

Everyone stepped up this year. I go to a lot of festivals and events throughout the year and the quality of the artists, acts and speakers that these guys brought to Derry puts us right in the mix with some of the best.

Neil Martin, Composer

My connection with Derry’s year as City of Culture is book-ended by two very significant events. It began with a commission in 2012 from Barry Douglas and Camerata Ireland for which I set part of Seamus Heaney’s poem 'The Cure at Troy' to music. The piece, which I titled Further Shore, premiered on the day of the City of Culture’s press launch.

My closing association was scoring and performing the music for Field Day’s production of Sam Shepard’s new play A Particle of Dread. For as long as I draw breath, I will treasure the opportunity Derry afforded me to have collaborated with these two literary giants. Both experiences enriched my life massively. Some year indeed.

Deepa Mann-Kler, Artist

City of Culture was a life-changing experience for me, and it is one I am still digesting. I started to work with neon and light art in 2012, but to have had two major public art commissions in 2013 with 'Teenage Kicks' and 'Dogs' that formed part of the Lumiere Derry festival of light was simply huge. The whole experience has stretched the boundaries of what I believe is possible.

I became part of a temporary community, along with other international artists, production crew, sound and lighting engineers, press, administration and creative directors to create a series of public art installations that took over the city for four days and redefined how we see, feel and experience everyday public spaces. I really hope that 'Teenage Kicks' becomes a permanent installation in Derry. It was born there and so should live there.

Pearse Moore, Chief Executive of the Nerve Centre

2013 has been an absolute whirlwind of a year for Nerve Centre and there have been so many highlights. Organisationally, we introduced the SYNC music programme for young people in communities, delivered the Digital Book of Kells for primary schools, hosted Neil Cowley as musician-in-residence, hosted the Radio One Academy, rolled out the red carpet on Cinema City, commissioned Colin Bateman’s Teenage Kicks and launched three exhibitions at Patrick Street Gallery, including Picturing Derry and Willie Doherty's UNSEEN.

Personally, my family and myself have been out to more events in the last year than the last ten years combined. Our children adored the 'Fire Garden' at Lumiere, the buzz and energy of the Fleadh, the unexpected humour of The Return of Colmcille. Worryingly, my youngest daughter (she's 8) admired the dictator figure at the centre of Hofesh Schechter's amazing Political Mother.

But for me, the highlight of the year was the Macklemore and Ryan Lewis performance in the Venue at One Big Weekend. I’ve been to a lot of gigs, but I have never, ever experienced the energy in a venue like that before. The floor was moving beneath our feet as the capacity crowd went crazy for six minutes. Unforgettable.

Andrew Ferris, Director of Smalltown America Record Label

City of Culture for me was all about the kids. Between the Humdinger! Children's Book Festival, Music Promise, Turner Prize, Echo Echo's Dance Fest, Lumiere and CultureTech Jnr, all the programmes and events a parent could wish for were superbly conceived and put together with love. Children participating in the arts naturally and filled with fun created a wonderful energy around the city. How we keep Derry's kids engaged and how we help them produce their own art is our new, exciting challenge.

Marie-Louise Muir, BBC Presenter

For me the best thing about City of Culture was the home-grown arts bodies and organisations flexing their muscles and showing the world what the city was capable of showcasing, including the Void Gallery curating artist Candice Breitz, the Willie Doherty retrospective in the City Factory and the canata 'At Sixes and Sevens', co-commissioned by the Verbal Arts Centre and the City of London Festival and performed practically simultaneously in the Guildhall in Derry and the Guildhall in London.

Also the incredible 'Reading Rooms' project from the Verbal Arts Centre was a highlight, which has seen the set up of 20 shared reading groups throughout the city in care homes, schools, community centres and many locations. Inspiring stuff.

Niall McCaughan, General Manager of the Playhouse

One of the highlights of City of Culture for me was the Playhouse’s commission of Re-Energize, by one of Northern Ireland’s leading playwrights, Gary Mitchell. The production was directed by the award-winning Conall Morrison with specially commissioned music from members of the Undertones.

It was a well-crafted production, which was critically acclaimed, both nationally and internationally. The production premiered in the city and was also taken to the Lyric Theatre in Belfast, where again it was received to critical acclaim. That was great to see.

Noelle McAlinden, Director of London Street Gallery

It's been a phenomenal year for the visual arts in the city, with Turner Prize 2013 casting a spotlight not only on some of the most renowned names in the contemporary art world, but also on some of the finest talent to hail from Derry~Londonderry. And at the epi-centre of the growing creative hub spreading throughout the city's Cathedral Quarter is the London Street Gallery, temporary home to some of the most thought-provoking and challenging exhibitions to be staged in the city in recent years.

The figures speak for themselves – the gallery has welcomed over 9,000 people through its doors, and showcased the work of 1,093 emerging and established artists in just nine months, including work by Maurice Harron, Julian Friers and Basil Blackshaw, not to mention hosting pieces by renowned British artists Tracey Emin and Bridget Reilly as part of selected works from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland's collection, a personal highlight of mine. This has been an all-consuming but incredibly rewarding project.

Mayor Cllr Martin Reilly

As mayor it has been a personal honour to represent the city during our year as the UK City of Culture, and a phenomenal experience for me and my wife, Bronagh. I have enjoyed every minute and am hugely grateful to have had the opportunity to attend so many fantastic events and be part of the public engagement and year of celebration.

One of the real and lasting legacies of 2013 is the changing way visitors to our city view Derry~Londonderry as a destination worth coming to see, a place where there is a warm welcome and a new landscape and story to tell. I am looking forward to the council’s 2014 Legacy Celebration event in mid-January, which will start another year of celebration.