So now we know which city is attempting to follow on from the “best ever” European Capital of Culture, Liverpool.
Well, I would say that wouldn’t I? And, sorry Glasgow (1990 European winner), but life and the media spotlight moves on – although how well you have used it. Perhaps underlining, as in Liverpool, the value of such an award? A year in which Derry/Londonderry will soon take centre stage. A year like no other.
We had always made it clear that there would be a clear, transparent and fair process that would not put any city in either a position of advantage or disadvantage. Bigger cities with greater resources would not be able to eclipse those less well placed and as we were looking for the UK’s City of Culture the challenge was therefore a cultural one: how would they present themselves through the written word and oral presentation? How would they sell their city, their big ideas and more importantly how to compare like with unalike?
The answer was to set that challenge for the cities themselves. How would they define and use culture to bring about a step change in their particular city: as Liverpool had done in 2008? Setting this same challenge to all cities was how, ultimately, a comparison could be made. How they responded, culturally, to that challenge. Although the responses were inevitably as varied responses as the cities themselves, the Independent Advisory Panel was unanimous in its choice.
The programme suggested was impressive, as were the plans for community engagement, economic investment and the development of digital technology. It was also the way all these elements had been woven together through a strong and compelling narrative about the City and its people. And if culture cannot be used to help promote harmony, tolerance, hope and aspiration; if it cannot be used to help people understand their past, inform their present and help shape their future – then what role does it have?
For the cities taking part no doubt there has been the occasional stressful moment, especially getting those bids in on time. Been there, done it, know how difficult a task it is so grateful and appreciative of all the efforts. At the same time it has been reassuring to hear from almost all cities, even those that did not make the short list, that the bidding process itself has been useful. Getting people working together. Often people who have sat round the same tables but never really spoken. Looking at their cities in different ways. Not just redefining but simply remembering what they are. How they came about. Where their people came from and, recalling that any city is merely a collection of disparate minorities. A clutch or amalgam of urban villages.
For Liverpool, 2008 was not just about a year long cultural festival, but about all of the above.
I have no doubt that Derry/Londonderry will follow Liverpool and show what impact, what step change, a year in the media spotlight can bring about.