Ashley Smith-Hammond

What has the City of Culture status achieved in the cultural sphere for Scottish cities and what’s in store for the current hopefuls Paisley and Perth?

EU City of Culture

When Greece’s Minister for Culture, Melina Mercouri, launched the European City of Culture Initiative in 1983, she emphasised that “culture, art and creativity are no less important than technology, commerce and economics”.

Let’s start with the legacy of Glasgow, which was named European City of Culture in 1990. The city used the title to become the standard in culture-led regeneration in the UK as it was revamped from its industrial roots and a new arts hub was born.

The city won international and local recognition for its transformation as communities, performers and artists found new spaces to work in. People no longer felt like they had to move to London or Edinburgh to get their work noticed.

But things didn’t run entirely smoothly. There was some controversy around Glasgow’s regeneration with accusations of gentrification thrown at the city as local neighbourhoods changed.

Not everybody participated,” University of Glasgow lecturer, Dr David Archibald told The Scotsman. “There were and still are lots of people marginalised. But it had a transformative impact on the arts and art-making, and you still see the effects of that now.

There’s a can-do attitude to arts and culture in Glasgow that rubs up against the pessimistic, miserablist attitude that supposedly predominates.

It’s fair to say that the overall impact has been positive. The cultural focus brought a great deal of benefit to the city and Glasgow has gone on to inspire other Scottish cities to aim higher when it comes to the arts.

Whilst Dundee may have lost out on UK City of Culture 2017, the work undertaken is being channelled into their bid for 2023’s European Capital of Culture. Other UK applicants include Bristol, Leeds, Milton Keynes and Truro. All are waiting for clarification on what the impact of Brexit will have on their eligibility.

UK City of Culture

The UK City of Culture initiative was modelled on the European programme, which began in 1985, with Athens claiming the first title. The programme (later named European Capital of Culture) is administered once a year, whilst it’s UK counterpart, is awarded every four years. Liverpool’s success as the holder of the European title in 2008 was the catalyst that inspired the UK programme, which began in 2013 and was bestowed to Derry-Londonderry.

Hull is the current 2017 UK City of Culture and there are two Scottish contenders for the title in 2021. Dundee Council is showing support for its Tayside neighbours in Perth, who have set their sights on the UK City of Culture title for 2021. Paisley is the other Scottish city in the running. (Full disclosure, Culture Republic are helping to evaluate Paisley 2021 activities.) Both have learned from Glasgow’s experience with the 1990 European title.

Paisley launched its bid in November 2015. The city is is encouraging residents to tell their own stories; the organisers are displaying these on the city’s bid website as they look to push audience and community inclusion right from the start.

Paisley is very active on social media and in more traditional PR and media communications. Online, the city is asking supporters to display Facebook ‘twibbons’ and use the Twitter hashtag #Pushthe2021button. Elsewhere they’ve caught the attention of the national press with articles published on the BBC and in The Guardian.

Perth entered the bidding in August 2016. The city is also up and running on social media, building followers and momentum for its application.

Offline, the city has developed a Creative Communities fund to support the work of communities within the town in order to build the atmosphere of support and recognition that the City of Culture awards nurture.

Altogether, there are eleven bids in the running for the UK City of Culture 2021 title. Applications were submitted in April and the shortlist will be announced in July. Best of luck to the two Scottish cities participating!

Main image credit: Hull City Hall illuminated at Hull City of Culture 2017 by Kim Dent-Brown (CC BY-SA 4.0)