This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Celebrating our culture
Leicester is to launch an ambitious bid to become the UK's next City of Culture.
The city is hoping its multi-cultural history, track record of staging events such as Dave's Leicester Comedy Festival, Diwali celebrations and the Caribbean Carnival will help it secure the title in 2017.
Its bid will also draw on the recent high-profile discovery of Richard III's bones under a council car park.
Bid organisers hope the role could lead to an influx of tourists generating millions of pounds of wealth for the city. They say Leicester's time as the UK City of Culture would feature a large programme of festivals and participatory events.
Leicester is bidding for the title for 2017 as this is when the 2013 UK City of Culture and inaugural holder – Derry in Northern Ireland – will hand over the honour.
So far rivals include Plymouth and Aberdeen, who have already announced their bids.It is rumoured that Nottingham may also enter the competition.Leicester City Council is pledging £50,000 to cover the initial stage of the bid.
In May or June cities will be short listed and, should Leicester progress, a similar amount would be needed to complete the bid.
Businesses and sponsors are being sought to provide financial backing.
Chief executive of Curve theatre Fiona Allan, who is a member of the consortium planning the city's bid, said: "There would be so many benefits if we won. Firstly, I hope people would feel pride in this city. "To win would show we are confident in our cultural offer. There would be a significant media and tourism knock on.
"We have all the ingredients already.
"Leicester is one of the UK's most culturally diverse and interesting cities."
From our Roman history, medieval growth, industrial prosperity to today welcoming people from all over the world to our diverse and vibrant communities, Leicester has rich stories to tell. The king in the car park is just one of many."
While cultural organisations here like Curve already enjoy a global reputation, with significant investment having been made in Leicester's cultural infrastructure and the development of our creative industries, the time is ripe for Leicester to show its creativity to the world." It would be like the cultural equivalent of the Rugby World Cup." Ms Allan said a program of proposed events would be drawn up. She said: "Leicester is known as a city of festivals and there would be a large programme of festivals. We would want some real showcase events.
In recent years, new events – including Indian Summer, Leicester Fringe, Tales of the Riverside and the Green Light Festival – have appeared on the city's calendar alongside established favourites such as the Caribbean Carnival, Diwali, the Spark Children's Arts Festival and the comedy festival." I think people outside Leicester will be surprised by what we can offer," said Ms Allan.
"We need to change the narrative of the city which has been a bit negative in the past. We really underplay ourselves."
"There would also be participatory activities to get as many people as possible involved."
We don't want to announce too many of our good ideas to rival cities. I am sure we will see more bids coming out of the cupboard in the next few weeks."
Cities vying for the title have until April 30 to submit a bid for consideration by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.
Leicester's bid will focus on its lively arts scene and highlight the breadth of cultural activity taking place, with workshops in museums and galleries, stand-up comedy in city centre pubs, international stars taking to the stage at Curve, and a Bollywood blockbuster – Mad, Madder, Maddest 2 – set to have its world premiere in the city in June.
Chief executive of the Leicestershire Chamber of Commerce Martin Traynor, is also a consortium member. He was part of a Leicester delegation to Derry last year when the bid was being touted.
He said: "We are convinced this is something Leicester could do very well. We already have a rich multi-cultural offering."
We have suffered from a low international and national profile but that can change."
Richard III is already changing that and becoming UK City of Culture would be another springboard with massive potential impacts."
Leisure and tourism is worth £1.4 billion per annum to the city and county. If we could increase that by just one per cent that would be £1.4 million and could create hundreds of jobs."
City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby, who is leading the consortium, added: "Becoming UK City of Culture would bring huge benefits to Leicester, giving us an opportunity to highlight the city's history and reinforce its identity, while providing a much-needed boost to the local economy."
A city council spokeswoman said: "In 2008, Liverpool was the European Capital of Culture – a title that business leaders estimate was worth an extra £200 million to the city's economy."
Although the UK City of Culture competition is on a much smaller scale, it's clear that the opportunities for the winner are there to be seized."
The winner will be announced by the Government in November.
North and south – the two rivals, so far
Aberdeen, nicknamed The Granite City, is one of Leicester's rivals for the capital of culture title.
It is renowned as an oil city after the discovery of vast deposits under the North Sea.
It is home to a maritime museum, an art gallery, a number of cinemas and hosts the Aberdeen International Youth Festival, said to be the world's largest arts festival for young performers.
The city football team won the European Cup Winners Cup and the European Super Cup in 1983, under Sir Alex Ferguson, and has won the Scottish Premier League four times.
Aberdeen Lord Provost George Adam said: "Aiming to win the City of Culture title in 2017 presents Aberdeen with a tremendous opportunity and a terrific target to aim for.
"A proud city like Aberdeen should be aiming high and I have no doubt that everyone will pull together."
Aberdeen City Council chief executive Valerie Watts said: "Aberdeen already plays on a world stage in the competition for business and investment – and bidding to win the City of Culture title will be a huge benefit in terms of putting ourselves firmly on the international map."
The quality of life here in Aberdeen is already very high. We can all now work together to build on that to make the city even better – and to let the whole world know."
The south coast city of Plymouth, in Devon, is also hoping to clinch the title.
The old naval base is home to the annual British Fireworks Championship and is also home for the Royal Marines.
It has a range of cinemas, arts centre and galleries.
Plymouth's bid leaders hope that if they win, the city could host top-class events such as the Brit Awards, the Turner Prize and the BBC Sport Personality of the Year ceremony.
Plymouth Culture Board executive director Abby Johnson told The Herald newspaper: "I believe Plymouth has got such potential. People can help by simply talking up the city and talking up their cultural experiences."She said winning would create jobs, boost creative industries and see visitors' spending rise, adding: "Liverpool got £8 back for every £1 it put into the European Capital of Culture bid."Plymouth City Council and Plymouth University have each pledged £20,000 towards the bid on the condition the £40,000 handout is matched by the private sector.
Leicester City's Cultural Diary
The main events in Leicester’s cultural calendar include:
Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival, which celebrated its 20th anniversary this year.
The February event – which is thought to boost the local economy by £2 million – annually sees appearances from both world-famous performers and some of the funniest up-and-coming comics, at venues across the city.
Leicester’s Caribbean Carnival has brought the city centre to life every August since 1985, with the exception of 2006.
The celebration attracts thousands of visitors with its colourful city centre parade, street dancing and music.
Leicester’s annual Diwali celebrations are thought to be the largest outside India.
Huge crowds flock to the city’s Golden Mile. The Hindu Festival of Lights began last year with 35,000 watching a lights switch-on spanning a kilometre along Melton Road.
Leicester Pride is popular celebration of the city’s gay, lesbian and bisexual and transgender communities held in late August or early September each year.
Marchers in weird and wonderful costumes parade through the city centre before heading up to Victoria Park for a fairground and concert.
Christ in the Centre is the city’s dramatic recreation of the Easter story, with Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection being played out before thousands of people in Humberstone Gate.
It has become established as one of the biggest and most effective pieces of Christian celebration staged in the country.