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A ‘century of culture’ for Coventry

19 September 2017

A guest blog by Jonathon Harris, Curator for Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art

Work continues apace at Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art, in preparation for the opening of our inaugural edition on 6th October. We are incredibly excited to be transforming the historic Coventry Evening Telegraph building (now affectionately known as ‘the CET’) into a large gallery for our main group exhibition. With our festival theme being ‘The Future’, this is not only a chance to offer full public access to the building for the first time in some years and fill it with an exciting collection of contemporary artworks that showcase visions, impressions and responses to many possible futures for the city. It is also an opportunity to take a moment for broader consideration of the ways in which visual art can be threaded more extensively into the existing fabric of the city in a way that helps to promote cultural vibrancy, social wellbeing and economic success over the coming decades.

With 37 artists in our main group show alone, and the rest of the biennial unfolding over 9 exhibition spaces as well as a variety of non-traditional and ‘pop-up’ public places, our intention is for all people in Coventry to experience a wide-ranging and accessible view of British and international contemporary visual art in a context that is relevant to both the city and its future. Whether we are welcoming you to your first contemporary art festival or to your hundredth, there are many ways to get involved and enjoy the biennial. Our programme of events ranges from weekend Arts Awards for primary school children through exhibition tours and symposia, all the way to art-plus-music evenings and an artist-led mead-tasting ceremony inside a giant outdoor shrine!

Coventry is a city that is serious about culture. Despite facing many of the same constraints as other councils around the country, the recently published Coventry Culture Strategy for the ten-year period until 2027 is fully supported by Coventry City Council, as well as the city’s two universities (Coventry University and University of Warwick). Such a supportive context in which to deliver the UK’s newest biennial is greatly appreciated by the biennial team, and we hope to build on this over the next ten years to grow the biennial into a special event that is both unique to Coventry and close to the heart of all Coventrians.

This is an enormously exciting time to be working in Coventry, especially in the cultural sector. There is a palpable sense of confidence around the city about the ways in which Coventry will develop during the 21st century, with plans afoot to build on both the city’s international reputation and its collection of internationally renowned architecture, both of which grew defiantly out of the post-Second World War period.

To be selected for City of Culture 2021 would be an incredible boost to the work that is already being done in Coventry. In particular, City of Culture in 2021 would help cement the cultural groundwork being laid under the current ten-year culture strategy. I am convinced that Coventry deserves to be selected as UK City of Culture for 2021, not least because City of Culture in 2021 could very well mean that this becomes a ‘century of culture’ for Coventry.

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