As the deadline for submission of the final bid to become the first UK City of Culture in 2013 passed, it was a fitting coincidence that in Norwich, one of the four finalist Cities, a 16-day long celebration of every aspect of the arts was coming to an end.
The Norfolk & Norwich Festival, which offers a plethora of events at various locations across Norwich and beyond, is an impressive testament to its organisers in that it seems to gain in popularity and scale with each passing year. Events attract a full range of ages from all walks of life, exposing the Cities’ residents and visitors to the different, diverse and dynamic in a familiar, yet for the duration, slightly fabulised setting. Equally, the fact that Norwich so enthusiastically embraces the festival is testament to us as a City, and our desire and capacity to embrace culture.
We have discussed the Norfolk & Norwich Festival regularly over the past month, in person, on Twitter, on Facebook, on our websites… As part of the Festival we as a family watched an amazing fireworks display, attended a Baby Rave, saw a giant inflatable Red Ball in a handful of locations around Norwich, visited 2 exhibitions and joined in a large Garden Party. It has been a fun couple of weeks and to be honest, we’re a bit sad that its all over.
Having a City-wide event that excites and unifies its residents is healthy and stimulating for a community, especially in such times of dramatic economic and political change.
Perhaps of course, it is not a coincidence at all that a festival highlighting Norwich’s wonderful ability to embrace culture is closing down for another year just as we submit our final bid to become recognised as a place of cultural significance. Lets consider some facts…
We have several excellent, critically-acclaimed theatres, arts centres, cinemas, colleges, libraries, galleries and museums, spanning in age and form from the Norman-built Castle Museum (originally constructed after William the Conqueror realised Norwich’s importance as a City) to the revolutionary Sainsbury Centre built by Norman Foster.
An ancient settlement, with a rich and varied history peppered with contributions from a multitude of different cultures, you have only to read the Wikipedia entry about Norwich to confirm that we are a forward-looking City with a ‘pioneering spirit’. Heck, we apparently hosted the first arts festival in Britain in 1772!
It follows then, despite the comedic stereotype of a Norfolk-yokel who shuns ‘outsiders’ and mocks the ‘arty’ or new, that we are actually a City that thrives on, and embraces, high culture when the opportunity presents itself. We build on an enviable historical foundation and blend it seamlessly with that which is considered to be the cutting edge for each subsequent historical age (example: the iconic inter-war City Hall that Hilter wanted to get his hands on and the stunning Forum in the same vista). Considered throughout history to have been second only to London in terms of importance, Norwich is not simply deserving of the title first UK City of Culture. Norwich defines it.
Though we’re not overly optimistic (sorry), football may ‘come home’ this summer. Perhaps in 2013, culture will come home as well.