The Cultural Cities Research Network held its second research seminar in Norwich on the 14th September 2011. On this occasion we had the opportunity to learn more about the UK City of Culture 2013 bidding experiences of the city of Norwich, and discuss the theme of momentum within the bidding process. Following a brief introduction to the network and a review of the first seminar in Sheffield, members of the Norwich bidding team gave presentations on their own UKCoC 2013 reflections and experiences.
Nikki Rotsos of Norwich City Council talked about the experience as A Whole City Experiment that was not led by the city council but had a collaborative city-wide approach with strong artistic and cultural leadership. The discussion that followed Nikki’s presentation reflected an attitudinal shift in the city’s ‘cultural thinking’, which has moved beyond the “Elastoplast nature” of culture towards a more confident drive to influence and
shape policy and practice in relation to city-wide objectives including social deprivation, civic engagement and outward-facing marketing and branding strategies. Changing regional structures, and in particular the emergence of Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) present new challenges for the collaborative momentum created by UKCoC 2013,
but there was an evident desire and will to continue to ‘proactively influence’ via the city’s cultural offer. The Future Projects initiative was cited as an example of the shift in cultural thinking around policy making and delivery in Norwich.
Chris Gribble of Writers’ Centre Norwich spoke from an artist-led perspective on the bidding experience, and its underlying vision and values. The focus was very much on ‘positive social change through culture’ linked to socio-economic conditions in Norwich
and a reimagining of city identities – within this values included the Whole City, Radicalism, Learning and Partnerships. Some of the artistic programme elements of the bid are going ahead, with initiatives such as a UNESCO City of Literature bid and the
development of an International Centre for Writing with the University of East Anglia underway.
Paula Sanchez then described the Engagement and Participation Legacy of UKCoC 2013, fuelled by an initial desire to engage smaller, community-based arts organisations and practitioners in the bidding process, to resolve traditional tensions between ‘top down’ arts programming and community involvement in high-profile initiatives such as UKCoC, and to ultimately achieve genuine community engagement. With a more holistic
approach to capacity building within the city’s cultural sector, UKCoC 2013 created an opportunity to build upon the ‘flagship’ successes linked to the city’s previous European Capital of Culture (ECoC) bid (2008), including a greater focus on neighbourhood and ‘grassroots’ arts infrastructure. The outcome of this was the Cultural Communities Consortium, which will continue to operate as a ‘hub and spoke’ legal entity with the vision to use ‘creativity to build strong and prosperous communities’.