Liverpool has benefitted enormously from its year in the spotlight as European Capital of Culture.
As well as receiving significant publicity and attracting millions of visitors, the city received a major confidence boost from the recognition that it had more to offer the world than the Beatles, however prestigious they may be.
Birmingham’s experience of bidding for Capital of Culture status was less happy.
Not only was its entry unsuccessful, but a post-mortem once the contest was over uncovered significant unhappiness with the way the bid had been handled.
This should not prevent the city from trying again, and accepting Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw’s invitation to apply for the role of Britain’s first City of Culture.
The new Government scheme is effectively the same as the European Capital of Culture project, but without Europe. It may not, therefore, carry quite the same level of prestige. However, the reality is that Capital of Culture was never more than a label.
There was no real money attached, and no guarantee of support from the Government or arts institutions.
This support did emerge, but it was because the bodies involved chose to get behind Liverpool and help it succeed, not because of the European dimension.
There is no reason Birmingham could not take the City of Culture label and use it to promote the city in a similar way.
A bid needs to follow widespread consultation about what a City of Culture ought to look like, to ensure arts organisations and businesses are firmly on board. This would bring major benefits in its own right. While we naturally want to enter the process in a positive frame of mind, it’s a simple statement of fact that there will be a number of candidates and only one winner.
Birmingham should not enter the contest on the assumption that we must win – and that failure to do so would be a disaster.
Rather, the bid itself should be seen as an opportunity to focus minds and bring people together.
It may be that a detailed analysis of what Birmingham could achieve as Capital of Culture would raise many issues that could be resolved whether the bid is successful or not. It could also be an opportunity to get the city’s cultural organisations talking to each other and to the city council more than they do at present.
There’s no reason Birmingham should not be the UK’s first City of Culture. Win, lose or draw, this is a contest the city should enter.