Coventry’s year as UK City of Culture has already brought major benefits to the city six months into holding the title – and there is much more to come!
Coventry City of Culture kicked off on Saturday 15 May in the midst of Covid-19 restrictions with the release of a George Eliot-inspired short film Timeless Words Made New with a music track by local Producer Coolie.
Six months on, City of Culture has seen activity across every neighbourhood in Coventry, including smaller events created alongside communities such as Party on the Green and European Hearts as well as city centre celebrations at the Assembly Festival Gardens. There has also been larger, city-wide activity including Coventry Moves, Faith, Little Amal’s Walk and Summer of Surprises.
Just over 141,000 tickets have been issued for live events taking place in the first six months, with an estimated further 52,000 attending un-ticketed, free events. 260,000 people have also engaged with City of Culture events online due to an increased focus on live streaming.
Making the arts more accessible is a key focus for the Trust with 43 per cent of tickets being booked by people on lower incomes in the city so far. In this period, 673 local people have taken part in workshops, helping to create events and alongside over 1,500 community dancers, musicians, poets and makers who have taken centre stage as part of events.
Of those people who attended events, 74 per cent said it had increased their pride in Coventry.
The Coventry City of Culture Trust has directly created 102 jobs, including employing 14 apprentices.
More than 1,100 City Hosts have been fully trained and deployed, racking up over 12,000 volunteering hours. The Trust have also engaged with over 80 per cent of schools.
Economically, City of Culture has secured £172.6 million of direct investment into the city since winning the title in December 2017.
In the first six months, the Trust has awarded £4.5 million to projects led by local artists and organisations. Both large and small organisations have been supported, alongside individuals and freelance workers. Organisations include Belgrade Theatre, Warwick Arts Centre, Albany Theatre, Shoot Festival, Coventry Cathedral, Coventry Biennial, Highly Sprung, Coventry Caribbean Centre, Coventry Arts Collective and many more. The Trust has also supported a variety of Community Radio Stations including Hillz FM, Vanny Radio, Radio Plus, Coventry Hospital Radio, Abbey Radio, Radio Panj, Block Radio and Raw.
Martin Sutherland, Chief Executive of the Coventry City of Culture Trust, said: “The city can be proud of everything that has been achieved over the last six months – but there’s much more to come in the second half of our year.
“The Trust and our partners have delivered in extraordinary circumstances, and we are so glad that audiences have responded so positively.
“Since the bidding period, the city has been promised that City of Culture would have a transformative impact. Through the multiple capital projects in the city centre and across the city’s cultural venues, to the unprecedented investment in local arts organisations, to the huge interest in volunteering, and the creation of our apprenticeships – we are well on our way to achieving our ambitions.”
In June, Coventry 2021’s signature event Coventry Moves saw music, theatre and dance taken to every ward in the city while thousands watched the day’s events unfold online.
The Assembly Festival Garden in the city centre proved to be such a major draw between June and September 2021, that it will return in March 2022.
A Summer of Surprises saw a range of pop-up activity taking place all over the city – from Fire Gardens at Caludon Castle through to local musicians appearing in pubs and a summer wide programme that celebrated local talent from Coventry Welcomes, Cardboard Camps and Generate Festival to the Sound of Coventry, Pride and Reggae Fever.
Across the city, nature and the environment came to the fore in the summer, with Observations on Being in London Road Cemetery in partnership with Historic Coventry Trust, a huge celebration around the Coventry Canal with Highly Sprung’s Castaway and Heather Morison’s Small Bells Ring with the Coventry Library Service and Party On The Green in local green spaces across neighbourhoods in the city.
The CVX Festival was a platform for young people to create a youthful festival with music and street dance, while Faith – a two-day event created with faith leaders as a partnership with the Royal Shakespeare Company – offered street theatre performances, art installations, an online cook-a-thon and saw faith spaces opening their doors to hundreds of curious visitors.
Many local/global issues have been under the spotlight, including living with dementia in Theatre of Wandering, homelessness in the HOME Festival, chronic illness in Cloudspotting, climate crisis in Walking Forest and creative freedom in Battle of Ideas.
The world-famous Turner Prize exhibition arrived at the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum in September, being presented for the first time ever in the Midlands and will remain in place until January, alongside the third edition of the Coventry Biennial. The visit of Little Amal as part of The Walk drew thousands into the city in October, highlighting Coventry as a city of welcome and sanctuary.
Additionally, the city has hosted and collaborated with many local stars including Pauline Black, Terry Hall, Jerry Dammers, Jay1, Hazel O’Connor, Navin Kundra, Coolie, Panjabi MC, Ken Loach and Debbie Issit.
Chenine Bhathena, Creative Director of the Coventry City of Culture Trust, said: “What an amazing six months we have enjoyed!
“Since starting our year in May we have had to work incredibly hard, very flexibly and creatively to create an events programme that can be delivered safely in our global pandemic. We have created a programme that is rooted in the many cultures, stories and tales of Coventry and our communities, that brings colour and mischief to spaces/places all over the city, that is co-created with local citizens and that brings loads of fun and joy to people, as well as drawing attention and highlighting issues that are important locally and globally.
“I’m delighted that we’ve been able to support hundreds of local independent artists and small companies as well as local venues and promoters in these challenging times, investing in them to ensure that they can make and create work in the city as part of our City of Culture year and continue to be resilient long after. Our strong broadcast collaborations with BBC and Sky Arts have enabled us to both invest in and provide platforms for local talent, as well as to amplify our storytelling, reaching hundreds of thousands more people in the UK and beyond.
“There’s so much to look forward to as our year runs through to May 2022 and we can already see the positive legacy of our investment in people that will benefit the whole city longer term.”