Birmingham weighs up bid for UK City of Culture status
Jul 15 2009 By Jonathan Walker
Birmingham has been urged to bid for the title of Britain’s first City of Culture - after losing out to Liverpool in a contest for a similar accolade.
Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw said he hoped Birmingham or the Birmingham “city region”, including neighbouring towns and cities, would apply for the prestigious award.
The winning city would host major events such as the Brits and the Turner Prize, and enjoy free publicity worth up to £200 million, Mr Bradshaw said.
Marketing Birmingham, the council-backed organisation which promotes the city across the world, said it would “carefully consider” whether to launch a bid.
The Government has launched its own national city of culture scheme, following the success of the European Capital of Culture event in Liverpool, last year.
A year-long festival attracted 3.5 million new visitors and boosted the Merseyside economy by an estimated £800 million.
Liverpool won the Capital of Culture title following a competition in which it beat rivals such as Birmingham, which had also submitted a bid.
The contest proved to be a bruising affair for Birmingham, and the announcement that the city had been unsuccessful was followed by a bad-tempered public debate over what had gone wrong.
A report by a council scrutiny panel warned that the city’s bid was half-baked and doomed to failure.
Unlike Liverpool, Birmingham made little effort to win the support of the general public or of the city’s business community, the report said.
But now, Birmingham has the chance to try again.
Mr Bradshaw has launched a contest to find the first city of culture, which will enjoy 12 months in the spotlight in 2013.
He said he hoped the competition would become a regular event, with a new city chosen every four years.
The winner will not receive extra funding, but should receive a major boost from its high profile, including guaranteed coverage from the BBC and the chance to host a number of major events which rarely take place outside London.
“In the case of Birmingham, there is no reason why its shouldn’t be Birmingham and its conurbation .
“It could be Greater Birmingham City of Culture, including areas outside the immediate city boundary of Birmingham.
“We have specifically said it doesn’t have to be just a single city.”
Bidders have until October 16 to submit proposals, with a deadline of December 11 for the initial bids themselves. A panel will recommend a shortlist early next year, and the final bids will be submitted in May.
One of the aims was to get major events out of London, Mr Bradshaw said. “Excellence and innovation in the arts does not begin and end inside the M25, and we believe we have been too London-centric for too long in our cultural life.
“So this competition aims to find a city or area outside London that has the wow factor, with exciting and credible plans to make a step change in its cultural life and engage the whole country.”
A spokesman for Marketing Birmingham said: “Birmingham has world-class cultural offering. Any national initiative which could help improve the profile and recognition of this offering should be fully explored.
“We look forward to working closely with Birmingham City Council and other city-wide partners to carefully consider the statement by the Secretary of State, and look at how best to support such an initiative.”
Birmingham Chamber of Commerce said the city should grasp the opportunity to improve its profile.
A spokesman said: “We should take part in the contest in the same way we did for the European Capital of Culture competition.
“That was a disappointment for us, but this time could be different.
“We would hope Birmingham will be one of the main contenders. Anything that puts the city on the map is in a favourable way is worth pursuing.”