With the winner of UK City of Culture 2021 expected to be announced within the next week, Team Swansea has certainly been thinking big when it comes to creating the bid that would see the delivery of a 365 day festival, unfolding across the city during 2021 creating over 5,000 jobs, with their stated underlying goal being that they make the city’s population happier, more engaged and more involved.
For the past few months Swansea has been talking culture – and that reflects the vision of Team Swansea to have an inspirational and transformational conversation between all the people and places in the city – to tell our story, reimagine our city and build a new vision for what we can become.
The prospect of securing thousands of much needed jobs, support for new and current local festivals, community projects, public arts, events and high profile commissions, supported by a new digital and creative infrastructure – are just some of the reasons that Swansea entered the race to be named UK City of Culture 2021.
The bid builds a programme and ambitious targets for getting the greatest long term outcome for our communities in Swansea by drawing on themes that shine a light on our pioneers past and present; the unfound and quiet talent in our people; the opportunity to create new relationships between traditional industry, production, crafts and digital; and the opportunity reimagine our city and find new ways to share our story and find our place in the world – as well as getting artists and communities more involved in the regeneration and planning of the whole city.
UK City of Culture is about bringing a city’s cultural life, heart and spirit to all – through ambitious programming that benefits from an injection of talent, funding, publicity and partnership working that couldn’t be achieved otherwise. The programme is key to achieving the jobs, visitor numbers, profile and publicity as well as sponsorship and world class artists, but it’s also about how it secures long term benefits for the city overall.
The suggestions for Swansea’s programme include a number of free, high profile, outdoor productions that unite all our people and places across Swansea – and tell our story through arts, performance, literature, history, digital, dance, sports, music, play, sub-culture and family events. Some of the larger events proposed by our impressive alumni include a new composition by Sir Karl Jenkins; a new theatre piece by Michael Sheen; and large scale dance and theatre piece with Wales Millennium Centre, National Theatre Wales, Candoco and National Dance Company; storytelling and community programmes; working with community groups and local artists who have put forward incredibly inspirational ideas. In the long term, this will lead to people in Swansea being better connected, measurably happier, healthier and more likely to feel good about their communities and have pride in Swansea, it has been revealed.
Tracey McNulty from Swansea 2021 and who is Head of Cultural Services at Swansea Council, says the bid is realistic, smart, forward-thinking, and imaginative – full of the heart and humour of Swansea, with long term benefits that Swansea needs and deserves: “I’m proud of the way Team Swansea came together to create and put forward a really strong bid for UK City of Culture 2021. Friendships and new relationships with our community groups, between organisations and creative individuals with civic leaders and institutions have already been created and these can only get stronger. I hope the judges see how much care, sincerity, optimism and ambition has gone into it and agree that we will be the best possible host for the UK in 2021, because we will deliver an outstanding programme that has relevance for the whole UK, but which makes a game changing impact on our current community and future generations.
“Our bid isn’t a wish list. It sets out ambitious targets for making a difference to people’s lives in Swansea, getting people talking, addressing loneliness, ill health, low aspiration, poverty and health for the long term. It’s also about an inspirational programme of events, productions and commissions across the city that will provide a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity for many. That’s the key issue for us – this is for the many – this is for everyone – you are all invited. To win this we do need to prove to the judges that the quality is world class, that it reflects the whole of the UK and is deliverable – but importantly – that if we hold the title, the impact in Swansea, on our communities and future prospects, will be greater than anywhere else. We’ve had to put this ‘impact’ in black and white and provide evidence of the jobs, visitors, health improvements and happiness levels that we can achieve – with a really solid way of measuring this and proving what a difference culture can make to our lives; including a target to raise people’s happiness levels by at least 10 per cent.
