City of Culture launch threatened by row

Published Wednesday, 10 October 2012
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As the start of Londonderry's City of Culture celebrations approaches, UTV Live Tonight asks if the organisers are prepared for the mammoth year ahead.

City of Culture launch threatened by row
Derry's Ebrington site where the Culture Company was based. (© UTV)

The countdown to the launch is threatened to be overshadowed by an internal row.

In 2010, Derry found out it had been awarded as the first UK City of Culture in the poignant backdrop of the Saville Report. The award emphasised the potential for a cultural city moving from conflict to peace.

As soon as the initial excitement passed, preparations got underway with Derry City Council overseeing the whole project.

With just over 80 days to go, a rift with the Culture Company, the body set up to programme and promote the year's events, has rocked preparations.

The Culture Company's marketing staff have been ordered to move from their offices in the revamped Ebrington Barrack's to the City Council Offices.

The move was revealed in leaked letters from the Council chief executive Sharon O'Connor to the Culture Company.

She insisted this is a realignment- not a takeover by the council.

We've been making some changes in terms of operational reorientating our resources to the challenge ahead of us and really there has been no need for all this upset.

Derry Council chief executive

She added: "We're now in full mode in terms of preparation towards the launch on the 25th".

The leaked letters revealed Ms O'Connor has had concerns with the Culture Company's marketing for up to eight months.

City of Culture should attract thousands of visitors to the city, placing it permanently on the cultural map.

But there have been frustrations within local businesses and tourism sectors.

Tour guide Martin McCrossan said he had heard of "rumblings" as to whether the city was being marketed correctly.

"Obviously they had some concerns, and they have made a decision and we'll just go with that decision now. I'm quite confident that we're all going to be very busy next year," he said.

Mark Durkan, MP for Foyle said: "Local venues are saying that they're not fully informed or involved with what's happening, they don't know how to plan, what to plan or whatever.

"So there have been issues like that- those aren't negative criticisms, those are frustrated ambitions."

The Culture Company's Communication manager Garbhan Downey will not be making the move to council offices as the council has suspended the former newspaper editor and novelist from his post- the reasons haven't been made public.

He is now taking legal advice in relation to his suspension and has publically stated he believed the move was engineered by the city council to gain access to the £multimillion budget.

This has been totally rejected by the chief executive of the council, who has called the accusation "naïve".

"The money that has been awarded by DCAL has been awarded within the context of a letter of offer to Derry City Council," Ms O'Connor said.

"The content of the letter of offer is itemized and detailed in terms of what DCAL want that money to be spent on and I am accountable for making sure that that happens in the way DCAL anticipate and expect."

But despite these managerial conflicts, both the Council and City of Culture organisers are looking forward to the launch.

Martin Bradley, chair of the Culture Company is adamant they will get it right.

He said: "We have now moved from the planning stage on to delivery so this project has gone now from being aspirational to operational and it is time now to just enjoy it now for the next 12 months."

Wednesday's announcement from the Arts Council that £1 million is being funded towards 18 events for the City of Culture Programme, including a Undertones musical has helped focus attention on the positive potential for 2013 for the city and Northern Ireland as a tourist destination.

© UTV News
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2 Comments
Séan in Belfast wrote (800 days ago):
Derry's year of shame. No longer an Irish city. Absolute disgrace.
NIC in Belfast wrote (800 days ago):
Derry does not have to worry about being put on the map with the negative incidents that have happened over the past few months. They need to sort this out first for the sake of the cities real people so that they can benefit instead of the criminals getting all the publicity. Visitors need to be made feel safe aswell as being made feel welcome. Good luck.
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