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City of Culture 2021 Bid: Cultural Reporter Jamie meets the team

Posted in Blog on by Kat Boon
City of Culture 2021 Bid: Cultural Reporter Jamie meets the team Ahead of its submission on 28 April, Cultural Reporter Jamie meets the team behind the bid to be Stoke-on-Trent UK City of Culture 2021...

Now preparing for its fifth festival showing, the British Ceramics Biennial has established itself as a tent-pole attraction amongst Stoke-on-Trent’s cultural offerings and an indispensable component in the redevelopment of the historic Spode factory site. As director of BCB and chair of the Campaign Group for the City of Culture 2021 bid, Andrew Palmer sits at the intersection of the city’s desire to leverage its cultural heritage and to reinvent itself as a city of the future. He takes time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions and shed some light on the invisible, but hugely important work that takes place behind the scenes campaigning for the bid.

Jamie: How are you involved in the bid to become City of Culture 2021?
Andrew: As a director of British Ceramics Biennial, we are naturally at the heart of the cultural sector in the city and so a contributing voice in planning the programme, building awareness and engagement with a wide variety of communities, schools and into industry and the wider cultural sector as well. I’m also now the Chair of the Campaign Group, one of the working groups created to help develop and deliver the UK City of Culture 2021 Bid. The city has also recently been successful in its Cultural Destinations funding bid to Arts Council England. As a director of the cultural tourism consultancy Creative Tourist, we authored that bid and will help in the programme of work to follow over the next three years. This is only worth mentioning as some of the work will support the UK City of Culture Bid preparation and hopefully the delivery as the designated city.

Why do you think Stoke-on-Trent should be City of Culture 2021?
There are many reasons that any city could and should think about, when an opportunity like this comes along. The winning city will see more jobs and more investment, not just in the arts, but also in education, training, tourism, social and community services, infrastructure and commerce. We know this from the experience of previous winners. It will raise ambition and aspiration (especially for the upcoming generation), and create new partnerships and initiatives that we can only guess at now. That is why it would be great to win.

But why Stoke-on-Trent? Well, cultural engagement is below the national average, so there is a ‘need’. Similar statistics can be used to confirm the need for a big injection of energy and investment in areas like education, regeneration and economic development.

All good reasons, but there are even more positive ones too. Stoke-on-Trent has a rich cultural heritage and a very distinctive cultural present, and personality. It is growing, energetic and ready to take the next step. Cultural organisations, artists and communities are working together in new ways. The potential is everywhere. So, as well as making the city a better place to live, work, study and play; as well as it putting the city on the map for national media and visitors; it will show everyone in the UK and internationally that Stoke-on-Trent is a great place, with great people, doing great things their way.

The UK City of Culture designation will simply extend the invitation for everyone else to come and join in.

What do you hope securing the title of City of Culture will bring to Stoke-on-Trent?
…in summary; it is about achieving a positive step-change in the city – confirming for those who know and converting those who didn’t – that Stoke-on-Trent is a vibrant cultural city with genuine collective ambition.

What upcoming cultural events are you personally most excited about?
Aside from British Ceramics Biennial which launches its fifth festival edition in September 2017, I’m personally excited by the way our city’s culture is engaging the people of Stoke-on-Trent in new ways, creating great art with international class artists but in a way that drives participation. The Bid’s Bottling Culture engagement programme has revealed what people think about culture, and what they think culture is. We can use this.

The work that many of our cultural organisations do in this area is inspiring, but special mention has to go to Appetite for their scale of ambition, and B-Arts for their absolute commitment to their communities. It is never less than inspiring to be at their events and see the positive impacts of culture in real time with real people.

Any other comments/opinions on the bid?
I’m not a Stokie, but I am a convert to the cause – I have worked in the city for almost a decade now. This city is a unique place, and not just because of its geography. The changes in how the city is thinking and working together more is tangible, thanks in part to the Bid. The Bid is taking us on to new ground, and that ground has its bumps along the way, but it is a journey worth taking, wherever it leads us.

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As a ‘convert to the cause’ myself, Andrews comments resonate and briefly touch upon my own thinking on the bid: Stoke-on-Trent’s rich cultural past is rightly celebrated around the world, but with its bid for City of Culture 2021 in full-swing, will nostalgia for this period of immense artistic and industrial output pose a threat to its cultural future?

It’s true to say that much contemporary art practice in the city is characterised in some part by this essential nostalgia, be it in reverence, or twisted into a wry post-modernism; nostalgia prevails. The danger resides, I think, in imposing a kind of cultural parochialism, impenetrable to those not familiar with the city and its history. The novelist and writer Sherman Alexie reminds us;

‘Nostalgia is always doomed and dooming’

Nostalgia erodes that which it seeks to celebrate; as a strategy for conservation, it is flawed. Through appropriation and idealism the true picture of the Potteries would be lost, and with it a keener sense of the miraculous innovation, and enduring beauty which emerged from the smog of the Potbanks. To truly become a city of culture Stoke-on-Trent must forge a new identity and escape the long shadow of its ‘post-industrial’ label. With the immense wellspring of artistic talent in the city and passionate individuals like Andrew driving the bid, it’s within reach.

Jamie Stretton
Appetite Cultural Reporter

The Appetite Cultural Reporter Team is a roving group of local writers, photographers and bloggers who are passionate about the arts in Stoke-on-Trent.Cultural Reporters discover and promote exciting stuff happening locally and regionally through reviews, blogs, vlogs, photography, back stage interviews and more. From theatre to circus to spoken word, they get to the heart of the action and bring it to you. Got an event coming up you’d like one of the team to review? Contact us at askus@appetitestoke.co.uk

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