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Is culture too London-centric?

Razia Iqbal | 17:40 UK time, Tuesday, 14 July 2009

liverpool_blog_pa.jpgA 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.


  • Comment number 1.

    Ooh, this is either cheeky, or a deliberate misunderstanding on your part. Mr Bradshaw is stating that UK culture is focused on London, not that everyone in Britain loves London and can't see past that to their own regional cultural offerings.

    Culture in Britain is so overwhelmingly London-centric it isn't even funny. Of course the people in Manchester and Gateshead aren't London-centric. It's the people in London, who dominate policy, funding and organisation, who are so embedded inside the M25 you'd swear they aren't legally allowed to leave the capital. Chief culprit is the BBC, whose staff bleat and moan at the very prospect of having to live in Manchester, who barely seem capable of producing a news story unless it's in London, and produce 95% of the theatre, concert, book and film reviews from the comfort of their London armchair.

  • Comment number 2.

    As someone who has lived in the North West and London, I do agree with Mr Bradshaw. Coverage of the arts in the UK on the BBC and national newspapers tends to focus on what is on in London, with the annual novelty sojourns to Hay on Wye, Glyndebourne, the Ed Fringe and the Eisteddfod.

    If only we could see more reports on the Newsnight Review, or Front Row, or Sky Arts, giving information on the latest ballet in Birmingham, the next great concert from Gateshead, the Brighton arts festival, the last great play to be put on in Liverpool, the best comedy talent to come from Manchester. In the English regions we do not have the cultural cache that comes with having the level of political independence that Wales and Scotland enjoy, so we don't get TV specials with live coverage of our arts festivals. The forthcoming relocation of the BBC away from London can only be a good thing for representation of the Northern and Midlands arts scenes.

  • Comment number 3.

    Since I am in London (from Manchester) at the moment enjoying London's facilities (which are not just confined to the City Centre) ,a occassioanly go to Paris and Brussels, I am not really so concerned about the attitude of the inhabitants of of those cities to what goes on elsewhere. However I am doubtful about a UK City of Culture. Mr Bradshaw seems to not have noticed that for the most part his remit is confined to England as "culture" is devolved to the Nations. If the 'UK's City of Culture comes off it will be interesting to see who bids. The cities that can sustain the costs and attract events are usually within large City Regions and might be thught not to need it. Others like Oxford, York and Norwich are tourist honey pots. Brighton and Canturbury are aleady within the London's mega city sphere (the inhabitants communte!) So it looks like Bristol , Plymouth Portsmouth and Southampton anf Stoke might bid, with Gloucester/Cheltenham as an outsider. I can't see the London Centrics/ "national prize giving going to Ipswich, Lincoln, Carlisle or Truro."
    But why a City? Why not a 'virtual region' (like the area 35 or so miles round Gloucester or the round Hull be a "City of Culture."

  • Comment number 4.

    sweetsmellofsuccess: my tongue was firmly in my cheek!

    and to cping500, i think the definition of "city" is quite flexible, but the bid has to demonstrate that there is a central focus for the cultural programming.

  • Comment number 5.

    I have to say that although I'm always happy to whinge about the London focus of the media I'm far more likely to visit an event there than in the much closer midlands or Yorkshire.

    I've been immensely cheered today by reading an article in the Sheffield Star that refers to Chair of the Liverpool Culture company as "Phil Scal".

    Is that what they call Professor Redmond at the DCMS I wonder!

  • Comment number 6.

    Past results have shown to have a "city" of culture it has to be there in the population. It most certainly has not been there and the result is a bureaucratic lack lustre dead arts establishment killed by the same people "promoting" it.

    "Cities and towns all over the UK work to create interesting and stimulating cultural programming..." Yes that is it precisely. Programming.
    The yuppies killed the cities and the boheme, the real culture dynamos of the cities, left to be replaced by programmers. They cannot be replaced by office based initiatives. The results look good as statistics but the reality is the usual crap from a dead arts establishment.
    It is not just London killing the fresh breath of air of the arts it is all cities now due to the hollow dictatorship of bureaucrats.
    The truth is noone really wants the cost that goes with it and that is not just the monetary one.

  • Comment number 7.

    With the vast amjority of cultural travellers from overseas only able to take flights to London it makes sense to maintain the capital as the art and cultural hub of the UK

  • Comment number 8.

    London has to host most majot exhibitions - look at the shambles that was the Banksy exhibition in Bristol - Average time standing around unproductively 3 hours multiply by visitor numbers - do the math.

  • Comment number 9.

    In fact I just saw an illuminating article

  • Comment number 10.

    ...saw an illuminating article by the pasty muncher that gave an insight to a visitors experience of the 2009 Banksy Exhibition in Bristol - poor show by all accounts

  • Comment number 11.

    Hmm - Bristol aside there is very little culture in the South West - that is unless you consider the Wurzels to be of cultural significance to the UK

  • Comment number 12.

    Under Pressure wrote:

    Although you would expect that the migration of Londoners to the peripheral regions of the British Isles would begin to make an impact on the cultural desert outside of the capital.


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