Gearing up for a Highland fling

Highland is already getting ready for a very special year, celebrating the local people, culture and heritage. So, roll on 2007! Miranda Fettes reports

ext year may be the year of the pig - a time in Chinese culture to concentrate on completing unfinished tasks, instead of embarking on new endeavours - but for the Highlands it marks a torrent of activity in a celebration of local life and culture.

"The aim of Highland 2007 is to promote the region as a great place to live and to visit," says the council's marketing and communications manager, Alison Bell.

"It's a year-long programme featuring community events to regional events and an international programme that will draw focus to the Highlands."

It will involve events across Scotland that incorporate a Highland theme, such as Celtic Connections and the Edinburgh International Festival. It will also deliver the "Highland promise", which guarantees every primary and secondary pupil in the area access to at least one cultural event.

This makes Highland the first authority in the country to deliver the Scottish Executive's pledge of a cultural entitlement for every citizen.

The Culture Minister, Patricia Ferguson, has provided pound;125,000 for the council to implement the spearheading project.

Highland 2007 is managed by a partnership of the Scottish Executive, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and the Highland Council. It has state backing of Pounds 13 million, including funding allocated through EventScotland, VisitScotland and the Scottish Arts Council.

It kicks off in Inverness on January 12. An t-Seann Bliadhn' tr (the old new year) has been chosen for the launch, as it marks the end of the year prior to the change to the Gregorian calendar in the 18th century.

There are six strands - arts, heritage, language, sport, the environment and science - focusing on seven themes: youth, Gaelic, creativity, Highland homecoming, access and inclusiveness, reinterpretation of traditional icons and the Highlands as an inspirational place.

Dozens of events and projects are planned, including world championships in Highland games, adventure racing and mountain biking, modernisation of the Culloden Battlefield visitor attraction, the Celtic Film and Television Festival, the Mod, an International Tattoo, the Blas traditional music festival, a festival of design in Scotland's six cities and a quest to create and stage a new musical in various venues, including Inverness, Fort William and Skye.

A flagship exhibition is being created by the National Museums, National Galleries and National Library of Scotland in collaboration with Highland-based organisations. Designed to reflect "the roots, values and cultural heritage of a creative and free-thinking people", Fonn 's Duthchas (Land and Heritage) will celebrate aspects of Highland cultural life, past and present.

Gordon Rintoul, the director of the National Museums of Scotland, says:

"NMS will lend a fascinating selection of iconic objects from the national collections and will draw on our extensive curatorial, education and conservation expertise to aid the development of this unique exhibition."

Objects will be selected to illustrate the relationships between the land and people, the skill and artistry of successive generations and how the themes of Highland history impact on people today.

The exhibition, which will open in Inverness in January and tour Scotland during the year, will also explore the influence of Highland identity and culture on nations around the world through emigration.

There is vast educational scope, says Miss Bell. Grants of up to pound;30,000 are available for community projects, many with a children's or school focus. Caithness Junior Pipe Band has been awarded pound;4,000 to promote ceilidh dancing in village halls and stimulate interest among young people. Nairn Children's Art Club will receive pound;8,000 to develop a community celebration project. A further pound;7,000 has gone to the PTA of Miller Academy Primary in Thurso to provide all the pupils with the opportunity to work and perform with the Caithness handbell ringers, resulting in a CD of new songs.

The main strand of Highland 2007 for children, however, is its cultural pledge. Each school group will be able to choose from a menu of options.

"It might be theatre skills at the National Theatre of Scotland or a workshop with the Scottish Symphony Orchestra," says Miss Bell, "or it might be recordings which will go into a BBC radio programme to be broadcast on Radio Highland once a week during 2007.

"There is a long list and things are changing by the day."

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