I might seem extremely positive about some aspect of the arts or culture of the region in my public facing persona – I consider it a literal part of my raison d’etre – while keeping any reservations very much to myself.
Like recently, in Bradford. The city is where I went to school, where I live and has a special place in my heart. There’s something about the underdoggedness of the place that gets under your skin. Isn’t there a football chant along the lines of ‘nobody likes us and we don’t care’? That’s how I feel about Bradford.
I am, believe me, not oblivious to the city’s manifold problems. I see Bradford’s shortfalls but I believe it’s not my job to publicly kick a place in its weak spots, rather to celebrate its strengths. I am duty bound to be more Pollyanna than Cassandra when it comes to talking and writing about the arts in the region.
I recently spent a day in my home city recording a radio piece about the cultural life of Bradford for Radio 4’s Front Row. My producer had asked me for the programme to take her on a tour of the city taking in three highlights that would demonstrate the state of culture in contemporary Bradford.
The list I proffered was long and could have been at least three times longer.
We settled on three things that would, we hoped, weave a narrative journey of Bradford today. We began at the Odeon, a place that looks to the city’s history and to its possible future.
From there we crossed town to the intercultural venue of Kala Sangam to look at performances happening now but also the development of artists at the venue which is kind of an artistic petrie dish for the city.
Then it was slightly out of town for a curry with Kamal Kaan, a writer forged by his Bradford postcode.
It was thrilling to see the city and its potential through the eyes of my producer. Of course I was presenting a polished version of the place, but as we undertook our mini odyssey I realised I didn’t have to hide the grit.
As I looked at Bradford anew I understood something special about the city and perhaps a wider truth: it’s the grit that makes the pearl.
Don’t expect me to start writing hatchet jobs, but perhaps I will start to celebrate the less polished parts of the arts that makes the region so special.