Morning View: A Little Imagination Could Take Belfast a Long Way as a City of Genuine Culture
BELFAST WILL BE PUTTING ON ITS best face today for the visit of the panel of judges and officials who have flown in to assess the city's bold and imaginative bid to become the European Capital of Culture in 2008.
Esteemed television producer Sir Jeremy Isaacs, accomplished BBC presenter Sue McGregor and the knowledgeable Natural History Museum trustee Judith Edwards (flattery gets you anywhere) are heading up an eight-strong team charged with scrutinising the Imagine Belfast entry.
Of all the cities that have entered the competition, Belfast's bid is by far the most intriguing: just 10 years ago, it was the kind of place most sensible people preferred to avoid unless they had a compelling and unavoidable reason for being here.
Can it really have changed to the extent that it is now worthy of an award which, by its very application, will encourage people from all over Europe, and beyond, to visit it for the purpose of sampling and enjoying its cultural delights?
Yes, yes, and yes again.
It could be said of Belfast that in some ways it is a city of too much culture. Too many of our differences are rooted in cultural expression, and remain unresolved. Instead of a cause for celebration, they often serve to deepen ancient divisions, instead of binding the fabric of our society, which is where their potential lies.
Some of Belfast's rivals believe this is reason enough to exclude the Northern Ireland capital from serious consideration.
But that would be to misunderstand what the Capital of Culture bid is all about. One of the key criteria is that the coveted award should go to the city that has most to gain from winning the accolade.
While some competitors can claim more impressive buildings and facilities dedicated to culture and the arts, it would be difficult to find any city in the United Kingdom which stands to gain more from having the accolade bestowed upon it.
And if the level of relative progress over the past five years is to be taken into consideration, then Belfast has been transformed in a way none of its rivals can match. …