Emerge Festival Panel Discussions: Coventry City of Culture 2021 – OurWarwick

Emerge Festival Panel Discussions: Coventry City of Culture 2021

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (the)
Emma Barnard | Theatre & Performance Studies Contact Emma

Hello everyone!

Following from my previous post about Emerge Festival, I wanted to detail my experiences of attending a panel discussion on 31st October. The panel was chaired by Performance and Coventry City. Moderator: Dr Nese Ceren Tosun and featured panellists: Chenine Bhathena (Creative Director, Coventry City of Culture Trust), Prof Nicolas Whybrow (University of Warwick), Dr Natalie Garrett-Brown (Coventry University), and Feat. Theatre. The topic of interest was that the city of Coventry and the 2021 upcoming City of Culture award. Many sub-topics were unpacked, but, if I were to pull out some ubiquitous themes it would be: funding, Coventry and its connotations, creative opportunities in Coventry, the preservation of the legacy of the city of culture, and student involvement in the project. I believe this is a really interesting topic, particularly for creative students at Warwick as Coventry city of culture 2021 could be a springboard and platform for future creative projects. Not only this but supporting creativity in the West Midlands is something I am really passionate about. Not every student is equipped with means that could support them in the vibrant capital. London, to some, is provisioned with diversity and artistic inspiration, and of course this is undeniably true; London has a wealth of creative exhibition. However, for others, the London economy is becoming more and more inaccessible. This inevitably leads to creatives looking elsewhere, somewhere else to create, live and collaborate, and Coventry could be such a place.

To begin with, the panel reflected on what the connotations of Coventry are in current times.  According to polls the general consensus is that most people do not have a negative connotations of Coventry, neither do they have positive ones, meaning that the Coventry City of Culture Project (link to more information here: https://coventry2021.co.uk/) effectively has a blank canvas to work with. Coupled with this it was revealed that Coventry is seven years younger than the national city average age. Seemingly, Coventry is a young city, with statistical backing stating most people have an indifferent connection with Coventry. Evidently, a lot of work and money is being poured into this project to turn this all around. Also, it is easy to consider the City of Culture Project to be an annual endeavour, however, of course, it extends to four years of cultivation which manifests into what we will see in 2021.

So what exactly is Coventry’s upcoming plans? Essentially, the city is in preparation for welcoming new visitors, piloting new festival ideas and exploring its unique spaces and what those spaces can provide for performers. Panellists Dr Natalie Garrett-Brown and Professor Nicolas Whybrow enlightened the discussion with their specialist insights into Coventry and its spatial potential due to a research project they are undertaking called Sensing the City – Moving and Mapping: Knowing Communities through Dance Practice. Dr Garrett-Brown spoke extensively about using organic spaces already present in Coventry as being perfect stimuli for creative work, these being: the ring road, the river, the market, cathedral, and the city centre (pictures below). If creatives begin thinking now about how they can inhabit and enhance these spaces, drawing upon their inherent performativity, this could be a great point of departure for a piece that could potentially be pitched for funding from the 2021 project. For further illumination on Dr Garrett-Brown’s project I have included the link and a short summary of the project below:

‘Sensing the City – Moving and Mapping: Knowing Communities through Dance Practice, is an AHRC-funded project, in collaboration with Warwick University. Led by Dr Natalie Garret Brown and Dr Emma Meehan this project takes the form of a research lab curated by enter & inhabit exploring the ways in which dance practitioners and the moving body offer spatial, haptic and affective understandings of the cityscape, understood to be an evolving and dynamic landscape. Specifically the project works to engage with those that inhabit the city of Coventry and those that contribute to the public planning and social policy of the city.’ (https://www.coventry.ac.uk/research/research-directories/researchers/dr-natalie-garrett-brown/ n.p. and for further context visit http://www.enterinhabit.com/)

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(Above: Coventry Ring Road)

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(Above: Coventry canal)

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(Above: Coventry market)

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(Above: Coventry cathedral)

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(Above: Coventry cathedral’s famous welcome sign)

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(Above: Coventry city centre)

In terms of funding, the website posits that: ‘There are two streams of funding available for artists, charities and other organisations to apply for

·         The first is the Get Ready Fund, with grants of up to £2,000 available, which can support a range of activity to help prepare for 2021.That could be everything from research, development and feasibility studies through to covering the costs of training or skills building courses.

·         The second is the Road to 2021 Fund and this offers grants of up to £10,000. It is aimed at those who want to trial projects which may form part of the programme in 2021, or to develop new partnerships across the arts and cultural sector.’

Furthermore, figures were disclosed regarding younger people and more specifically the student to non-student ration in the city. In Coventry they are 60,000 students and 100,000 non-students. The panel discussed catering for the cultural needs and desires of the non-students as well as students. Not only this but non-students have expressed a desire to work collaboratively with students, however have expressed that there is some difficulty accessing the student community. It would be certainly beneficial if the 2021 project managed to bridge the gap between students and non-students in the West Midlands, as this intersection could generate work that has not been previously experimented with.

A final interesting fact about Coventry is that Coventry has the highest number of patents produced in the country. It is clear that Coventry is home to great inventors, thinker and creators and if the 2021 project taps into the embedded innovative nature of Coventry then it will be a fantastic showcase of diverse cultural capital, which will leave a lasting legacy for generations to come.

Finally I wanted to reflect on what the City of Culture project has done for Hull (UK’s City of Culture 2017). They have since constructed Absolutely Cultured ‘the new name for the company which delivered Hull’s year as the UK City of Culture 2017…With a new name, new brand and a refreshed company purpose, Absolutely Cultured is an arts organisation rooted in Hull. Building on the success of Hull 2017, the renamed company has a mission to create ambitious, surprising and challenging artistic works that bring people and communities together.’ (https://www.visithull.org/thestory/about-us/ n.p.) Clearly the project has given new impetus to new programmes and partners that will help secure Hull as a cultural centre. The application of something similar for Coventry was voiced at the panel show. The City of Culture project is mindful that a performance should not be the climatic ‘end’ to a creative trajectory, therefore the panel are keen to implore tactics that will produce lasting change for Coventry. Some of the ideas discussed were extending city night life and providing new pursuits post evening restaurant culture. Coventry is keen to become a hub of social culture at not just a place of work, or student drinking. (!) Chenine Bhathena spoke about making this city environment possible, whilst navigating evident operational hurdles.

I hope that this post has enticed you to think about Coventry in a new way. I also hope that the prospect of the City of Culture being so close, both temporally and spatially, has sparked within you some aspirations for devising, creating and performing in the future. Coventry has exciting times ahead and I hope that we can all be a part of it.

All the best,


United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (the)
Emma Barnard | Theatre & Performance Studies Contact Emma

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