There’s a lot of activity around Plymouth’s bid for City of Culture status in 2017. I’m absolutely in support of it, and hope that whoever is putting our bid together will be successful. There have been some interesting posts and comments in support of it, particularly recently from YonYonson here, talking about work and activities taking place in different parts of Plymouth. The City of Culture status would give us a great opportunity to profile and boost all the truly talented and exciting schemes which are already underway. In no particular order, here’s my wishlist for the bid:
Make the most of the library. I used to love Plymouth library when I was growing up, and even though the staff there now are excellent and helpful, it’s an institution which could benefit from some love and attention. If we could make the library the true home of writing in Plymouth, open it in the evenings for readings and writers’ groups, bring in a cafe or a bar to make it a genuinely social place, it could be transformed. With the decline of bookshops and the continued growth of internet buying, there are less and less places for people to gather and browse books and generally think about books. Let’s get rid of all our conceptions of what a library should be, and turn Plymouth Library into the model of a new community-based literary hub, accessible to everyone night and day. If that means taking it out of direct council ownership, then so be it.
Create a new community space for artists in all fields to use, with room for dance and theatre rehearsals, painters’ studios, musicians rehearsal rooms and recording suites, photographic studios. There are fine theatre and arts institutions in Plymouth, but this would be one to be run by and used by the community itself, not by professional arts administrators. Take a look at the entrepreneurial activities already of Plymouth artists. Vince Lee’s Plymouth Blues Society has its inaugural gig on 7th June and is a great example of collaborative thinking. The Beat Breakers dance group bring their hi energy talents to the Theatre Royal in May. Tribe magazine continues to bring new work by Plymouth artists to an international audience. What links all three of these is that they are artist-led developments. Let’s use City of Culture to celebrate this entrepreneurial spirit by making a permanent base for artists to use and control themselves. (It’s not as though we haven’t got quite a few empty iconic buildings in the centre of town…) The investment in fitting it out would easily be recouped over the long term from the artistic outputs that it generated.
Bring the sea into the heart of our culture. The quaint new pub sign which the Council has put up celebrating Plymouth as Britain’s Ocean City is all well and good, but I’m not sure what it means. We need to drag the sea into the city, develop the shorefront so that it’s as busy as it used to be when I was growing up, when the rocks and huts at the front were filled with families spending the whole day there with picnic lunches. The Terrace Cafe on the seafront does a wonderful job of combining the perfect view with music and performance, but it and the rest of the shorefront needs the city to physically spend more time there. How about compulsorily purchasing back Drake’s Island and putting in a permanent boat connection and making the island a modern centre of water sports excellence? The wonderful Moby Dick Big Read project spearheaded by the University is a great example of how the sea can inform our culture here.
Develop an annual Plymouth festival which is run by Plymouth business people – invite energetic people like The Range’s Chris Dawson to spare a bit of their hard-pressed time to give some proper business guidance, creating a financially feasible festival. A properly dynamic Plymouth festival featuring arts, sports, food and crafts could actually make money as well as giving an outlet for our artists and producers. But it would need some commercial minds to run it, because we all know there is not going to be much public money available for anything over the next few years.
I wish our bid administrators every success in their work. Strangely, despite all the enthusiasm which there is for the bid, I’m not aware that many people know what it actually is – I certainly don’t. Can the administrators be a little more public about their ruminations and share with us all what they plan to submit? I’m sure they’d get a lot of support in return if they shared their thinking! Good luck to them anyway.