Gareth Thomas is Labour MP for Harrow West.
London should bid to be Britain’s next European City of Culture. It would help to promote the capital’s creative and cultural sectors and create new jobs in these areas; it could revitalise the arts and cultural offer outside of Zone One reeling from huge local government cuts; it could help to draw in the next generation of Londoners to a wide range of new cultural activity and, properly planned, it could be a year-long celebration of the best of Britain and the very best of London’s cultural scene.
Bidding will open at the beginning of 2017 for the honour of being the 2023 European City of Culture, due to take place in Britain. With elections galore between now and then it might be easy for the idea of a London bid to be quietly ignored. London after all is a top European city of culture already and this award is usually a consolation prize for cities in need of a little regeneration – or so some have claimed.
Outside of Zone One where the National Theatre, the big museums and art galleries sit, Outer London’s museums, theatres and other cultural activity are under huge pressure as local government and Arts Council cutbacks have had a profound impact.
A European City of Culture bid backed by the big Zone One institutions could help to regenerate and expand Outer London’s arts scene, creating jobs and inspiring new art spaces and cultural “quarters” from Hounslow to Dagenham and Sutton to Redbridge. Museums and theatres struggling in Outer London could be supported by the big Zone One institutions for a year of Zone two to Zone siz cultural excitement. Given the success of the Tate St Ives or the Tate Liverpool, how about the Tate Croydon and the Tate Harrow; even for just one twelve month period.
Why do the great collections of modern and old Masters have to stay firmly within the Circle Line? Why not an Impressionist display in the Dulwich Picture Gallery or the National Opera and Ballet Rambert performing at the Fairkytes Centre in Hornchurch or the Kingston Rose Theatre. And for one year only why couldn’t we bring a bit of Glastonbury to London’s Outer London parks. Instead of a farmer’s field in Somerset, why couldn’t Kasabian, Dolly Parton or Ed Sheeran – last year’s Glastonbury headliners – perform in the great parks and open spaces of outer London – Hackney Marshes, West Ham Park or the green spaces of Epping Forest?
A City of Culture bid is an opportunity to provide a stage to London’s young and emerging artistic talent and to give younger Londoners a chance to access the best of arts and culture on their doorstep, and through their schools and colleges, instead of having to travel just into central London.
Inevitably the campaign against London will be that we don’t need such status and that other cities need it more. London is one of Europe’s top (if not already better than Paris and Rome) cultural destinations, but City of Culture status would help to draw in more tourists to Britain’s wider cultural and arts scene – starting in London but venturing out beyond the capital.
Around 70,000 jobs depend on London’s creative and arts scene. With increasing automation, this sector offers one source of more decent jobs in the future. Putting business and job creation at the heart of any bid ought to be part to be part of the next Mayor’s vision for a European City of Culture bid.
European City of Culture status also offers a platform for co-operation with emerging economies and a further opportunity to promote London and, from there the rest of the UK, to India and China; Brazil and South Africa.
I have discussed the idea that London should bid with a diverse mix of London’s art and business figures; from Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum to Courtney Pine, Britain’s premier jazz talent and Digby Jones, former Director General of the CBI and Trade Minister. All think the idea of a bid has real merit.
It is for the next Mayor of London to bring London’s great and good together and shape a vision for a City of Culture bid whilst beginning to look for the individual figurehead to lead the necessary London Culture Company.
London cannot rest on its laurels. The Olympics gave London a global stage to perform on but they are now firmly in the past. The world has moved on and London’s leadership needs to look to the future. European City of Culture status offers a further platform to boost London’s economic, social and cultural opportunities. It’s a chance to put Outer London in the artistic spotlight, and to give the next generation of Londoners a huge chance to enjoy the richest range of art and culture.
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