Initiative Designated as ‘UK City for Culture’ for 2013, this N. Ireland metropolis is exhibiting its rich history, creativity, talent and heritage. Aruna Chandaraju

Derry-Londonderry in the United Kingdom, is a very proud city. It has recently been selected the inaugural ‘UK City of Culture’ and will hold this title for 2013. For the uninitiated, ‘UK City of Culture’ is a designation given to one city in the country for a period of one year. The idea behind this recent UK Government initiative, is to provide a boost to the arts and culture of that region in particular - and the whole country in general - and also to ensure spillover economic and social benefits for the chosen area.

This year's title is for a deserving city, Londonderry, which is in Northern Ireland and boasts of a rich cultural history. And it comes at an appropriate time, 2013 is the 400th anniversary of the city's founding.

Actually Derry, officially known as Londonderry (and also colloquially referred to as Derry-Londonderry), has reasons for pride. It has a lot of historical significance, being the only remaining completely intact walled city in Ireland and one of the best examples of a walled city in Europe! It was also the last walled city to be built on this continent. These walls make up the largest monument in state care in Northern Ireland, and one saw the landmarks in a walk through the city.

Londonderry is also one of Ireland's oldest inhabited counties with scholars saying that though the earliest historical references can be traced to the sixth century, it had people living in the surroundings for thousands of years prior to that.

Now, throughout 2013, Derry is the platform for a massive cultural display: a staggering 170 festivals and events. Dance and music that covers a variety of genres, including individual and group performances; live demonstrations of crafts; poetry-reading sessions; public talks, discussions and workshops related to the arts and the city's history; art shows (paintings, photographs, pottery, etc.) at galleries; theatre; comedy shows and much more will be showcased. Besides, there are events specifically designed for children and young adults. Some shows have tickets, while the rest are free.

Expensive show

While in Derry, one saw both kinds. The pricey show, ‘The Poet and the Piper,’ featured Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney, accompanied by a musician on the pipes and flute.

During the walks at street corners, one listened to musicians for free that included vocalists, flautists and violinists. Stopping at a small coffee shop for beverages, one found harpists and flautists playing quietly, melodiously in a corner of the room.

These were only a small part of the rich tapestry of events that one can explore this year at Derry. The variety on the Derry culture platter includes the annual festival, The Beatles Fest; a Craft Month, featuring contemporary craft in Northern Ireland with the theme, ‘The Culture of Making’ and focussing on designer-makers of the region and the influences on their work; and also a programme titled, ‘Comedy from Science and Vice-Versa,’ by Dr. Dean Burnett, a well-known scientist-comedian. The city's Tower Museum is also curating, ‘The History of Derry in 100 Objects’.

Fun events and religious themes are also lined up. So there is a Zombie Walk where participants will walk around dressed as zombies. A tour of local churches organised by the Ulster Historic Churches Trust in collaboration with Derry-Londonderry Churches, aimed at making people understand the rich legacy of the city’s ecclesiastical heritage, followed by an informative talk on how to preserve these buildings.

Sports tournaments also find a place on the calendar of events, so there are, for example, a basketball tournament and also an extreme free fall adventure called Adrenalin Drop, where one experiences a rapid 100 feet free fall followed by a gentle landing.

The city was overflowing with people – both residents and thousands of outsiders including artists, who had come from neighbouring cities, London and different places of Europe and they flocked to the various venues to savour the cultural extravaganza. Crowds thronged the open-air stages where musicians were playing. The media was also descending in droves.

With so many events, there is need for as many platforms. This has meant innovative use of spaces. So besides, the conventional platforms such as auditoriums, galleries and the Craft Village, there are performances in bars, restaurants, shopping centres, and even on the streets.