AS Derry’s remarkable year as City of Culture closes, those of us who delivered the cultural programme can reflect.
A platform has been provided for the cultural community within the city.
Derry is proud of its visual arts community and heritage, and in 2013 its output has been comparable to anything in Ireland or in the UK.
Derry’s cultural programme was spearheaded by Turner Prize 2013. Presented on the site of a former army barracks in Ebrington, the Turner Prize has been an unprecedented success: 40,000 people have visited the exhibition, the prize’s most successful ever.
Transplanting the biggest event in the UK’s art calendar from its usual environment, at Tate Britain in London, to Ebrington, has been an epic undertaking.
Outside of England for the first time, the Turner Prize is in a new gallery built for it.
As you stand in the gallery and engage with the works of the four nominated artists, it’s staggering to think that until two years ago the gallery site was invisible, behind barriers and cut-off from the city.
That 40,000 people are now making their way into Ebrington to see a contemporary art exhibition tells the new story of the city in a microcosm: transition from a city of conflict to a city of culture.
It has been phenomenal to be one of the curators of Turner Prize 2013.
There have certainly been challenges. Opening up a new gallery with an education programme and staff, and having it function like a pre-existing art space, from the day it opened, has been a herculean task, but rewarding.
Every exhibition is dependent on the artists involved, and we have seen a strong and diverse shortlist of artists, who embraced the relocation of the Turner Prize to Derry and produced exceptional exhibitions.
The installations of two of the artists, David Shrigley and Tino Sehgal, involve interaction and allow the city to be part of the Turner Prize participation, but in quite different ways.
Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s exhibition is a series of seductive paintings of great subtlety. The winning piece, Laure Prouvost’s multi-layered installation, creates an atmospheric environment with a fractured narrative that flits between reality and imagination. Audiences found it utterly compelling.
In a wider context, the City of Culture year has provided the catalyst for a surge of activity and creativity in all the art spaces across the city, and the creative energy unleashed by local artists and international artists alike has had a massively positive impact on Derry.
At VOID gallery, of which I am manager, we have seen a substantial increase in the numbers coming through our door for the high-calibre programme that we delivered in 2013, which included Candice Breitz, Mark Wallinger and Santiago Sierra. That experience has been reflected across the city.
A major retrospective of Willie Doherty’s work, UNSEEN, has garnered outstanding reviews, and exhibitions by Rita Duffy, Jonathan Cummins and the Centre for Contemporary Art have also seen hitherto unprecedented footfall.
Now, we must build upon what has been achieved in 2013, not just in visual arts, but right across the cultural spectrum. Derry has established itself as a city with a cultural offering that is disproportionate to its size, and that momentum must be maintained.
The issue of the future use of the Turner Prize Gallery needs to be addressed immediately.
It would be a tragedy if it were not to be retained as a visual arts space.
The gains of 2013 required a massive collective effort and a leap of faith from the entire city.
Derry was a city of culture before it ever received official recognition and it will remain one long after 2013.
But it is imperative that the level of vision and belief that has gone into delivering the City of Culture year is also applied to securing a legacy that befits it.
* Maoliosa Boyle is one of the curators of Turner Prize 2013 and manager of Void Gallery, in Derry.
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