Plymouth Culture Board is preparing to submit a bid to become the UK’s City of Culture in 2017. The designation, which will be held for the first time by Derry in 2013, will be given to one city every four years in an attempt to echo the social and economic benefits seen in Liverpool after it held the title of European City of Culture in 2008.
Despite what it would be hard to see as anything but positive motives for the bid, it has caused some debate: a recent online poll by the Evening Herald found that under 40% of those polled supported the bid. So, in light of this, should the city council be putting time, and more importantly money, into applying for the title?
Now, my opinion on the matter is probably fairly obvious, I spend a vast majority of my time either working in, or engaging with, the arts. But I can see that, at a time when money is tight, it is only natural that there should be a debate over whether the City of Culture title would be value for money for the city. So here’s some financial factors I think should be important to note…
First off; a number of articles about the bid suggest that, should Plymouth win, there would be the possibility of the city holding events such as the Brit Awards, the Turner Prize and BBC Sports Personality of the Year. Although I’d love to be proven wrong, I’m under no illusion this would happen. Plymouth lacks a venue with a capacity to hold any of these mainstream events, with the exception of perhaps the Turner Prize, and I can’t see either of the others having anything to gain by bringing them South West.
Financially though Plymouth, and the region as a whole, would have an awful lot to gain from an increased focus on the arts. The Lost Arts campaign states that every £1 spent on funding the arts nationally brings £4 to the economy. More locally, in his final blog (since removed by the administrators but available here the former artistic director of the now closed Brewhouse in Taunton suggests that the economic impact of the 352 seat venue on the town was £4 million every year.
An increase in the number or scale of cultural projects in the city would be unlikely to be funded completely by local funds either. It would be safe to assume there would be an increase in money from national funds coming to the city either directly through the designation or through making funding city-based projects seem more attractive. Far from being an unnecessary expense, if the bid is successful, 2017 could bring a sizeable financial boost to the region.
But, money aside, Plymouth has a brilliant cultural life. Theatre Royal Plymouth and the Drum are one of the most respected theatrical organisations in the country and will be opening the tour of War Horse later this year; there is a thriving cross-genre music scene from the grit of White Rabbit to the massive pop acts that regularly visit the Pavilions; and the city has been home to popular visual artists from Beryl Cook to Robert Lenkiewicz. At the very least, the opportunity to be the City of Culture in 2017 would give us a chance to celebrate the cultural heartbeat of the city, at the most it would let us hold up some of its gems to the rest of the nation. Either way it would be a shame to let this opportunity slide due to unwarranted financial fears.