Maybe in a week or two it’ll have sunk in, but at the moment the announcement that Coventry will be the next City of Culture still has the dream-like status of something slightly unbelievable that you have been told several times, but somehow need to verify for yourself…
It’s odd that it should seem so hard to believe – as artists in the city and having been involved in the bid right from the start, we know it is blummin’ good! We know it has something of, and for, every single person in this city. Like many Cov things, it has been shaped by many hands working together; by new connections, excited discussions and throwing off the fear of thinking big.
The independent arts sector and the business sector don’t often overlap but, in the shaping of this bid, they have – each offering their own perspectives and both growing through conversation and understanding. So too the young and old have come together, shared their thoughts, hopes, memories, fears, ambitions – and the bid has grown. In understanding what this bid is, what it represents, what it could be, we have achieved something greater than any of us working alone could have done. And the city has grown.
In Talking Birds’ work with The Cart during the bid-shaping process, we asked people to tell us about what they thought a city of culture(s) could or should be and, for many, that turned out to be a surprising question to be asked. It opened up a huge, unexpected vista of possibility just to *think* about things like ‘hope’ and ‘future’: things that, for a lot of people, are not often at the top of the ‘things to think about’ list. Right now, for too many, the future is just what happens next – opportunities or the wherewithal to shape or affect it are sorely lacking.
Throughout the two years of the process so far, this is what has driven all of us forwards: What is this city’s future? How can we make this work for every single person in the city? What do we hope for, for ourselves and for our children? If all of our futures are bound up with this city’s future, what do we want it to be like? These are empowering questions for all of us, but especially for the young. Growing up in a declining city, with decreasing resources available, against a political backdrop of uncertainty and chaos, with a complete lack of confidence in national and international leaders – and the too-big-to-get-your-head-around worry of climate change, hope is a scarce commodity.
And yet hope is such a powerful force for good.
As artists, we’ve become increasingly interested in the role that the imaginations of writers, artists, theatre and film-makers might have unwittingly played in the direction the world has taken – in how much the uncaring behaviour, corrupt leaders and dystopian futures we witness daily in TV dramas or on cinema screens might have become a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. Visioning is often recommended as a step to goal fulfilment and, given the current state of the world, we’ve begun to wonder whether this also works in the broader consciousness? Just in case, we choose to peddle hope, social integration, conversation and understanding…
…and these values also form the narrative of Coventry’s bid. It speaks of a people-powered antidote to Brexit by placing trust in its young people, by making spaces for all the city’s people to come together, to discover and celebrate what they have in common, find an understanding: it speaks of a city that is truly the sum of its parts. And it updates the levelling effect of the famed ‘blitz spirit’, its social cohesion and the utopianism of the post-war rebuild by recognising that it is culture that holds society together, and when you mix culture and hope (as you perhaps have to when bidding for something 4 years ahead) there are no possibilities closed off to you.
When the chair of the judging panel, Phil Redmond, visited yesterday to congratulate Coventry, he said ‘It was a very close competition, but we think Coventry can deliver something that will make the biggest impact for the whole of the UK…Make it as big as your ambitions…try things, experiment…push it and see where you can get to.”
In putting youth and diversity at the heart of it, Coventry’s bid is built on, and spreads, hope. Truly, *this* is Coventry, the city we are proud to call our home.