Arts and heritage in Bradford set to be at the forefront of cultural renaissance across the North

The chairwoman of Bradford’s attempt to emerge as one of the UK’s leading cultural locations has claimed the city can be at the forefront of an arts revolution across the North of England.

Shanaz Gulzar, the chairwoman of Bradford's bid to become the UK City of Culture in 2025. (Picture: Tim Smith)

The West Yorkshire city is at the epicentre of a renewed push to use culture and the arts to inject a multi-million pound boost to help rebuild the economy, while attracting a new generation of audiences to the sector.

An ambitious 10-year vision was launched this week to promote culture across the Bradford district following a 12-month consultation involving hundreds of organisations and individuals.

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Shanaz Gulzar is overseeing Bradford’s bid to become the UK City of Culture in 2025, following in the wake of Hull which secured the title four years ago.

Research by the University of Hull projected that the 2017 title saw tourism contribute in excess of £300m to the economy.

Ms Gulzar told The Yorkshire Post that Bradford should look towards building stronger links with other northern cities such as Leeds and Manchester to provide a unified front in promoting culture and the arts.

She said: “Manchester has a real swagger about it now, and Leeds has made a commitment to a year-long programme of arts and culture throughout 2023.

“This is not about competing against each other, as so much more benefit can be gained if there is a collective effort to promote culture.

“Bradford has its own very distinct identity, but we have so many large towns and cities around us that there will undoubtedly be some cross-pollination.

“There’s no reason why audiences can’t be attracted to Bradford from places like Leeds, Manchester, Harrogate and Sheffield, and vice versa.”

The action plan overseen by Bradford Council was launched on Thursday and has set out targets to be met by 2031 with a cultural renaissance at the heart of the decade-long programme.

The initiative is hoping to create 3,000 jobs through boosting the cultural sector, with a far more diverse workforce from communities that are under-represented in creative industries.

It is hoped that 70 per cent of people in the district will be regularly engaging in arts and heritage by 2031, and 250,000 residents from the area’s most deprived wards will also be given the chance to get involved with the cultural sector.

During the strategy’s launch at the South Square arts centre in the village of Thornton, a programme of 24 projects was unveiled for this summer, featuring an eclectic range of activities and installations across the district including one-off events, performances, hip hop sessions and acrobatic displays.

Bradford is one of six locations in the running to be awarded the title of the UK City of Culture in 2025, with the winner expected to be announced next year.

Other contenders include Medway in Kent, Gloucester, the Tees Valley, Southampton and Lancashire.

Ms Gulzar, who was appointed as the Bradford bid’s chairwoman last year, said the 10-year cultural strategy for the district would be a key platform to help to promote the city in the hope of securing the title.

She said: “The cultural sector is so important not just for people’s enjoyment, but also for the economy too.

“We want to make sure that we attract and retain talent in culture and the arts, and not experience the brain drain to places like London that has been happening.

“The next 10 years is an opportunity to create opportunities - the places that are willing to take the risk to do something as ambitious as this will benefit in the long-term.”

Born and raised in Keighley in West Yorkshire, Ms Gulzar’s career spans film, theatre, public art and media.

Established nationally as an artist, she is also a producer at the Manchester International Festival.

In 2019, she brought a contemporary artist’s perspective to the Yorkshire landscape for the BBC television programme, Yorkshire Walks.