Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Leicester: an Extraordinary City?

A few years ago, Fiona Allan, the then Curve Theatre director, gave a TEDx Talk titled, "Leicester: a City of Culture".

The speech remains as relevant today as when it was first given because it shows part of how people who have an interest in the city and in the arts view what is happening here, what the city has to offer, and what needs to improve.

In her speech, Allan's main criticism seems to be that there is a mismatch between the way the city talks about itself and how others perceive it. As examples, she cites a Labour Party manifesto that describes Leicester as a City of Festivals and another document that describes Leicester's Diwali celebrations as "world famous", and she suggests that these descriptions are either exaggerations or hyperbole.

However, while there are a number of places around the world that are defined by or known for or associated with a particular large scale festival that takes place there, part of what makes Leicester different is precisely that many things of various sizes are happening at more or less the same time such that no one festival defines the city.

What Allan calls 'volume' or 'quantity' is actually a plurality of festivals. This plurality is part of what makes Leicester a City of Festivals. The plurality is a good for the city because, among other things, it means there is activity all round the year around the arts in Leicester. The plurality and activity also creates more opportunities to create, experience and take part in arts-related initiatives for more people than would happen were Leicester a mono-festival city.

Running through Allan's commentary is the observation that much of what happens in Leicester is hidden or not known beyond the city.

While I agree with that observation, I dispute Allan's suggest that this relative invisibility is because what is happening in this city is not good enough to garner national or international attention. Instead, I suggest that the relative invisibility is because of a number of factors, one of which has to do with how London-centric media coverage and promotion of the arts in Britain is.

Allan proposes the city can enthuse others about what is happening around the arts in Leicester if it improves the way it talks about itself. At the same time as I agree with Allan, I would also say the city is trying to do just that and that as part of those efforts, the city ought to set up a dedicated arts and culture research and publicity team that, among other things, maps, documents and spreads the word about arts-related activity taking place in and around Leicester.

Talking to a friend about all this, a few days ago, we agreed that another thing the city could do is draw on its strength - its plurality, diversity, internationalism or how there is someone from everywhere who calls this city home - and start having conversations with its population's source villages, towns, cities and countries about the extraordinary things that are happening in Leicester.

No comments: