City Of Culture
It was a text message at 7.50am on Wednesday that first alerted me to the leak of proposed events for UK City of Culture in Derry in 2013. Sir Cliff Richard and Snow Patrol were the headline news. The irony is that as a local arts journalist I have been privy to quite a lot of what was being proposed for the year, and so I was waiting for the official launch (the now called Highlights Trailer) on the 30th of May which seems a bit of a damp squib now. But throughout the day as I read and re-read the document, I tried to take stock of the broader sweep of the year. The return of the Field Day theatre Company with a world premier of a new Sam Shepherd play, Jerusalem, actor Mark Rylance said to perform Shakespeare at An Grianan and former Dr. Who David Tennant in a new play about his Derry roots during the Siege jumped out at me as serious theatrical coups for the city, as well as the already known about Turner, the Royal Ballet and the London Symphony Orchestra. If you look at the arc of the year it would appear that the programmers are attempting to balance the year firmly at the more popular , bums on seats end of audience approval. In fact, it would appear to be everything that IMPACT 92* appeared not to do. That festival in Derry 21 years ago seems, at times, to be almost a spectre hanging over the programmers. It is raised as what the UK City of Culture cannot become, which is a rewriting of history, as it brought brilliant things to the city.
While that year sadly ran out of fizz and finance halfway through, there has long been a message given out that IMPACT 92 had too narrow a focus on what are seen as high arts and culture. But what high arts and culture ! I know people who still talk about events they saw during that year. The city was already riding high on being the place of international art in the shape of the Orchard Gallery and international theatre in Field Day.
While the Orchard Gallery is gone, two visual art galleries and young curators work within two gallery spaces to bring cutting-edge material to Derry - The Void and the newly-opened CCA Derry~Londonderry. It will be interesting to see what their role will be when the Turner Prize comes to the city next year and what the legacy of that visit will be locally.
Then we look at Field Day, with three new plays being premiered, one of which is by American writer and actor Sam Shepherd. That is a WOW factor. But sadly it's been an absence of nearly 20 years for a theatre company, which prided itself on being Derry-based and on bringing the world to the city. Back in the mid 90's when I was a placement student with Field Day, I stood in a former church on Great James Street with the Field Day board, looking at the potential of the space becoming a theatre where they could base themselves permanently. While this never happened, (and I wasn't involved in the discussions as to why it didn't), can you imagine the wealth of writing, acting, directing and producing talent, that could have been nurtured in a Field Day repertory theatre over the past two decades ?
So if there is to be a legacy (the big buzz word of the year), can we at least start housing our talent for 2014?