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Can Sheffield become the City of Culture in 2013?

Paulette Edwards, Paul Allen and Mark Jones
Paulette alongside theatre critic Paul Allen and Mark Jones

After the huge success of Liverpool's 2008 Europe's City of Culture Culture Secretary Andy Burnham announced plans to establish a British City of Culture prize in 2009. The idea behind the award is for winning cities to gain the right to host a number of key events every four years, moving the spotlight from London.

Fourteen cities put together a bid to become one of those cities for 2013. Sheffield was one of them. In February 2010, Sheffield was named one of the shortlist of four

Is Sheffield worthy of being the first city of culture 2013? That was the question discussed at the Sheffield Memorial Hall. The panel was made up of representatives from various facets of the arts including local singer Jon Mclure, from Reverend and the Makers, Sandra Newton from Museums Sheffield, broadcaster and writer Paul Allen and Emmy award winner Kwame Dawes who was just passing through to read some of his poetry.

BBC Radio Sheffield Presenter Paulette Edwards, was also on the panel and she takes a look at the evening and some of the questions raised about Sheffield and what culture really means.

By Paulette Edwards
BBC Sheffield & South Yorkshire

I'm in Sheffield because my parents came here as immigrants from Jamaica. I travelled away a few times to Huddersfield, France and Toronto but always came back to Sheffield like the proverbial boomerang; maybe I'm just boring.

And as for the question 'What is culture?' I am reassured that the Minister of Culture has discussed that very question on the Culture Show, and if she doesn't know…

I suppose we consider theatres, music, museums and literature as culture, but isn't culture much more? The footballer supporters watching their team on a wet Saturday afternoon forms a strong part of the face of Sheffield. When Gladys Knight and her remaining Pip sang at the Arena, I couldn't believe those six inch silver heels wanted to tread a stage in my city. Queueing in the rain for Vivienne Westwood's remarkable exhibition woke Sheffield up and turned the Memorial Hall into a magnificent stage. And what makes a city like Sheffield capable of creating great bands like the Human League, Pulp and the Arctic Monkeys.?

The culture of Sheffield, we discussed, is above all the soul of Sheffield and the concept we have of Sheffield as a village. Did you feel excited when the Crucible finally came out of refurbishment? Add to that the edge that the steel industry has, as one member of the audience said, left on the landscape and heart of Sheffield and of course we mustn't forget the seven hills (how could we).

BBC Radio Sheffield's Paulette Edwards
Paulette asks - what does culture mean to you?

So The Culture Debate, chaired by a fuschia-clad Mark Jones was rather civilly discussed over water and in front of a relatively mixed audience. Was it me, or did they just want us to get on with it so that they could listen to John McClure's acoustic set?

Looking at the bidding criteria to become City of Culture in 2013 Sheffield would need to 'deliver a high quality cultural programme that builds and expands on local strengths and assets…' I think we do that. Our range of festivals, events and exhibitions are a credit to any city.

What about the criteria to 'deliver a programme that uses culture to lead to lasting social regeneration…'? We have to admit that we have seen change from the African-Caribbeans in the 50s and 60s which included my parents, to the people seeking refuge from the war in Somalia … hasn't Sheffield tried to reflect and support each group with varying levels of success?

Of course more could be done, greater value could be given to events across the smaller communities, more exposure for some of the communities who are frequently playing to their own rather than a wider audience.

Also, wouldn't it be joyous if we could all shout more loudly and clearly about what we do as a city? But apparently, that is part of what makes Sheffield so unique. We are shy, we don't shout about our achievements and advertise ourselves. We leave the 'showing off' to Manchester and our other big brother cities like Leeds and sometimes Liverpool. Oh well, what's a city to do?

Kwame Dawes spoke of his diverse heritage and what that gave him as an individual and thus anything that he put into the world. He also spoke of his perception of culture and, although that is a huge part of culture and the part we most frequently consider, culture is about so much more.

Kwame Dawes
Kwame Dawes, Jamaican poet and Bob Marley specialist

So what about Sheffield culture? The beauty of Sheffield is that it tries to reflect the groups within it as Sheffield continues to grow and change.

Each student who leaves home to study at our universities and falls in love with the Peak District, our green spaces and the scores of cultures represented in the wide variety of restaurants on London Road should feel at home. And each immigrant who leaves home and makes Sheffield their home for 'a better life' should become a Sheffielder and feel reflected across the Arts, the spirit and the culture of the city. We, as a city, should challenge anything that tries to prevent that.

Working at BBC Radio Sheffield has made me more aware of the variety of people, arts, events, festivals that are available in Sheffield. My role as one pair of the 'eyes and ears' of Sheffield has also made me more aware of the people who create little bits of magic within the city but do not have the ability and / or inclination to promote themselves. And of course we mustn't forget the question of Sheffield's North East / South West gap - is it getting wider?

So with all that in the pot what are Sheffield's chances of succeeding to become City of Culture 2013? And what makes Sheffield a place we want to stay?

Derry/Londonderry, Birmingham, Norwich, and Sheffield - make up the final four cities in line for that great prize. You can read more here via the BBC News website. What are our chances are of succeeding?

Well, we have started the debate… over to you…

Paulette Edwards
28 Jul 09 |  TV & Radio



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