To Hanoi, and beyond!

To Hanoi, and beyond!

To Hanoi, and beyond!

John Peto blog

On a recent working visit to Hanoi, I found myself immersed in the world of science, public art and cultural exchange. What caught me off guard was that despite the massive difference in scale, geography and culture, there are striking parallels between the experiences of Hanoi and Derry…

Enter Our Place in Space

I was in Hanoi because of the Nerve Centre’s Our Place in Space project, designed by artist Oliver Jeffers and astrophysicist Professor Stephen Smartt. The project played a leading part in the British Council’s UK/Viet Nam season — a celebration of three decades of educational and cultural exchange between the UK and Viet Nam.

Our Place in Space, a recreation of our solar system (scaled at 591 million to one), gained prominence after a highly successful UK tour, drawing over 1 million visitors. The 8km trail and accompanying learning and community events programme, aim to provoke curiosity about space and meaningful conversations on the future of our planet in a fun, engaging, & interactive way.

A Cosmic Collaboration

The Viet Nam connection was made possible by a strategic connection with the British Council and our partnership with Think Playgrounds, an innovative Hanoi-based NGO dedicated to repurposing urban spaces as play areas for children, that was instrumental in bringing Our Place in Space to Hanoi.

Their pioneering ethos and can-do approach matched the Nerve Centre's mission and culture, and together with other partners, including the Viet Nam National Space Centre and Nha Nam publishers, we successfully brought the trail and surrounding programme to Hanoi, engaging hundreds of thousands of visitors of all ages.

Sharing Cultural Insights

As well as the Our Place in Space project, I was also invited to share learnings from Derry~Londonderry’s City of Culture experience at Hanoi’s Creative Design Festival Conference. As part of a Northern Irish delegation, we engaged artists and officials across two days, underlining the economic and community development power of creativity.

Eager to build global connections since joining UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network in 2019, Hanoi welcomed our insider perspective and shared their experiences with us. We met local administrators to discuss the role of creative and cultural skills development as part of wider community and economic development strategies. We also shared knowledge with over 100 artists and practitioners on ways to spur public and civic engagement through arts and culture-led activity.

We discovered a shared mission with Hanoi — to place arts and culture at the core of the city's identity and global outreach.

The Reinvention and Resurgence of Two Cities

On the surface, Hanoi's population of over 6 million may seem worlds apart from Derry. Underneath this dizzying urban development beats a heart of resourcefulness and resilience. The spirit here is not one of passive observation but of active engagement — a can-do culture that thrives on making things happen, instead of waiting for them to happen to you.

Despite the geographical differences that set them apart, it's the shared tenacious, roll-up-your-sleeves attitude of the people in these post-conflict cities that binds them together. I encountered a familiar sense of local ownership and pride. Both cities have walked the painful road of reinvention yet emerged with an ironclad community spirit.

The ability to harness the power of arts and culture to transform adversity into a source of community identity, connection and empowerment is something that can transcend borders and resonate globally.

A Lasting Impact

It was a privilege to collaborate with our partners in Hanoi and immerse myself in their vibrant city. Seeing how children from Hanoi interacted with Oliver Jeffers’ sculptures with the same joy and curiosity as those in Derry, Belfast and beyond powerfully underlined the commonality of creativity, learning and exploration and the power of art to connect and communicate.

In the vast sprawl of our planet, it is these shared experiences and reactions that remind us all that we are really all very much the same, no matter how different we seem.

Earth & Moon

By John Peto, Head of Strategic Projects