Last night Coventry was named as UK City of Culture 2021. Which is brilliant for Coventry, for the team who worked on their bid, and for the very many other people who will be part of and benefit from the work they create.
And … I have friends and colleagues in Stoke, Swansea, Sunderland, Paisley as well as in Coventry. I know they’re ALL doing amazing work, they all – just like Coventry, and no doubt each of the longlisted places – ‘deserved’ it. Certainly they could all benefit from it. I’ve been told – and I believe – that it’s been fantastic for Hull.
In a while we’ll hear about the London Boroughs of Culture.
I’m pretty sure every team working on those bids also believes passionately in their own borough, believes passionately in the difference being a ‘borough of culture’ might make.
What I don’t understand is why it has to be a competition at all.
If we believe that culture has value, if we believe that supporting a community to celebrate its people and its culture is of value, then why not simply make that happen? Why put people and places through a competitive (and expensive) bidding process at all – why not simply support them to shine a light on the brilliant work they already do and then help them develop even more?
The problem with any award is that it’s subjective. It’s not like running a race where we all start at the same time and end at the same place and the only ‘judge’ is the ticking clock. Award judging is inherently subjective. A different team of judges might well have chosen a different city. A different Man Booker team of judges this year might well have chosen a different book. A judging team always has bargaining within it, sometimes the least objectionable actor or novel or song wins, rather than the one most beloved by one judge – and most disliked by another judge, other times it’s a unanimous decision by all the judges. In the same way that judging any ‘culture’ is always subjective, judging any culture award can never be fully objective.
I’m delighted for Coventry. Personally, I hope this means we’ll see masses of Coventry Fun Palaces and Fun Palaces-type work – free, accessible, led by, for and with the people of Coventry, sharing their own amazing work with the rest of Britain and beyond.
AND I want this for EVERY place in the UK. For every place, everywhere.
Joan Littlewood’s phrase about the never-built Fun Palace was ‘everyone an artist or a scientist’. We updated it for Fun Palaces as ‘everyone an artist, everyone a scientist’.
EVERY City a City of Culture.
EVERY place a place of inclusive, diverse, engaging, developing cultures.
They are all already there.
Let’s put time and energy and money into the work of supporting and growing what is already there. Let’s shine a light on and celebrate that too.