‘Leeds should be part of new 2023 arts festival’ says Hull culture chief

Martin Green, Chief Executive of Hull: UK City of Culture 2017.
Martin Green, Chief Executive of Hull: UK City of Culture 2017.
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Cities like Leeds, whose hopes of becoming European Capital of Culture were dashed last month, should be involved in a new national European arts festival in 2023 instead, it has been suggested.

Chief executive of Hull UK City of Culture 2017 Martin Green said a UK celebration of European culture in 2023 – the year Leeds and four other contenders were bidding for – would “reaffirm and renew our connections with Europe” post-Brexit.

It follows the shock announcement by Brussels decision-makers that UK contenders – who also include Dundee and Nottingham – that UK cities, would not be eligible to hold the title after Brexit.

Mr Green said he offered the “unsolicited advice” for a one-off festival to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

He added: “2023 is 50 years since we joined the Common Market and what I would be tempted to do is have a national European arts festival that year that’s anchored in the five cities that were going to bid, because clearly we need to renew and reaffirm our connections with our European friends.”

He added: “I can’t believe I am the only person who has thought of this: it is not rocket science.

“You would potentially have a three-year run of really great cultural activity.

“You have City of Culture in 2021 (announced last night to be in Coventry), Birmingham bidding for Commonwealth Games in 2022 and then the national European arts festival in 2023.

“In a way what you would have is a cultural plan for our transformation to not being in the European Union.

“It would be great to reaffirm and renew our connections with Europe over that period.”

Mr Green cited the latest Government statistics that show that the creative industries, which continue to expend at twice the speed of the wider economy, are now worth £92bn to the UK economy – nearly twice the estimated divorce bill for Brexit.

He added: “One of our biggest assets has always been our creative industry.”

In a statement Leeds City Council leader Coun Judith Blake said they remained determined that the work which had gone into the bid would not be wasted.She said: “The five bidding cities are continuing to discuss a range of solutions with DCMS to ensure that the hard work, energy and momentum created by each city is not only acknowledged but rewarded, and that an outcome which supports their future cultural ambitions can be agreed.”

The DCMS said they remained in “urgent discussion” with the Commission.

A spokeswoman said: “We disagree with the European Commission’s stance and are disappointed that it waited until after UK cities submitted their final bids before communicating this new position to us.

“We are absolutely committed to working with the five UK candidate cities in the coming weeks on the way forward and remain in urgent discussion with the Commission on this matter.”

The title dates back to 1985 when Melina Mercouri, Greece’s Minister of Culture, and her French counterpart Jack Lang came up with the idea of designating an annual Capital of Culture to bring Europeans closer together. More than 40 cities have since been designated, including Glasgow in 1990 and Liverpool in 2008.