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Should Norwich be bidding to be UK City of Culture 2021?

PUBLISHED: 11:57 04 March 2017 | UPDATED: 17:32 04 March 2017

The Young Norfolk Arts Festival team at Norwich Castle for an event inspired by the British Art Show. The team with one of the exhibits and their own art flags. From left, Hannah Cott, Rose de Lara, Lucy Farrant, Sarah Horton, Emma Kate Rose, Becky Showell, Ella Smith, and Denny Petrova. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The Young Norfolk Arts Festival team at Norwich Castle for an event inspired by the British Art Show. The team with one of the exhibits and their own art flags. From left, Hannah Cott, Rose de Lara, Lucy Farrant, Sarah Horton, Emma Kate Rose, Becky Showell, Ella Smith, and Denny Petrova. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

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With 11 towns and cities now putting themselves in the running for UK City of Culture 2021, Emma Knights and James Carr look at whether Norwich should also throw its hat in the ring for the arts accolade.

The Dynamos, from left, Tanya, played by Emma Clifford; Donna Sheridan, played by Helen Hobson; and Rosie, played by Gillian Hardie, at the Theatre Royal as Mamma Mia comes to Norwich. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYThe Dynamos, from left, Tanya, played by Emma Clifford; Donna Sheridan, played by Helen Hobson; and Rosie, played by Gillian Hardie, at the Theatre Royal as Mamma Mia comes to Norwich. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Our fine city is rich with culture, with great theatres, vibrant festivals, stunning heritage and a whole array of other arts delights for people to enjoy.

Norwich proudly wears the badge of being the first city in the country to be crowned a UNESCO City of Literature, was just last year one of the four nationwide hosts of the cutting edge British Art Show 8, and the Norfolk and Norwich Festival is one of the big four UK international arts festivals.

It also boasts a world class gallery of art at the Sainsbury Centre, has brilliant museums including Norwich Castle, and is fast making a name for itself as a key destination in the music scene with the likes of Radio One’s Big Weekend coming to Earlham Park in 2015 and pop superstars Take That choosing to head to Carrow Road as part of their Wonderland tour later this year.

With all this and more highlighting Norwich as a great place for arts and entertainment, should the city now also be putting its hands up to bid for the UK City of Culture 2021 status too?

What it means to be UK City of Culture

Since winning the UK City of Culture 2017 title four years ago, Hull has seen a £1bn investment and it is estimated the city’s economy will have a £60m boost this year.

Among the most famous events linked to its City of Culture status has been Spencer Tunick’s Sea of Hull project which saw more than 3,000 people strip naked and be painted blue. The striking images from the project are to be exhibited in the city later this year as part of Hull’s busy UK City of Culture 2017 programme of events.

Now communities across the country have until the the end of April to sumbit bids to become UK City of Culture 2021 with the Heritage Lottery Fund pledging to give £3m to the winning city.

The 2021 winner will need to prove its bid is centred around heritage, and it will build on existing investment it gets from the lottery fund.

Eleven towns and cities have currently put themselves in the running.

They are Perth, Paisley, Stoke-on-Trent, Sunderland, Coventry, Hereford, Warrington, Portsmouth, Wells, Swansea and St Davids.

And as can be seen from the current City of Culture 2017, the rewards can be great, with Hull having a major national spotlight cast on the city and expecting to see its economy have a £60m boost this year.

Previously Norwich bid to become UK City of Culture 2013, reaching the finals alongside Londonderry, Birmingham and Sheffield, and seeing off competition from 29 other places.

The Queen studies the exhibits during her visit to the Fiji Exhibition at the Sainsbury Centre. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYThe Queen studies the exhibits during her visit to the Fiji Exhibition at the Sainsbury Centre. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Ultimately it was Londonderry that claimed the 2013 prize.

However Norwich City Council has confirmed it will not be putting the city forward for the 2021 title.

Alan Waters, leader of Norwich City Council, said that Norwich was already well known nationally and internationally for being a vibrant city of culture in many different ways, and that the authority would prefer to focus on the permanent, long-term development of the cultural scene.

He said: “As well as being the first English UNESCO world city of literature, Norwich has also been named as the third most cultural city in the UK in a recent report, so I think it’s clear that our excellent reputation for culture and heritage is stronger than ever.

The Aurora Orchestra at Chapelfield Gardens during its Beethoven Safari around Norwich for the Norfolk and Norwich Festival. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYThe Aurora Orchestra at Chapelfield Gardens during its Beethoven Safari around Norwich for the Norfolk and Norwich Festival. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

“Norwich’s commitment to cultural development is permanent, so we are happy to let other cities have their turn in bidding for 2021 status, as we continue to be recognised for our cultural standing nationally, internationally and by all of our residents and visitors.

“We are fortunate to be home to so many individuals and organisations who deliver a great range of projects and events year in, year out; coming together to provide such a thriving cultural scene.”

Key leaders across the city’s arts scene have also reflected that Norwich already has a great reputation for being a brilliant city of culture, even without the special title.

Pasco-Q Kevlin, director of Norwich Arts Centre, said: “I already think we are the city of culture, but I would be very happy to support any new initiatives that helps the rest of the country realise how great Norwich is.”

The Norfolk and Norwich Festival Garden Party at Chapelfield Gardens. Block by Motionhouse and NoFit State Circus. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYThe Norfolk and Norwich Festival Garden Party at Chapelfield Gardens. Block by Motionhouse and NoFit State Circus. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Professor David Richardson, the University of East Anglia’s vice-chancellor, said: “Norwich is a beautiful city with a vibrant cultural life.

“The University of East Anglia and Norwich have a world-class reputation for creative writing, the city is home to England’s first UNESCO City of Literature, UEA is home to the stunning art collection at the Sainsbury Centre, and the university makes a rich and varied contribution to the music scene, literature, drama and film.

“There’s a lot that’s been achieved and a lot to celebrate in Norwich.”

Stephen Crocker, chief executive of Norwich Theatre Royal which is currently in the middle of a four-week run of the musical Mamma Mia!, said: “I am supportive of all efforts to highlight the fantastically rich cultural offer here in Norwich.

Take That are coming to Norwich in June 2016. Photo: supplied by DawBell.Take That are coming to Norwich in June 2016. Photo: supplied by DawBell.

“During my brief time here so far, it is clear to me that Norwich is already a city with culture at its heart and great work is being done to enrich everyone’s lives with culture and I am very keen to support those ongoing efforts.

“It is something Theatre Royal is keen to continue supporting through both its artistic programme and through forging partnerships to develop projects across the community.”

And what do the public think about whether Norwich should try bidding to be the UK City of Culture for a second time?

Colin Roy, 64, from Thorpe St Andrew, said: “Yes I’d like the city to go for it but I’d like to know more about it...The city is curated really well. It is a medieval town in a 21st century context. I have seen how being City of Culture has done a lot for Hull, it would good for the city.”

Michelle Richards, 41, from Old Catton, said: “I think it would be beneficial for the city. It would help to promote the city. There is so much history here. The city has so much beauty in all of its architecture. Everywhere in the city is beautiful.”

Lindsey Wilson, 41, from Dolphin Road in Norwich, said: “It’s a brilliant place of rich with culture, there is so much history and so many museums...The attention that a bid would bring to the city would be good for all the local businesses.”

Ben Smith, 30, from Oak Street, in Norwich, said: “Norwich is a fantastic city that has a lot to offer...I think we should be beating our drum more to make the world aware of our fantastic capacity.”

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