Annie Lennox, Emeli Sande, Stuart McBride, Billy Connolly and Dame Evelyn Glennie are supporting the bid to be the UK City of Culture in 2017. This year is the first time the title has been given and it’s with Derry in Northern Ireland at the moment. The next one takes place in 2017 and Aberdeen wants to be the title holders – but does it matter and at what cost?
Looking through the Derry website for their year of celebrations there is nothing that stands out as being amazing and wonderful and out of the ordinary. For me if you want to hold a title like this there needs to be a real substance behind it and not just putting all the things that would be on anyway in theatres, clubs and sports under one big umbrella. I understand that it is as much a prestige and status thing as it is a true reflection of the arts, but if we are going to have the title then we should really pull out all of the stops and make it something that leaves a legacy for the city and its people.
We just need to look at what Edinburgh do for their festival in August each year when the whole city and every available space is given over to a celebration of the arts – this is the sort of thing we could easily do. Consider the amount of venues around the city that could be used to bring all elements of the arts together. We could see Arts Centre, HMT, Music Hall, Lemon Tree, Cowdray Hall, Mitchell Hall, Elphinstone Hall and the newly refurbished Tivoli all throwing their doors open to a vast array of orchestras, dancers, actors and comedians across the year. Let’s have original plays, compositions and novels about the area and tap into the existing local culture too with Scott Skinner being recognised for his vast contribution to traditional music and get Annie Lennox to perform in a big open air festival back in her hometown.
But we all know it’ll never happen. Aberdeen has a great history of making noise about things that turn out to be a disappointment. Look around the city as it is and you’ll find local theatre groups struggling to sell tickets to great shows, brilliant comedians playing to a half full room because they haven’t been on the telly, the city parks like Hazelhead, Duthie Park and Seaton all sitting primed for big open air concerts but no-one willing to take the chance. Yes there are brilliant performers and performances happening already in the city but do you truly believe that y giving the city a title like “City of Culture” you can change the way people see the arts? I hope it would but I doubt it.
If it was more than just a label and was seen as a chance to involve some of the big businesses in the city to support local events beyond throwing a cheque at it, to see the public supporting small amateur groups and for people to go to the Art Gallery for more than a cup of tea then I’m fully behind it and would love to have big events on my doorstep in 2017. The reality is if we do get it we’ll just add a few spotlights to publicise what’s already happening, add a couple of token big names to make it look better and close Union Street for another half-assed party that has carnival rides and candy floss in between trailers with musicians on them.