Posted on Thursday 10 May 2012 by Ulster Business

City of Culture

It is a measure of how important Derry-Londonderry’s year as UK City of Culture is viewed that Stormont last month awarded an extra £12.6m of funding for the celebrations.

The accolade of being the first UK City of Culture in 2013 is seen in most quarters as a tremendous achievement, and it is hoped the title and the programme of events during the year will act as a catalyst for regeneration in the NorthWest economy.

Martin Bradley is Chairman of Culture Company 2013, the agency responsible for delivering the Derry-Londonderry City of Culture 2013 programme.

He believes that the extra funding will provide an absolutely crucial boost.

“Already there is a buzz about the city and a sense of optimism as people start to see the money flow in. I was on the Arts Council from 1996 to 2007 and I have never ever seen a project get over £12m for programming. So it is really a huge step change for the entire city,” he told Ulster Business.

“Ten years ago there wouldn’t have been the same political support for putting that kind of money into an arts event. But I think people are starting to see there is a genuine potential for a cultural economic regeneration of the city and I think we are proving that the arts can have a direct economic impact.”

Mr Bradley notes that City of Culture has already brought substantial benefits.

Last year saw around £10m of capital money spent, an upgrade in rail services, planning permission for six new hotels and a 20% upsurge in visitor inquiries has already been noted by the visitor and convention bureau.

The £12.6m of funding from OFMDFM and DCAL – £7.5m in 2012/13 and £5.1m in 2013/14 – will now allow the Culture Company to announce its programme of events, which will help show potential corporate sponsors City of Culture is more than an aspiration.

While some headline sponsors like BT are on board it has been difficult to attract corporate sponsors so far, admits Bradley.

“There has been some frustration in that people have wanted to see the programme, but it has been a chicken and egg scenario for us,” he says.

“The programme is there, we know what we want to do and when we want to do it, but up until now we didn’t have the money to sign the contracts and push the button. We’ve now given a commitment that on the 17th May we will set out our stall and say what the highlight programme is going to be.”

He adds: “It is very hard to get someone to sign a cheque when they don’t know what they’re signing for. But now I think the private sector will have the confidence to get in there because they know it is going to happen.

“I think that when the corporate sector see the programme and type of events we are putting on, then they will start digging deep and want to get involved in this. It will help us attract corporate sponsorship.”

One event that has been confirmed is the all-island Fleadh, which will be held north of the border for the first time in 2013. Bradley notes that in excess of 290,000 visitors went to the Fleadh in Cavan last year generating around €40m for the economy.

“If we can replicate that it will be fantastic,” he says. “Given it is the first time it has been north of the border I think we can even go beyond that.”

Another event which the Culture Company team are hoping to tap into is The Gathering, a series of events and festivals celebrating Irish culture and history that aims to attract overseas visitors with a connection to the country next year.

As the message goes out to people to come back and visit Ireland, Bradley hopes Derry’s City of Culture status will also put it on their travel itinerary.

“City of Culture is not just about January to December 2013, it is really about a rebirth of the city and identifying it as a cultural hub. Anyone who lives in Derry knows it has always been a cultural hub, but this is really about getting that message out worldwide as much as we can,” he adds.

The Culture Company chairman says that his team has received huge support from embassies and agencies in the US and Canada, as well as Brussels, where they have been working on ways to attract visitors and staging events to encourage international company CEOs to get involved with City of Culture.

Activity is only ramping up now, he says, because of the timing of other events crucial to tourism and the economy.

“We understand that this year it is all about Titanic and come the summer the big event will be the Olympics. There is no point in us going head to head with Titanic or the Olympics. We fully support those projects. If people have been to Northern Ireland to see Titanic they will hopefully want to come back to City of Culture,” he notes.

Likewise those visitors who come for City of Culture next year are likely to want to visit the new Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre and Titanic Belfast, providing a boost across the economy.

Legacy has been a central to the City of Culture since Derry’s bid was first put together and Bradley believes that, alongside the infrastructural legacy, the focus on establishing relationships with arts organisations from across the globe will reap rewards as they bring projects back in future years.

Of course, Bradley is aware it is not all positive news in Derry.

At the time of going to print regeneration body Ilex was under scrutiny for the way it has spent government money.

The other negative is the threat that exists from dissident Republicans, who last year bombed the Culture Company offices.

However, Bradley thinks incidents which hark back to Northern Ireland’s troubled past have had the “reverse psychology” effect of generating support for City of Culture.

“If something like that happens people in the city are disgusted with it and when it happened the amount of messages of support we got from right across the globe was phenomenal. It has galvanised public and private organisations behind us,” he said.

“It’s not something we like but I think there is such an overwhelming positivity across the city to this that those minor issues will be swept away.”

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