Andy Burnham: Every city should have a chance to be British City of Culture

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Too much of Britain's cultural world is still exclusively focused on London. People expect London to stage world-class culture and art. But when those prestigious events take place outside the capital, the impact can be more powerful and inspiring. A statement is made by the host city and and perceptions are invited to be challenged. London is a truly world-class cultural centre – perhaps the world's leading – and we should certainly cherish it as such. But that status need not in any way be threatened by London-based cultural organisations and events operating across the UK as truly national organisations.

All British cities are full of talent and cultural enterprise. And yet there is a casual perception that nothing much of cultural value takes place in them. We've got to change that. One way to achieve this is to encourage national cultural organisations to be clear about their national role and purpose, and what they can do to work with culturally ambitious cities. Of course there is the work of the RSC across the country, of Opera North and the South Bank Centre through the Hayward.

But we can do more – and must continue to build the kind of national and international ambition in the regions that Liverpool has shown in its year as capital of culture. So I have a new proposal – one that is inspired by Liverpool and which would create a worthy legacy. It is a permanent British City of Culture prize. By receiving national recognition, every city in the UK could be given an opportunity to bring out the creative skills, talent and enthusiasm of its people – to showcase itself on the national stage.

A new panel will consider the feasibility of a British City of Culture prize beginning in 2011. It would consider how frequently it would be awarded, but a working assumption could be a four-year cycle. It would also need to consider a core list of events that the winning city would gain the right to host – events such as the Turner Prize or the Brit awards. Each winning city would be the one promising not just to do the core events well, but the one with the best vision for how it will use the award to inspire its citizens and transform its prospects, and change people's perceptions of how the city sees itself and how it is seen by the rest of the country.

Andy Burnham, Culture Secretary, was speaking in Liverpool last night