UK City of Culture 2017 – the bidders Part 1

Mon 15th April, 2013 @ 3:14pm by studiorokit

The clock is ticking down and as the deadline looms for all contenders to submit their bids it’s time to take a quick look at Leicester’s competition for the UK City of Culture 2017 crown. The long-list has some great cities vying for the gong and if there’s one thing we can all be sure of, the competition will bring out the very best the bidders has to offer and in the process, help each of them rediscover who they are and what their culture actually is. When you think about it, it’s actually not a bad idea all this City of Culture malarky, it’s like sitting on the analysts couch for cities and sometimes they need it.

The long list covers the length and breadth of the UK meaning that what’s on offer will (we all hope) be as varied and as interesting and vibrant as possible. So, who’s on the list? Here’ they are in glorious alphabetical order: Aberdeen, Chester, Dundee, East Kent (covering Ashford, Canterbury, Dover, Folkestone and Thanet), Hastings and Bexhill on Sea, Hull, Leicester, Plymouth, Portsmouth and Southampton, Southend on Sea, and Swansea Bay (covering Swansea, Carmarthenshire, Neath, and Port Talbot). As you can see, the list does indeed cover a lot of ground and in the case of the bids from both East Kent and Swansea Bay, they cover huge areas not just cities. Now, this could be seen as a little odd as both of these bids are almost regional rather than city based but I’m sure the organisers and all of those involved are happy with the interpretation.

So, onto the first UK City of Culture 2017 contender…

Like a lot of the cities in the race, Aberdeen has some big, high profile names backing them, in Aberdeen’s case they’ve got the Big Yin himself, the multi-talented, endlessly morphing Billy Conolly. In a recent interview he seems to allude to the Aberdeen bid buy saying “Aberdeen becoming UK City of Culture would be a great thing. In addition to its many other cultural attributes, the heritage of traditional music and ballads in Aberdeen and the north east is outstanding and deserves wider recognition. I hope this can be achieved.” Of course, on top of this Aberdeen’s heritage owes a lot to it’s sea faring ways, it’s recent history points to a time when it was one of the largest fishing ports in the UK which in turn brought about it’s own unique culture that industry and commerce always stirs up in working cities. This musical bent is further reinforced by Dame Evelyn Glennie also nailing her various percussive instruments to the mast. So, Aberdeen, along with the usual mix of all thing Scottish, we’re safe to assume, will be putting forward a bid that aims to make a lot of noise.

For a lot of people, Chester means only one thing – Hollyoaks. Now, that in itself would be reason enough to let them win just so they can refocus people’s perception of their city but thankfully, for a lot of other, more enlightened people, Chester has a lot of other things to be proud of. Like Leicester, Cheater has a big Roman history and over the years has been a focal point for power and commerce. It’s medieval city walls stunning cathedral offer the kind of backdrop that the locals and the tourists love in equal measure but to keep one foot in the modern era they’re also a Fair Trade city (how progressive is that!). Chester, owing to it’s charming good looks is a coach tour destination town and perhaps because of this and their awareness of what tourism means and how to promote the best of what they have, they have a better appreciation of what this competition can do and it’s transformative effect. Culture minister Ed Vaizey, attending a 2 day LGA conference hit the nail on the head when he said: “Culture encourages tourism, inward investment and creates a better place for people to live.” He welcomed Chester’s bid to become UK City of Culture in 2017 and told delegates: “Chester is using cultural investment as a catalyst for inward investment.” There’s no doubt, Chester have the good looks and the smarts but the real question is can they bring something new and vibrant to the table?

