A university campus will take centre stage as a city looking to put its troubled past behind it celebrates being named the UK’s first City of Culture.
Londonderry is home to the University of Ulster’s Magee Campus. The institution was heavily involved in the successful bid for the City of Culture 2013 title, in which the city bested three English rivals for the inaugural honour.
“It has always been a very culturally reactive place, partly because it was oppressed for many years,” said Paul Moore, head of Ulster’s School of Creative Arts and Technology, which has its headquarters on campus.
“The university, and the school in particular, has long been a key player, alongside institutions such as community arts groups.”
He said the school “had a great deal of input” into the initial bid for the City of Culture title, and then into the “Digital Dialogue” and “Music Promise” strands of the programme.
The campus has already hosted this year’s Media, Communication, and Cultural Studies Association conference, which, according to Professor Moore, “brought in 200 academics who might not otherwise have come to Derry”.
He added: “They were staggered by what it has to offer, and how peaceful it is, despite what they see on the television.”
During the City of Culture year, the campus will also be used for events ranging from a choral festival to a symposium on the Ulster Gaelic Athletic Association.
Yet the university’s involvement goes far deeper.
Perhaps the most striking example of its participation is an interdisciplinary performance called The River Still Sings, which celebrates the 400th anniversary of the link between the walled cities of Londonderry and London, and the importance of the Foyle and the Thames rivers to their lives.
Professor Moore described it as “a full university production, from the chancellor down”.
Frank Lyons, director of the university’s Arts and Humanities Research Institute, wrote the score.
Professor Moore is responsible for sound and visual art, while the university’s chancellor - actor James Nesbitt - will read a new poem by Seamus Deane.
Premiering as part of the City of London Festival on 24 June, The River Still Sings will be performed in Londonderry the month after.
Also on the agenda are: a new oratorio, Columba Canticles, by Laurence Roman, lecturer in music at Ulster; Unseen, an exhibition by Turner Prize nominee Willie Doherty, professor of video art at Ulster; and an exhibition and seminar titled Stories of the Sea as a Supernatural Phenomenon, organised by researchers from the university’s School of Irish Language and Literature.
Meanwhile, over the spring and summer, final-year students of dance, design, drama, music and creative technologies will get a chance to showcase their work during the first Ulster Festival of Creative Arts.
Professor Moore said he hoped that the site-specific dramas and open-air dance performances would “almost confront people in the city into taking part”.
He added: “They should also help students get their heads round the creative industries. Many of the people coming to Derry while it is City of Culture are likely to be working in the field, so it’s a great opportunity to make contacts.”