Political editor Jon Walker looks at the economic and social benefits of Birmingham becoming the first UK City of Culture.
Birmingham must explain how it will use the arts to improve the quality of life for residents if it hopes to win the battle to become the UK’s first City of Culture, according to the man who will help decide the winner.
The Department of Culture, Media and Sport announced this week that Birmingham will be up against 13 rivals in its bid to host the first City of Culture festival in 2013.
But it cannot depend on its world-class institutions, such as the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Birmingham Royal Ballet, to win the prize, warned writer Phil Redmond, who will chair the judging panel.
Mr Redmond, creator of Brookside and Grange Hill, oversaw the 2008 Capital of Culture festival in his home city of Liverpool, which is said to have bought in more than £1 billion to the city.
This was a European-wide accolade, but the Government has created its own UK version, called the City of Culture, in the hopes of repeating Liverpool’s success elsewhere.
Although 22 entries were initially received, eight have dropped out, leaving Birmingham in a contest with Hull, Norwich, Durham and others.
The definition of “city” has been stretched to allow entries from Cornwall and a joint bid from Portsmouth and Southampton.
Speaking to the Birmingham Post, Mr Redmond said: “Everybody will be judged against the same thing.
“It is really about what’s going to be the step change within the city. It’s economic regeneration. Its confidence.
“There are small amounts of money to be invested and yet the gains are huge.”
Existing cultural institutions could play a major role but would not win a bid, he said.
“If you’ve got those resources and assets available to you, you might be in a better position as a city, but it’s how you use them.
“It’s also about how you engage the community – how you spread culture. Are you broadening the reach? Increasing the black and ethnic minority take-up, the diversity?”
There will be no funding for the winning city, although the BBC has told the Government it will cover events, providing valuable free publicity.
But Mr Redmond said Liverpool had benefited economically, even though it also received no money for its own year in the spotlight.
“Liverpool has renewed its confidence, because it rediscovered what it used to be, and that’s a very strong cultural city.
“You only have to look across the arts, and see how it punches above its weight. It’s about giving people confidence to push their ideas forward.”
Culture had been used to bring £1 billion of private investment into the Liverpool ONE shopping centre, and £150 million into a new arena and £70 million into a new museum, he said.
Culture minister Margaret Hodge suggested money could be diverted from existing funding sources to support City of Culture events.
“Given where we are in public finances, it would be absurd to pretend we could find new money.
“So what we’ve said is that we want all the culture funders to focus their activity around the City of Culture.”
Birmingham will find out if it has made it to the final short list of four in March. If successful, it will then need to submit a final, detailed bid by May 28.
In the meantime, Coun Martin Mullaney, Birmingham City Council’s cabinet member for leisure sport and culture, is trying to ensure as many people as possible are involved.
A website, www.canvasbirmingham.com, has been set up giving residents the chance to suggest activities they would like to see, take part in or organise. There is also a Facebook group, created independently but supported by the council, for young people to discuss the bid.
Proposals so far include staging a live recreation of Take Me High – a 1973 film shot in Birmingham, in which Cliff Richard sang his way around such landmarks as Gas Street Basin, the Council House and Spaghetti Junction.
Coun Mullaney said: “We want to use the City of Culture to get more people involved in culture. We will bring arts out into the suburbs.”