No more European Capital of Culture?

Fireworks shooting out of Liverpool's Three Graces

While the sense of loss and disappointment about the EU’s decision not to let the UK host the Capital of Culture Award in 2023 is, perhaps, understandable, let’s not go too far down the road, or be distracted by blaming everything on the Brexiteers. Everyone knew this was a risk, but the reality is that being awarded Capital of Culture status is neither a panacea for urban regeneration, nor a gift of EU cash. It is simply an opportunity for a city to focus its resources to rediscover itself and represent itself to the world.

Liverpool 2008, now officially one of only two UK European Capitals of Culture (EUCoC) along with Glasgow in 1990, and hailed by many, including EU Commission President at the time Jose Manuel Barrosa, as ‘the best ever’, didn’t achieve that status through some form of beneficent cultural anointment from Brussels. Just as international artistes don’t come to the UK simply because it belongs to the EU. Liverpool achieved its status by seizing the opportunity with both hands and then making the world, not just Europe, take notice.

9.7 million visitors to Liverpool – an increase of a third
£754 million generated for the local economy

Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson writing in the Huffington Post

The EUCoC succeeded through three things. The sheer hard work and commitment of everyone involved; the support of the then North West Development Agency (NWDA) helping channel UK government resources, and, of course, the support of the BBC.

Out of that year came three other things. A new sense of belief in the city, both locally and nationally; the UK City of Culture (UKCoC) project, and the Institute of Cultural Capital (ICC).

Liverpool’s renaissance, using culture as the rocket fuel of regeneration, is well known and will reach second stage burn, to push the analogy, during its Tenth Anniversary celebrations in 2018. The UKCoC project came directly after seeing the impact in Liverpool. The logic was simple. Why wait decades for another EU opportunity when we could run our own domestic competition every four years?

99% of visitors surveyed said they liked the general atmosphere and 97% felt welcome

Joe Anderson, Huffington Post

In a couple of weeks the host city for 2021 will be announced, to build on the legacies of Derry 2013 and Hull 2017. The BBC is once again fully committed to the project and although our Development Agencies are no more, each host city finds a way of attracting UK government funding.

The Institute of Cultural Capital – a joint initiative between LJMU and the University of Liverpool – was created to build upon the evaluation methodology used to measure Liverpool’s success. Building on the five-year longitudinal study, Impacts 08, Dr Beatriz Garcia is the go-to academic for such research and will be revisiting Liverpool’s story across 2018.

EUCoC 2023 may have vanished at a petty bureaucratic stroke of a pen, but with so much work done, so much ambition in place my suggestion would be to harness that cultural potential and make the year a post-Brexit statement. Like Liverpool, the UK is still part of Europe but one on its own. Like Liverpool, the UK does not need an EU anointment. It only needs an excuse to remind everyone that it does, after all, retain the best cultural capital in Europe.

Alternatively, there is always UKCoC 2025.

Professor Phil Redmond is an LJMU Ambassador Fellow, Deputy Chair and Creative Director Liverpool 2008, and currently Chair of the Independent Advisory Panel for UK City of Culture


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