Great expectations over bids for festival of northern culture

Rob Sharp, Issue 116/07, p7, 01.07.2016
As the deadline to host the Great Exhibition of the North passes, organisers hope it will showcase the entire region
About eight bids are expected to compete to host the Great Exhibition of the North, the government-backed initiative to celebrate northern culture in 2018.

Gary Verity, the chief executive of tourist organisation Welcome to Yorkshire, who is chairing the board that will report to ministers on the applications, says the applications come from across the region and are mainly collegiate bids between several organisations.

“We’ve had a lot of conversations,” says Verity, speaking ahead of the deadline for bid submissions on 30 June. “People have been in touch and will be scurrying away now, putting their submissions together. There isn’t a target number. The most important thing is that at the end, we get one very strong place that will be the anchor for the exhibition.

“The aim is to showcase the great art, culture and design across the north of England, not just where the exhibition happens to be based.”

At the time of going to press, the only bid to go public has been from Bradford, which announced its intentions in May. The bid team is being advised by Claire Morrow, Welcome to Yorkshire’s former chairwoman, and engineering consultancy Arup. The bid team is headed by Shelagh O’Neill, an assistant director at Bradford Metropolitan District Council and project director for the largest urban water feature in the UK, which opened in Bradford city centre in 2012.

According to the bidding guidance, the exhibition is expected to cover topics including regional art, culture, design, business and university research. The show will run for at least two months and will benefit from £5m of government funding. The chosen venue should build partnerships across the region and create the opportunity for satellite events elsewhere.

Showcasing innovation

“To my mind, the exhibition will have an arts quarter, a cultural quarter and a heritage quarter,” adds Verity. “It’s about innovation. The working title we’ve given it is the Economy of Tomorrow. What is the north doing now, and what examples are there of places that have really transformed and are presenting things in a modern way for young and old people? It’s important we shout about all the great examples of success across the north.”

Verity says he expects the highest percentage of visitors to come from the north, and that both contemporary and historic exhibits would be represented.

A briefing document circulated by competition organisers stated that the “exhibition could be hosted by any city/town regardless of size” and bidders are able to suggest government help that might improve transport links to the proposed venue. Bid documents will need to contain information about additional sources of funding. As well as promoting northern culture, the exhibition “should also contribute to graduate retention in the north”.

Alex Bird, the sector development officer at Museum Development Northwest and a Museums Association board member, says: “I’ve not heard any concrete plans from potential bidders about their proposals. The project could be a great showcase for the north, but to ensure the success of it, there needs to be buy-in from multiple sectors including science and heritage, the partner organisations and the general public.

“I’m keen to see how the cross-sector partnerships are being developed and how the winning city or town ensures that the entirety of the north is represented.”