Is culture too London-centric?
A UK-wide search for City of Culture which will host the Turner Prize and the Brit awards, among others, in 2013, has been launched by the Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw.
He says we have been too London-centric for too long in our cultural life. I am not sure who the "we" he is referring to is. It can't be the towns and cities outside the capital with flourishing cultural landscapes. Take Manchester, currently hosting its second international festival and has had some fantastic reviews of new work commissioned. And it can't be Gateshead, where at the Sage the Northern Sinfonia is celebrating its 2,000th performance later this month; Edinburgh is gearing up for its annual festival, including the book festival and Fringe, and that is to mention only three. They and other cities are surely not thinking that they are too London-centric. The comment could only come from someone speaking from a London-centric perspective.
Cities and towns all over the UK work to create interesting and stimulating cultural programming, and hundreds of people engage with the cultural offerings in their areas. Perhaps it is a criticism of the media, obsessing only over what happens in the capital.
Mr Bradshaw made this comment by way of launching a national competition to find the nation's first City of Culture. The success of Liverpool as European Capital of Culture, once it was finally spearheaded by TV producer and screenwriter Phil Redmond, resulted in the kind of figures politicians love to cite: 7,000 events; £800m of economic benefit to the Liverpool city region; 15 million visits to a cultural event or attraction.
Using culture as a regeneration tool is commonplace now, but the kind of engineering promised under this new initiative is to do with selling a brand. There is no extra money. The successful city, to be chosen in 2013, will be given the rights to use the UK City of Culture brand, and tailor it to their own city. The bids will be assessed in the context of a fitting follow on from the success of Liverpool and the Cultural Olympiad; given that the latter continues to be mired in uncertainty doesn't bode well for this new initiative.