Cultural Cities AHRC Research Network (2011-12)

Funded under the Creative Economy strand of the Connected Communities programme, the Cultural Cities Research Network was formed in March 2011 to discuss the impact of bidding for the UK City of Culture 2013 title. Network members included different individuals and communities involved with or interested in the bidding process from the three shortlisted cities of Birmingham, Norwich and Sheffield, such as local authority representatives, academic researchers, arts and cultural organisations, plus other businesses, services and professions across public, private and voluntary sectors. Together the network considered what connects cities during the shared experience of bidding for cultural titles, including situated contexts, motivations and expectations, and the impact of bidding upon the policy-making process; the role of the creative economy in city strategies; and connections between different communities.

In a balanced consideration of the bidding process, findings indicate that the competition acted as a powerful catalyst in galvanising cities to think more strategically about their cultural offer, identity and heritage within a national context and in comparison to other drivers. Connections between relevant [professional] communities of practice and interest are strengthened considerably; there are limits however to the extent to which different residential, cultural or social communities become engaged at the bidding stages. Risks associated with bidding for high-profile cultural titles are also outlined – highlighting considerations for future bidding cities and those inspired by the ‘promise’ of culture-led regeneration. Network members identified a number of learning outcomes and recommendations for the UK City of Culture advisory panel, and emerging research questions on dimensions of the ‘cultural city’ including issues of cultural entitlement, collaboration, place-making and leadership.

The network was led by Kerry Wilson (Principal Investigator), Head of Research at the Institute of Cultural Capital in Liverpool, in association with Co-investigators Dr David O’Brien of City University London and Prof. Ian Grosvenor of the University of Birmingham. Regional events throughout 2011, including three full-day research seminars, were supported by partners Sheffield City Council, Norwich City Council and Birmingham City Council. The final network event took place on 22nd May 2012 at the Merseyside Maritime Museum, where the outcomes of regional discussions were shared with the wider academic community. Panel members including Dr Jonathan Vickery, University of Warwick; Dr Roberta Comunian, University of Kent; Dr Oliver Mould, University of Salford; and Dr Peter Campbell, University of Liverpool, gave insightful responses drawing upon their own research on cultural policy and creative industries.

A full report on network discussions and outcomes – ‘It’s not the Winning: Reconsidering the Cultural City’ – can be accessed in the ‘downloads’ section above.

Keywords: culture-led regeneration; cultural policy; cities.


The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funds world-class, independent researchers in a wide range of subjects: ancient history, modern dance, archaeology, digital content, philosophy, English literature, design, the creative and performing arts, and much more.  This financial year the AHRC will spend approximately £98m to fund research and postgraduate training in collaboration with a number of partners. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits but also contributes to the economic success of the UK. For further information on the AHRC, please go to: www.ahrc.ac.uk.

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