City's creative bid to be

THE hope is to sing Sheffield's praises from the hilltops. An ambitious programme of events has been drafted for 2013 including one called 'musical beacons'.

"Sheffield's seven hills will come alive with the sounds of Sheffield's choirs and bands and performers.

"Thousands will perform for seven nights to see how far sound can travel across the city and to sing the songs – past and present – of the city.

"It will be embellished by light installations as part of our digital arts programme to communicate between the seven hills."

Whether Sheffield will have something to sing about will depend on an announcement due to be made this month of a shortlist for the UK City of Culture in 2013.

A list of bids from 14 places will be trimmed by Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw to four or five in the next couple of weeks.

Priding itself on strong cultural and creative credentials, Sheffield was not going to pass the opportunity to achieve national and international recognition.

Yet any optimism has to be tempered by those canny assessors of reality, the bookmakers. As the race got under way last autumn Birmingham emerged as a favourite with Sheffield in the middle of the field.

Submissions are currently being scrutinised by an independent panel of experts and a decision on the winner is expected in the summer.

Judges are looking for a successor to Liverpool, which was UK City of Culture in 2008, with the prospect of a wealth of events and activities during the year in the spotlight.

Moreover, it is argued, the accolade can be expected to generate significant investment and tourism, raising the profile of the host city.

The winning location in 2013 could stage high-profile media events including the Turner Prize, BBC Sports Personality of the Year (well, Sheffield had that last December), The Brits and the RIBA Stirling Prize.

Sheffield's bid document makes clear that civic leaders see the prize as being just part of a longer term strategy of maximising the potential of the city's cultural and creative assets.

"We see our UK City of Culture bid as a major catalyst for achieving our ambition to be the UK's most creative city by 2020," says the report.

It points to solid foundations, thanks in part to the work of organisations such as Sheffield Theatres, the Museums and Galleries Trust and Sheffield International Venues.

Already the city stages a varied and successful range of festivals including Grin Up North, Off The Shelf, DocFest, the Galvanize festival of contemporary metal and the Children's Festival, which will helpfully celebrate its silver anniversary in 2013.

Successfully staged one-off events in the past couple of years have ranged from the Bollywood Awards at the Arena to U2 at Don Valley.

The city is renowned for the diversity of its musical talent and the size and vibrancy of the creative economy is not to be under-estimated. Of the city's working population, 7.2% are employed in the creative and digital industries.

Companies such as Warp Records/Films, Designers Republic and Sheffield Independent Film have already helped to put the city on the cultural map. The Digital Campus is the latest addition to a burgeoning business sector.

The essence of Sheffield's submission is that it involves "genuine mass participation" with the intention, for example, of commissioning "1,000 great ideas from the people of Sheffield".

Events and activities would be taken into all corners. "We will co-opt and sometimes gatecrash parks, workplaces, schools, GP surgeries, pubs and clubs, highways and estates."

The vision encompasses the likes of Jarvis Cocker, Alex Turner and Richard Hawley working with emerging musical talent and international artists, occasionally with gigs in unusual locations.

Sheffield wants to host the Electric Proms.

Ambitions extend to "seriously exploring the option of the city having a resident orchestra by 2012", examining the feasibility of creating a Festival Centre in a landmark location to cater for the expanding festival sector and addressing the currently "underdeveloped base for visual arts" to reflect Sheffield having the largest population of working artists outside London.

Could a successful bid open the door to public funds for the long-awaited refurbishment of the Central Library?

Overall, it adds up to a bold statement of intent – one that may have to be largely pushed to one side later this month once the shortlist is known.

Competition is coming from Barnsley, Birmingham, Carlisle, Chichester, Cornwall, Derry, Durham, Hull and East Yorkshire, Ipswich and the Haven Gateway, Norwich, Portsmouth and Southampton, Southend and Swansea.

The bid team is being led by representatives of the council and economic development agency CreativeSheffield, working with a steering group including representatives of organisations such as the two universities, Sheffield Theatres, Museums Sheffield, Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust, Showroom Cinema, Music in the Round and Sheffield Contemporary Art Forum.

Coun Sylvia Dunkley, cabinet member for culture, sport and tourism, said: "We believe we've put forward a very strong case in our bid for City of Culture and the focus of the bid is to encourage more people in the city to get involved in arts and culture in all its forms.

"We know the competition to be named the UK's first City of Culture in 2013 will be tough but we are ready for the challenge and look forward to the announcement with much anticipation."

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