Both Bradford and Wakefield are set to show their hands as expressions of interest are declared today in this first “gateway” of the fiercely contested race.
With some 12 to 15 entries expected, today marks a major step in formalising intentions for 2025 – and in the hope of drawing the benefits the competition could bring.
“The City of Culture title is not a reward for outstanding cultural activities – it’s a regeneration project,” said Bradford’s bid director Richard Shaw, with today’s submissions set to finalise three years of intense preparations.
“This is a very substantial moment, where we start to declare our hand. It would provide resources and leverage to grow a cultural programme for the long term, across the district and the wider West Yorkshire region.”
The UK City of Culture competition, aimed at promoting a creative reputation, is this year for the first time allowing bids from groups of towns in addition to those with city status.
At least 10 areas have already declared their intention to submit today, for this first stage of rounds which will culminate in a winner being announced in May 2022.
Wakefield revealed last month it is to enter the competition, with the council hailing an “exciting and ambitious” plan.
Coun Michael Graham, the cabinet member for culture, leisure and sport, said the city was “buzzing” ahead of today’s submissions.
“This is exactly what the city is all about,” he said. “People sometimes say that culture isn’t for everybody – that it’s for an elitist few. This is about showing that it is for everyone, that everybody is part of this bid.”
'Second to none'
The city is the only one outside London to host two Arts Fund museums of the year in the Hepworth and the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, while other key attractions include Production Park, the National Coal Mining Museum, and its “glorious” cathedral.
Culture is “ingrained” in the district’s offering, said Coun Graham, yet research suggests that society views settings such as Liverpool, York and Manchester as the North’s cultural ‘gems’.
“We want to be a part of that, in the forefront of people’s minds when they think about culture,” he said. “In terms of cultural assets we are second to none.”
In Bradford, Mr Shaw said ambitions are in growing economies both socially and culturally, and in challenging “often outdated” perceptions of the city.
He hailed Bradford’s “extraordinary” institutions alongside wider gems such as Salts Mill, Haworth and Keighley, and a “progressive and youthful approach” from many active groups.
“We have a long tradition of doing things completely differently,” he said. “It doesn’t feel that many areas have that progressive, radical approach to the power of arts and culture to transform lives. This district has a real shot at doing something different.”
Hull saw a huge boost to visitor numbers as it hosted the title in 2017, with previous estimates suggesting tourism contributed in excess of £300m to the city’s economy.
Today’s deadline is for expressions of interest to become the UK’s City of Culture 2025, with known bidding cities being Conwy, Medway, Gloucester, Southampton, Great Yarmouth, Gorleston and Lowestoft, South of Scotland, Wakefield, Bradford, Derby and Armagh.
A longlist will be announced in September, with visits to areas shortlisted in the spring and a winner to be announced in May 2022.
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