East Kent, the area that I grew up in and where I’ve spent most of my life, is bidding to become the UK City of Culture in 2017. This is an innovative, exciting attempt to bring together the areas of Ashford, Canterbury, Dover, Folkestone and Thanet as a single ‘city’ for the bid.
Over the last ten years, there has been a flourishing of cultural activity and investment in East Kent. My Phd (which is almost finished!), looks at how this has taken place on Kent’s coast. I’ve written about cultural regeneration has been taking place in seaside towns generally and in Margate and Folkestone, specifically. Inland though, there are other exciting cultural activities – Canterbury is a beautiful heritage city with an international arts festival and Ashford has an emerging arts scene with a new exciting venue and an inspiring, energetic arts manager in the local authority promoting the work of the borough’s artists.
East Kent is a diverse and interesting part of the country – it is an area of significant economic growth and home to some very wealthy people, but it is also the site of areas of significant poverty and exclusion. Kent is a huge county, and large parts of it are rural (the garden of England, apparently!), but the urban areas are densely populated and growing fast. For years, the area’s proximity to London has been a brake on the development of its cultural offer, but now high-speed links and it’s great quality of life mean that it can attract new residents from the capital and put on events that attract London audiences.
The successful opening of Turner Contemporary on East Kent’s most distant tip shows that distance is no barrier in attracting audiences if the quality of the cultural offer is high and the marketing is right – this bid will showcase the excellent cultural activity of the area and build on the buzz around Margate.
I want this bid to win. 11 cities are submitting bids and East Kent’s is clearly the most innovative – bringing together a huge range of local authorities, cultural organisations and other agencies. If East Kent isn’t successful, then there is a huge amount to be gained from the bidding process: new links between councils who have competed rather than co-operated in the past, new networks of cultural organisations, a better sense of the cultural offer in the area and increased visibility for tourists and visitors.
Of course, as a researcher, I and others will be looking for opportunities to get under the skin of this bid and the project itself, if East Kent win. These projects aren’t without their critics and maximising the benefits of this for tourism, economic development and the cultural sector will be challenging, but bidding, and hopefully winning, is the beginning of an exciting new opportunity for East Kent. The short list for the next stage of the competition will be announced in June – you can support East Kent’s bid by clicking here and adding your name!