That Leeds capital of culture bid: couldn’t we do it another way?

2023yeahThe deed is almost done. Sometime soon, maybe in the next couple of weeks, the responses to the grand consultation will have been published and council bosses will be giving their thumbs up to Leeds bidding to become the European Capital of Culture in 2023.

It’s way too late to quibble about who exactly has taken part in the consultation and what exactly it was that they believed they were signing up to when they said “Hell, Yeah!”.

It doesn’t matter any more. The bid is going to happen.

But it isn’t too late to have a think about how it’s all going to be organised.

So …

cultureBEFORE  the city’s progressive activators start scurrying around Leeds’ hard to reach streets with their consultation iPads, badgering ordinary people for answers to questions like: “What does culture mean to you?”, “What disruptive provocations would you like to see in 2023?”, and “How would you feel about co-producing an interpretative dance outreach workshop in your community centre? … It’s shut? … Your library, then … Oh, I see” …

BEFORE the gems and the costume jewels in our arts crown start chattering at un-conferences over bottles of designer lager about the importance of the bid bringing the sector together

BEFORE our beloved captains of industry and leaders of unelected quangos take to platforms in their M&S suits, telling the people of Leeds to “shout to the world about what we were, who we are and where we are going” …

BEFORE one of our institutions of higher learning announces plans to name its new Leeds2023 hi-tech arts production hub after Paul and Barry Ryan

ifitsnotloveBEFORE an “independent” bid steering board (chaired by someone who left the city 15 years ago) gets set up without anyone knowing who asked who to take part or why …

BEFORE the board gets shot down in flames as elitist …

BEFORE the board says “we’re listening” and adds a woman to the mix …

BEFORE an inclusive task force of edgy creatives and council officers is commissioned to draft the “overarching principles of the city’s cultural vision” …

BEFORE out of work copywriters, well-connected comms gurus and cutting-edge design practitioners start jostling for a slice of the inclusive task force’s overarching vision pie …

BEFORE the Yorkshire Evening Post in partnership with the Trinity Shopping Mall runs a #championingYesLeedsCultureIsInOurDNA  competition for the bid slogan …

BEFORE all of that …

Couldn’t we try and come up with a better way?


It would be easy.

All you’d need to do would be:

sortition11Get a list of everyone who pays council tax, randomly select 20 old and young from each postcode, lock them in a room and tell them to get on with deciding what the European Capital of Culture will be like in their bit of Leeds. These “juries” will invite and welcome local people and organisations coming to them to pitch ideas. They’ll weigh the pitches up …

… and what they say goes.

And in the centre, the Bid Board, not packed with the usual suspects, but another jury made up of 20 other randomly chosen council tax payers. Developers will come to them with their plans for “iconic” new buildings and infrastructure, vested interest groups with their ideas for “city-wide, game-changing, citizen-driven interventions”, the private sector with offers of no-strings-attached financial help (ahem) …

Aided by an impartial secretariat, they’ll assess the suggestions and have the final word on whether they’re in or out.

Talking of  money …


Arts grants cuts

It’s worth recalling that 1) in a strange twist of fate, the decision to bid is going to coincide with the announcement of where the council’s forthcoming £500k cuts to its arts grants are going to be falling, and that 2) there’s no predicted end to local government austerity till at least 2020.

So it’s lucky that these juries will be made up of ordinary people who are experts in budgeting, who routinely follow Mr Micawber’s recipe for happiness, tailoring ambition to income in the daily grind. That makes them the perfect people to decide how much we can prudently spend (Liverpool council spent £74.8m!) and what we should spend it on.

The bid’s content, vibe and finance, all in the hands of the people.

What possible objection could there be to doing it like that?


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7 Responses to That Leeds capital of culture bid: couldn’t we do it another way?

  1. Amanda Munro says:

    LOL for the second time today …….I’ll join you in your Utopia if you join me in mine ……. LOL again !

  2. Simon Jones says:

    As someone originally from Leeds but living in Liverpool for the last 20 years, one of the factors that won Liverpool the Capital of Culture in 2008 was the fact that ordinary people were very much behind it – while there was an “elite” group of the great and the good co-ordinating the bid, there was an emphasis on getting local people involved, including in the Scouse equivalents of Gipton, Burley and Hunslet. And it definitely worked – during the campaign in 2002/3 “everyone” – taxi drivers, people on buses, people at work – were talking about it and there was a real sense of “we’re gonna f…ing win this”.
    Scousers are some of the most cynical people in the UK but because the bid involved the whole city it worked.
    Not only would I say that what you’re suggesting is the right way forward, but Leeds will not win if it doesn’t bid in this way

  3. Nick Copland says:

    “out of work copywriters, well-connected comms gurus and cutting-edge design practitioners” ???who on earth could you mean? (I am fully employed by the way)
    In other news I agree with Simon Jones – that is the experience of Hull too… and most other places – if they don’t get the people behind it, it won/t win.

  4. regan armitage says:

    Whilst we are at it why not let 20 random people also make all the decisions on this random list of 20 things: the NHS, the armed forces, state education, dairy farming, urban planning, high speed rail, taxation levels, flood defences, neighbourhood tree height, fox hunting, speed limits, the criminal justice system, immigration, foreign policy, medical ethics, local swimming pool opening times, green belt use, benefit levels, child protection policy, licensing laws.

      • regan armitage says:

        We could – and we’d of course end up like Greece. Not sure exactly what a ‘semi-permanent elite’ is (sounds a bit paranoid and envious to me) but if it means people who have ambition, openness and expertise in their chosen fields then I’m all for it. A clear workable strategy and strong leadership is always required for success.

  5. All for people with ambition, openness and expertise. They will be very welcome to come and pitch to the juries of 20 randoms, who will give the venture all the leadership and strategy it needs. Greece? That made me giggle.

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