CAPITAL OF CULTURE: They Make Creative Use of History, but Where's the Talk of Art or Aesthetics?
Sutcliffe, Thomas, The Independent (London, England)
VISIT THE glossy websites of the front-runners for the title of Capital of Culture 2008 and you'll be hard pressed to detect much about aesthetics amid the droning buzz-words of urban aspiration.
This is about vision and goals, input and outreach, diversity and empowerment, regeneration and repositioning. And "repositioning" may well be the most important promise of all. Ever since Glasgow demonstrated in 1990 that a city laid out by the Luftwaffe and most famous for the finesse of its facial scars could successfully reinvent itself as a lifestyle honeypot, everyone has realised that the title of City of Culture does actually have an effect. Wish it hard enough and it will be so - particularly if the wish comes with an endorsement from Europe.
The magic wand of rebranding used to be waved by the European Council of Ministers but the title is now conferred on the Buggins's Turn principle - and in 2008 Buggins is us. Cue a mighty mobilisation of the good and the not-so-great - and a national scraping of barrels in the search for occasions of civic pride. In some circumstances the preservation of this sentiment is little short of heroic. "The history of the city is all about cultural diversity", said Belfast's bid director, "but that's never been packaged positively." Something of an understatement that - but then it's a bit difficult to put a positive spin on those traditional expressions of cultural diversity, the nail bomb and the street riot. Difficult, too, to see how local tensions could quickly be refigured as "creative" - for all the talk of "living life in the BelFAST lane". But the evidence is that Belfast, like other competing cities, is relying on the Trivial Pursuit factor to pull together the local community. …