CITY OF CULTURE: Coventry takes the spotlight
As pandemic restrictions ease in Britain, the historic but rather under-the-radar city of Coventry is ready for its moment in the spotlight having been designated a City of Culture for 2021, extending into 2022. The full-year event promises a lively program of art festivals; music, dance, and theatre performances; large-scale spectacles; and days of activism – all designed to showcase Coventry as a creative, diverse, and dynamic hub in central England.
And it’s not just Coventry, say organizers, with the entire region getting involved the “epic celebration.”
Taking place every four years, the UK’s City of Culture initiative illuminates the culture, people, and stories of a UK city and is a major driver of tourism, domestically and internationally, providing a unique and memorable reason to visit.
This year’s program – which kicked off May 15 due to pandemic delays in Coventry – includes the Turner Prize for visual artists, which will be held in the Midlands for the first time in its history; The Walk, revealing the crisis facing refugees across Europe; and musical highlights including CVX Festival and Terry Hall (lead singer of The Specials) Presents Home Sessions.
Accompanying the initiative will be investment of over £44 million ($76.3 million) into infrastructure with newly designed city centres and railway systems, public artworks, a new boutique hotel (The Coventry Telegraph Hotel, converted from the city’s iconic Telegraph newspaper building), and huge investment in cultural institutions and public realm.
Among the current highlights (events will continue to be added) are:
• Turner Prize 2021 (Sept. 29-Jan. 12): Coventry’s Herbert Art Gallery and Museum will host the exhibition of the Turner Prize’s shortlisted artists during this time, with the announcement of the winner on Dec. 1.
• CVX Festival (Aug. 12-15): A pioneering three-day arts activism event curated by young people in the city around the themes of community, unity, and social change. CVX will bring together local, regional, and national artists using their platform as role models to stand up for young people and take a stand against violence – including rapper Jay1, a lead ambassador for City of Culture.
• BBC Contains Strong Language (Sept. 23-26): The biggest poetry and performance festival ever seen in the region aims to discover the best new spoken word talent in the UK. Taking place across broadcast, digital streaming and live performance, the festival will allow audiences to listen, see and enjoy with best talent from Coventry and around the UK.
• Coventry Biennial (October – January 2022): Its third edition will take place across Coventry and Warwickshire with a four-month program dedicated to visual art and culture. Taking the title HYPER-POSSIBLE, the biennial will explore the legacies of artist-led networks, activism and ways of teaching that have emerged from and through the local area since the 1960s.
• The Walk (Oct. 27): This event will see a 3.5-m.-tall puppet of a young refugee called Little Amal voyage 8,000 km from the Syria/Turkey border, across Europe and into the UK. Arriving in October, it is a poignant and symbolic moment in The Walk, as Little Amal is welcomed into Coventry – a city of sanctuary and a city of welcome – by a participatory event designed with and for the local community.
Of course, there’s more to Coventry than its current festival. The one-time capital of England famous for the three spires of its skyline – Holy Trinity Church, Christ Church and St. Michaels – better known as Coventry Cathedral with its amazing tapestry by Graham Sutherland, has a rich, medieval heritage, vibrant shopping and food and drink scene, Transport Museum (the city is the former home of the British auto industry), and also sits in the middle of “leafy, green Warwickshire” (Shakespeare country).
“Coventry is a really special, unique city,” says Chenine Bhathena, Creative Director of Coventry City of Culture, who notes the city’s role in the international peace movement and as a “city of sanctuary and reconciliation”; as a forerunner in the environmental movement; home of novelist George Elliot, who championed women’s rights; and birthplace of “two-tone” music (and bands like The Specials and Madness) during a time of racial reckoning in the 1970s and ‘80s, among other attributes.
She adds that the city is “fantastically diverse” and a “city of many cultures (where) we like to celebrate the way everybody has helped make the city what it is.
“And the City of Culture,” she adds, “is about bringing all of this together. We don’t want to turn away from the difficult stories, but we went to show that we’re a city on the move and always moving forward.”
Situated in the heart of the country, Coventry is also an ideal gateway, or base, for discovering neighbouring Birmingham (which will host the Commonwealth Games in 2022); Stratford-Upon-Avon; Royal Leamington Spa; the market towns of Warwickshire, including Rugby, and Kenilworth; and Warwick Castle. It is also an hour by train from London, making for an easy daytrip.
First published at Travel Industry Today