Like Aberdeen, Dundee has a long history that, like many UK cities in their post industrial guise have seen the glow come of their crown and like Aberdeen it too has it’s big names doing everything to put a shine on it. Dundee has Hollywood’s own Brian Cox (not to be confused with the fashionable to fancy Dr. Brian Cox, part scientist, part dire 90′s pop peddler) and Lorraine Kelly blowing their respective trumpets. Dundee has been experiencing a bit of a renaissance over the last few years and its reinvention has seen big things happening around the city. Dundee publisher D.C. Thompson always had a an effect on UK culture that far exceeded the borders of Dundee as it printed The Beano, The Dandy and now, strangely owns Friends Reunited, the prefacebook facebook, but now this city is firing on all cylinders. The centrepiece is the ship Discovery and the Discovery Point Museum, a burgeoning cultural sector that has attracted upcoming ‘V&A at Dundee’ which will undoubtably make the city visible to both national and international visitors, the Dundee Rep Theatre which continues to crank out award wining shows and Dundee Contemporary Arts which has a reputation for cutting edge art exhibits and programme of international cinema. In short, it appears Dundee has already rediscovered itself, it’s now on a mission to make sure the rest of us rediscover it to.

East Kent (covering Ashford, Canterbury, Dover, Folkestone and Thanet)
It’s a strange bidding area, wide a sprawling, not a city, so perhaps it’s fitting to have support from a couple of people who have always gone their own way, odd-bod design noodler Wayne Hemingway and the Architect Sir David Chipperfield. Sir David know’s the value of culture and said “The creative revival that I have witnessed in east Kent – and had the pleasure of playing a part in through my work with Turner Contemporary in Margate – is truly astonishing. The area stands as a shining example of the positive role arts and culture can play in driving economic regeneration and social growth.” And he’s right of course. Kent and the surrounding area has had a rich history. A natural home to the real UK beer, Kent has hops on the blood and is the home to. Caterbury‘s history stretches back in to the mists of time and is now in part protected by UNESCO and like Chester has stunning architecture and is the type of tourist destination that warm summer days were made for. Thomas Becket’s murder there put it firmly on the map back in 1170 and its cathedral was a destination for pious Christians across Europe, then there’s Kent County Cricket Ground a destination for pilgrims of another type. As with Chester, the East Kent bid has the backdrop that well developed cities just don’t have, but could its wide, bucolic bid area be more of a curse than a blessing?

Hastings and Bexhill on Sea
Hastings is made of history. Few places in the UK have played such an important role in the very shaping of our nation. Our modern Britain was born a thousand years ago in 1066 in this important port. The battle of Hastings was a truly formative event, Saxon rule fell and the Norman kings took control, we became a new nation and Hastings became a real town in 1069. It became one of the ‘Cinque Ports‘ further cementing it’s importance and significantly connecting the UK to the continent and more specifically France and for a time at the end of the 1800, was one of the singularly most popular ‘health’ resorts in the UK. Of course, things have changed a lot since then, it’s no longer a big, important port. It’s now just a small, well presented south coast town that does that seaside thing that only British towns can do. Well looked after Deco architecture rubs along with well preserved Victorian Gothic, funicular railways (they have 2!) still grab the tourists attention and Victorian seafront properties get the kind of longing, misty-eyed looks from passers by normally reserved for good looking specimens of the opposite sex. Since 1920 Hastings has hosted the Hastings International Chess Congress and as a testament to its global importance in the world of table top battle, is that every World Champion before Garry Kasparov except Bobby Fischer played at the Hastings congress. But here’s the rub, perhaps this year Hastings is out of it’s league. It’s playing a game with some bigger, more experienced players, ones that have cut their teeth in the modern era and have, at least at a quick glance, fancier moves more to offer.

Well, there you have it. It’s hard to encapsulate what each of the cities really have to offer in such a short space but this tiny taster gives us a quick feel for some of the things that might be used to theme their bids.

In part two it’s the remaining bidders for UK City of Culture 2017 – Hull, Plymouth, Portsmouth and Southampton, Southend on Sea, and Swansea Bay. How will they stack up or more importantly how will Leicester’s bid fair against theirs? We’ll see.

Got an opinion on how Leicester stacks up against these odds – let us know.

The post UK City of Culture 2017 – the bidders Part 1 appeared first on Studio ROKIT.



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