“We’ve spent a lot of time working out how we can achieve this. We feel confident that with a really committed team and strong partnerships, all properly resourced, then it’s more than doable. Some of the aspects of the bid I am particularly keen on are the pledges to roll out an arts version of the National Exercise Referral Scheme, where GP’s will work with us to refer patients to arts and cultural activity, where this could support or even replace medication for some people. We are also putting in place programmes for young people who are not in employment, education or training, disabled, low income and other social groups who need greater support to achieve their potential, to gain work and volunteering experience in the programme. This includes 40 programmes run for and by older people, to help address isolation and loneliness, communication, dementia and inter-generational support alongside engaging some 2,000 students to volunteer or to take part in a cultural event or programme and help them to feel supported, away from home, isolated and vulnerable to increasing pressure and mental health problems. Families in the East of the city, who we know from our research, are more likely to have low incomes and who are the least likely to take part, will be supported through ticketing, transport and family learning activity in their communities and in the city overall. All this will unfold once we start to work with the hundreds of artists and community groups in Swansea to develop the community programme. We haven’t begun to describe the opportunity yet and I’m really excited to hear the ideas see this unexplored aspect of what our 2021 will be, come to life. ”
Here are some of the key details of the Swansea 2021 bid at a glance:
Events and activities
- Turning Tides – A City Revealed. Is a distinct retelling of a traditional Welsh legend which will unfold throughout the year as an epic production across the expanse of Swansea Bay incorporating 12 festivals and a 365-day community festival
- New productions that use arts and culture to explore our relationship with the sea – environmental issues such as ‘rising tides’, recycling, migration, loss, gender, tradition, craft, new technology, change, language, communication, heritage, identity, power, control and sanctuary.
- The first female winner of the Turner Prize, Rachel Whiteread, will be Swansea 2021 artist in residence. Rachel is a pioneer in her own right and her previous work resonated with the bid team who heard again and again through consultation, how much people in Swansea cared about their historic buildings, lamented the loss of past landmarks and want to see building utilised – not left as ghostly remnants.
- In the lead up to Swansea 2021 a number of commissions will take place to build audiences and get everyone involved, ready for the opening ceremony. The city will also host a further five large-scale BBC events in the lead-up to and during 2021 as well as Swansea’s regular large scale events, like Proms in the Park, and hopefully – the Eisteddfod and Urdd as part of the celebrations.
- New cultural routes and walking tours of the city
- A Welsh Folk Week based around St David’s Day, celebrating our heritage, language and culture
- An intergenerational project using photography, digital art, augmented and virtual reality to create a new vision and story of Swansea
- A children’s festival – commissioned, curated, presented and managed by children for children
- Architectural commissions of ‘pavilions’ – ‘follies’ – beach huts across the city for community interaction, performance and presentations
- Artists in residence in care homes, housing estates, businesses, hospitals, schools and colleges to create a document of Swansea 2021, our communities and our story
- A storytelling and vocal festival – with choirs, opera, bands, songwriters, cultural stories/ identity and traditions shared across the city as a musical relay celebrating all our voices and all our stories
- Closing event – a large-scale performance on the bay, which will draw together the festival and community programmes.
- With City of Culture status the creative industries sector will grow by at least 25 percent
- The year will see around 5,000 jobs created across the creative and cultural industries, tourism, programming and production sectors
- 2021 will establish a skill academy with a legacy programme of apprentices, work experience and mentorships for long-term benefit to local people
- Digital, conferencing and design will feature in the Swansea 2021 programme, with social media platforms and websites designed, managed and content driven by and for young people in the city.
Visitors and the local economy
- Employment related to the visitor economy is already expected to grow from 6.1 percent of the total current economy to 6.9 percent in 2021. With the addition of Swansea 2021 the visitor economy is projected to contribute 8.4 percent of total employment
- Swansea 2021 is expected to get 5.7 million visitors, spending £431 million
- Swansea 2021 is expected to increase the number of international visitors from the 83,158 baseline to 104,293
Wellbeing and inclusion
- Swansea 2021 plans to boost happiness among local residents by at least 10 percent – measured via the ONS survey and resident satisfaction surveys
- Swansea 2021 will ensure Swansea is a disabled friendly and an autistic friendly destination and there will be fully accessible and integrated assisted programming and performances
- Specific activity representing BME, LBGTQ+, unemployed youths, older people, and disabled people will be supported to develop cultural programmes and business skills and to help these under-represented groups enter creative industries
- Swansea 2021 will work with DWP and Job Centres Workways to support NEETS and unemployed workers to provide them with experience and skills to access the job opportunities
- A new transport service will be commissioned to ensure audiences and volunteers from the hardest to reach communities with low levels of income and transport infrastructure are able to volunteer and take part
- Swansea 2021 will support local artists, students, NEETS to work alongside the large-scale production companies, international artists and organisations on Swansea 2021 events to build experience, skills and capacity in our communities and ensure we continue the good work.