Ian Streets, Managing Director of About accesslooks at the demand for culture and the need to embrace inclusivity
Whether in response to Brexit, Covid or any other source of uncertainty, the decision of a record number of places to bid to become the UK City of Culture 2025 is turning heads a bit.
There were 14 expressions of interest for the inaugural competition, which awarded the 2013 event to Derry-Londonderry. Hull overcame 12 rivals to host the 2017 edition and there were 10 challengers in Coventry to become the 2021 destination.
Now, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) assesses the respective merits of 20 candidates.
We won’t list them all here, but they come from England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, and in addition to cities they include partnerships, such as Torbay and Exeter, and regions whole. The Borderlands region comprising Dumfries and Galloway, Scottish Borders, Northumberland, Cumbria and Carlisle City will probably need the longest letterhead!
This clamor for culture is no doubt triggered in part by the strong figures reported by previous hosts, including 5.3million visits to Hull and £100million of capital investment to support cultural projects in Coventry.
But with such realization comes responsibility. The title does not go to the candidate with the best cultural offer. Applicants should demonstrate how they intend to use culture to drive transformation through social, cultural and economic regeneration. And thereafter, the winner will see his homework corrected when the evaluation is published.
Make cities more accessible
Our priority is accessibility. We are pleased to see signs of progress as the City of Culture moves from destination to destination, and we are also encouraged to see growing recognition that more can be done.
The biggest question mark after Hull 2017 was legacy and many in the city still feel that this aspect has not been achieved, although it can rightfully claim to have been hit by unforeseen circumstances to shape his future.
The hugely successful volunteer program is being relaunched and the final evaluation report, finally revised and published earlier this year after a preliminary study in 2018, itself highlights some lessons learned. .
An engagement program has been created with partners including Hull & East Riding Institute for the Blind. Training on self-confidence for people with disabilities was part of the volunteer management. A year-long program of artist commissions, exhibitions, interventions and other events tackled the stigma around disability arts.
Audience data showed that significant progress had been made in engaging audiences “somewhat limited” by a health condition or disability, but that more work needed to be done to reach those who were “a lot limited” . In Hull, this section has a higher than average proportion of residents and the report notes that a longer-term approach is needed to build trust and commitment.
We were therefore delighted to work with the Hull Museums and Galleries team and facilitate consultation sessions with representatives of groups of persons with disabilities on how to make the premises, displays and exhibitions more accessible. Above and beyond anything else, it showed that Hull saw its City of Culture year as a journey, not a destination.
Coventry’s commitment included appointing a disability and inclusion officer and launching a program to equip creatives with the knowledge and strategies to respond to audiences with different needs. Workshops are planned to cover conditions such as visual impairments, hearing impairments, learning disabilities, dementia and homebound audiences.
The Coventry assessment will no doubt be essential reading for cities progressing to the shortlist for 2025, and the 20 applicants can be expected to consider all aspects of the current scheme as they work towards a January deadline to submit their final applications.
In announcing its long list, the DCMS set out a wide range of criteria and directions, including working with local, national and international partners, committing to innovation, having the capacity to deliver a program and maximize inheritance.
It highlights the need to develop innovative ways to open up access to culture and engage a wide range of audiences, visitors and participants. It also asks candidates what steps they propose to take to expand diversity in leadership, governance and partnerships.
So you don’t need to win the UK City of Culture competition to have the opportunity to put diversity at the heart of your community’s cultural offering, from influencers and decision makers to producers, performers, participants and audiences.
Our hope is that successful applicants and fellow applicants learn from each other, share their experiences, and refine what they can offer to make culture the big winner.
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