“This bid is about the future of Sunderland – particularly its people,” says Rebecca Ball, Bid Director for Sunderland 2021.
“It’s all well and good providing an unforgettable year of cultural highs, but what then happens on January 1, 2022?
“A successful City of Culture is about improving a city, using arts and culture to be a catalyst in building a better future. So in a way, this bid is for our young people - building them a better city.”
Ensuring an enduring legacy will not be easy – just ask Derry/Londonderry, City of Culture in 2013.
BBC journalist Elaine McGee, a broadcaster for BBC Radio Foyle, had a warning for next year’s City of Culture in a blog written just last month.
“2013 was a year Derry will never forget … the eyes of the world were on Derry and it certainly felt there was a new confidence to the city and its people.
“Three years on though, our listeners have been left asking what do we really have to show for it? Legacy funding dried up in 2015, with successful city of culture projects suffering.
“The advice to Hull would be to enjoy every second of your title year. But keep in mind what you want to have to show for it once the party is over.”
Rebecca is determined that a hangover cure will not be necessary and the benefits of the prestigious title would be felt by generations to come.
“Of course we want to inspire people with once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for audiences and performers, enjoy the huge economic benefits, and shine a spotlight on the city,” she said.
“But our bid will be transformational. Sunderland in 2022 will be a better place to be than in 2021, especially for young people and even without a year of world-class arts programming.
“2021 will be the year our city comes of age culturally, but its benefits and impacts will be felt for years to come.
“Our bid will look at the challenges young people in Sunderland face and will use arts and culture to work with partners and find real and workable solutions.
“And in doing so, we will work alongside and be led by young people. We will be listening, not dictating.
“We’ll also be using a language young people understand – we’ll be maximising access and participation by using digital technologies.”
That work has already started, with the bid team visiting several of the city’s secondary schools where they’ve given assemblies on the 2021 bid and what it could mean for the city, and pupils themselves.
In the assemblies, students are asked what engagement they currently have with arts and culture, and what sort of events and activities they’d like to see more of in the city.
On a more strategic level, the bid team and steering board are working on and refining plans which would offer genuine opportunities for young people in the years leading up to 2021 and throughout that year.
“We’re setting ourselves tough but achievable targets,” explained Rebecca.
“We want to recruit a Generation 21 team of 16 and 17 year olds who will be young adults in 2021 to work with us to develop part of the bid so that the ambitions really capture the ambitions of young people in our city.
“And of course it is a great chance for those young people to develop their leadership skills.
“And talking of skills and training, we want to work with local and regional organisations to offer 50 cultural apprenticeships and internships per annum in the years leading up to 2021 – developing their skills for careers in the arts.
“Sunderland Cultural Partnership has already established a Learning Group and will be tapping into the national Arts Award scheme to develop arts and leadership skills among young people aged up to 25.
“Young people will inherit real longer-term benefits through our strong focus on education and skills.
“We’ve already started constructive talks with Siglion about developing a physical legacy – talking to them and young people about spaces in the city that could be used for arts and culture up to and well beyond 2021.”
“It’s important for the city, that we don’t lose our brightest and best – that young people from all backgrounds see the city as a place of opportunity and somewhere they want to be.
“Organisations like the university, the college and the MAC Trust are working hard to make the city more attractive to young people – and we have a role to play in this regard to.
“We plan a major, annual young people’s festival in the city – along the lines of the Juice Festival in NewcastleGateshead and the Imaginate Festival in Edinburgh. And we’re working with other partners to look at other challenges.
“For instance, one target is to work with Sunderland Mind to reduce the number of mental health admission from young people by a quarter. The number of such admissions is well above the regional and national average.
“Our target sounds ambitious, but study after study has shown how cultural activities can significantly reduce stress and anxiety.”
“To ensure the legacy of a successful 2021 bid is long-term and sustainable, we’re developing a shared cultural strategy with schools, Sunderland College and the University of Sunderland and the cultural education partnership initiated by Culture Bridge North East.
“There are 54,500 people under the age of 18 live in Sunderland, and we want to give each and every one of them to be involved in Sunderland City of Culture – be it as a performer, an audience member, working with artists in schools or as part of community residencies.
“This is their bid – aimed at improving their future.”
To find out more about Sunderland’s bid to become a City of Culture and what it could mean for the area, visit www.sunderland2021.com/