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Derry arts centres set for move and upgrade

Two of Londonderry’s cultural jewels look set to be upgraded and moved.

Plans are now under way to relocate the Verbal Arts Centre and the Void Gallery to more central locations as part of developing attractions beyond City of Culture 2013.

The Verbal Arts Centre will become an All-Ireland Centre for Literature and move from its Bishop Street site to the vacant St Columb’s Hall, between the Millennium Forum and Foyleside Centre. The contemporary Void art gallery will also move from its current underground location at the former shirt factory on Patrick Street to a new space at Waterloo Place.

Derry City Council’s visual arts organiser, Brendan McMenamin, told yesterday’s meeting of the Development Committee that Arts councils on both sides of the border had endorsed the plans.

Mr McMenamin said: “The Void was voted in the top 10 galleries in the UK.

“Moving it to a central location will mean it can be a huge attraction.”

He added that the new, more central art gallery would help in the ongoing regeneration of the lower city centre area.

The plans were unveiled in the council’s Arts & Culture Development Section Service Plan 2012/13 and Performance Report.

Two separate business cases for the capital projects are currently being advanced by the council in partnership with the Void and the Verbal Arts Centre.

Meanwhile a transnational bid for Cultural World Heritage Status in relation to the city’s sixth century founder St Cholmcille is also being pursued for Derry.

The bid centres on St Cholmcille’s importance in the development of the contemporary arts and culture, and his impact on the early medieval church in Western Europe.

Talks are already underway with King’s College in London and the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs to progress the project.

A Walled City Cultural Core masterplan to examine physical regeneration and culture infrastructure will also be undertaken to feed into the World Heritage bid.

Mr McMenamin said the past year has brought about the delivery of a number of important arts and culture initiatives.

This included an expanded St Patrick’s Day carnival in March, which he said was “certainly the biggest we have had to date”, attracting 15,000 people to the city, while the even larger Halloween celebrations were also growing in visitor and participation numbers.

The North West Carnival Initiative developed the programme for both festivals and have also helped to development a bid proposal to the City of Culture Capital Fund to transform a Rath Mor unit in Creggan into a carnival production facility.

Objectives and action plans for the coming year include progressing with the two capital cultural relocation projects and the heritage bid as well as promoting and managing St Columb’s Park Stadium as a major new events arena.

“Hopefully the City of Culture programme will utilise that as a facility, with the legacy that it will be a major events facility post 2013,” Mr McMenamin said.

Expanding the carnival facility with social enterprise activity for artists and communities at Rath Mor and creating a strategy for Derry and the North West with the Cultural Partnership Forum are also being prioritised.

The council will also assist the Culture Company with the Cholmcille pageant in 2013 and in the delivery of the Factory Girl sculpture at Harbour Square by July 2013.

Welcoming the progress to date and the plans for the future, chairwoman of the Development Committee Brenda Stevenson, said:

“We can’t now not deliver anything that is less than excellent because we have raised the expectations and raised the bar in relation to our festivals, carnivals and celebrations , especially after the Clipper festival.”

It emerged at the meeting that Derry City Council’s town clerk and chief executive Sharon O’Connor has called meetings involving Derry’s regeneration company Ilex and the Culture Company’s programmers to ensure there is a legacy for the city after 2013.

Story so far

The Verbal Arts Centre is an educational charity founded in 1992 and in 2000 moved to its current premises in the refurbished First Derry School, a listed building at the north western corner of the City’s Walls.

The Void is a contemporary art space with two gallery spaces, six studios, an education area and a conference room.

At present it hosts eight exhibitions per year, showing the work of established and high-profile international and Irish artists.

Belfast Telegraph