This post was first published by The Croydon Citizen on 28/07/2017.
Could Croydon be a capital of culture?
Over the last year I’ve been lucky enough to work with an organisation called Bora Bora, a venue in Aarhus, Denmark, to present a festival of European contemporary dance. Spring Forward took place at the end of April this year, attended by 200 professionals from all over the world and an enthusiastic local audience. I was working from my front room in Croydon and making good use of Skype, Dropbox and email but also made a few visits to Denmark’s second city.
What struck me on arrival is how quietly organised everything is. The Danes don’t shout about their reliable public transport, great network of cycle lanes and friendly welcome (in fluent English) but I certainly noticed it. And it wasn’t long into our working relationship, that I realised the Danish are both amenable and intimidatingly organised. They were extremely well prepared for everything and we accomplished many tasks months before they would normally have been done. There were no disagreements, no last minute panics and very few misunderstandings. They set the bar pretty high.
Aarhus hosted the festival, because this year it’s a European Capital of Culture, presenting a massive array of festivals, exhibitions, conferences and conventions. Spring Forward took place in no less than eight beautifully well-equipped theatres, and that is just the half of it. They have a huge music house (a bit like the Royal Festival Hall), a Museum of Modern Art (ARoS) with a stunning panoramic rainbow walkway, and public art all over the city. The locals have really bought into being a Cultural Capital too – Spring Forward benefitted from the help of around 40 volunteers who led guided walks, manned the info desk and answered questions late into the night.
Why am I telling you this? Well, there are some similarities between Aarhus and Croydon. Our populations are comparable in size and Aarhus is notable for its good transport links and young demographic. We might not have an eight day international jazz festival (yet), but Croydon is definitely making steps in the right direction. Could we be a Capital of Culture? I’d like to think so. Once Fairfield is back in the running and Croydon has an established cultural calendar then the only way is up (baby). Yes it means investing in infrastructure and people, but let’s not forget that culture is big business and the rewards are not just financial. (UK) Capital of Culture status has been credited as turning around the perceptions (and fortunes) of Liverpool, Glasgow and most recently Hull. It would seem that the overriding opinion in Aarhus is that it’s been a force for good, bringing many tourists from Denmark and beyond and offering plenty of opportunities for residents to get involved in this year-long celebration of their city. I’m up for that.