Birmingham is a step closer to being crowned the UK’s City of Culture after it made it onto a shortlist announced this week. Arts Editor Lorne Jackson looks at what benefits the title could bring.
As Birmingham takes a crucial step towards being crowned the UK’s City of Culture, it has now been charged with celebrating its own rich mythology.
The city can also look forward to hosting the BAFTAs, Brits and MTV awards if it wins the coveted award.
A shortlist of four was announced this week, and Birmingham has been matched against Norwich, Derry and Sheffield to host the UK’s first City of Culture festival in 2013. The accolade could be worth £200 million to the winning bid, with more money coming to the city through other investments.
City council leaders want to avoid a repeat of Birmingham’s failure to win the similar European Capital of Culture contest, which ended in defeat to Liverpool in 2008.
Coun Martin Mullaney, chairman of Birmingham Cultural Partnership, set up to bid for the title, said: “To be in the final four is just brilliant news.
“We are up against considerable opposition, now we’re down to this stage, but I don’t think Birmingham should be worried, because our bid is strong and we have such a lot to offer as a city.”
He said that winning the award would provide an excellent opportunity to celebrate the city’s ‘myths’.
“Liverpool and Manchester are so much better at celebrating their ‘cultural mythology’,” he said. “But we never really look at ours. We know about our industrial heritage, but what about the cultural one?
“Great heavy metal bands and reggae bands have come out of this area. So I’d be hoping to get UB40 and Robert Plant involved in our plans for being City of Culture.”
The bid was put together by the Birmingham Cultural Partnership (BCP), including the city council.
If Birmingham wins it will cost the city £20 million, with the council paying a quarter of the costs, and the rest being spread through the partnership, plus sponsors and ticket sales.
But Coun Mullaney said the long term benefits would be considerable, estimating a £200 million profit from an increase in visitors to the city.
And overall economic benefits through job creation could be up to £800 million.
Coun Mullaney added: “It’s not really about the profit, though. We want to make a real change to Birmingham.
“If we win, there is talk of relocating the Brits, BAFTAs and MTV Awards to the city for the year we would be the City of Culture.
“We’re also getting a lot of local celebrities involved, including Frank Skinner, Jasper Carrott, Lenny Henry and Jamelia. Being the City Of Culture is an opportunity to celebrate our culture.
“We know about our industrial heritage, but our cultural one is just as important. It also says so much about our future.”
Alan Mahar, one of the leading cultural figures in the city is also behind the idea. Mr Mahar, the publishing director of Tindal Street Press, said: “I was born and raised in Liverpool, before coming to this part of England. And even with my background, I thought that Birmingham should have beaten Liverpool in the contest for European Capital of Culture.
“This city has so much to offer. Any excuse to draw attention to Birmingham is a good idea.
“For too long in the past Birmingham has been dismissed, ignored and marginalised. But this would make us centre stage, which is where we really aught to be.”
Norwich: During the 11th century Norwich was the second largest city in England, after London, and one of the most important places in the kingdom. This is no longer the case. Now it’s famous for being the most important place in the kingdom visited by Alan Partridge, the cheesy TV comedy character, who hosted a show on radio Norwich. The city does have one other claim to fame. Sale of The Century was broadcast ‘live’ from there in the ‘70s, with Nicholas Parsons as host. It has Stephen Fry as its cultural ambassador.
Derry/Londonderry: Apart from the naming disputes, Derry (Londonderry) has managed to produce a very fine pop band, The Undertones, whose lead singer, Feargal Sharkey was known for his tremulous vocals, which made him sound like he was gargling water. He is backing the bid. Seamus Heaney, the Nobel Prize winning poet is also from the area.
Sheffield: Like Birmingham, Sheffield has a proud industrial heritage. A strong competitor in the race, the city is best known for producing bands such as Arctic Monkeys and Pulp. The city also has several major orchestras and has the largest theatre complex outside London. Actor Sean Bean is supporting the city’s bid.