In the third of our City of Culture 2017 blogs, Fiona Allan, CEO of Leicester’s Curve Theatre explains how culture changes lives in Leicester and says the city is on the precipice of something really momentous.
I remember when I moved to Leicester just two and a half years ago to take on the role of CEO of Curve theatre. Many of my friends took the news as an invitation to comment: “You’re moving where?” They thought I was moving to a cultural desert and would sink into a quagmire of obscurity and irrelevance.
Well, they’re never going to have the chance to say ‘I told you so’. I’ve never looked back, not even for a second. You see, I saw that this city had vision, and great potential. After all, this was a city that had invested in an extraordinary theatre, the first UK project by leading architect Rafael Viñoly. Curve is technically one of the leading theatres in Europe, capable of opening productions from Harvey Weinstein’s new musical Finding Neverland to work that Akram Khan has partnered with us to produce and premiere here. To have had the foresight and the vision to provide such a theatre meant that Leicester takes culture seriously and understands how cultural assets can help transform neighbourhoods, people and communities.
It’s not the first time I’ve worked in an iconic, architecturally significant venue. In my days as Head of Programming at the Sydney Opera House, I experienced first hand, during the Sydney Olympics, the way that a cultural centre could symbolise a city’s pride and confidence. Later, as the inaugural Artistic Director of Wales Millennium Centre – the nation’s performing arts hub – I saw a docklands area regenerate and flourish, cultural tourism blossom and the Centre become a symbol of a new Cardiff, a cosmopolitan and forward thinking European capital.
I know that Curve can help do for Leicester what the Sydney Opera House and Wales Millennium Centre have done for Sydney and Cardiff. The City of Culture title is just the catalyst we need to make this happen. This is a city of hidden depths. It has pockets of extraordinary talent, a pluralist populace bringing rich cultural offerings, a history of significant investment in cultural infrastructure and a city council that is determined to continue to support cultural funding in difficult times. However, despite all this Leicester is still punching below its weight in terms of cultural ambition and engagement, though all the ingredients are here to create something extraordinary.
The bid process has already done a lot to expose our shortcomings. We’ve had to be really honest with ourselves about what isn’t working and what needs to change, and that hasn’t always been an easy conversation. The buy-in across the city has been overwhelming, and culture is now recognised as a way to address many of the city’s challenges – around youth, social cohesion, wellbeing, tourism, ambition, civic pride and identity. It is now recognised that culture could be the driver of significant change in the quality of life for our residents, our pride in ourselves and our city, and the way we broadcast our success and achievements across the world. It feels as though we are poised on the precipice of something really momentous that could be a complete gear change for this city. We’re ready.