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An ArtsProfessional feature in partnership with Coventry City of Culture

Jon Davis explores how Coventry’s history is a map to its artistic and cultural future. 

Art installation in Coventry cathedral
Ghosts in the Ruins by Nitin Sawhney

Mark Murphy

Culture in any city is not static, it is dynamic and evolving. The Coventry UK City of Culture 2021 programme reflects the city’s past but it’s also an illustration of how Coventry’s history is key in shaping its artistic and cultural future.

The diverse range of events in our year-long festival are representative of the spirit of the city: playful, youthful, innovative, creative, curious. And the Dynamic City team is playing a crucial role in delivering it, putting art and culture at the forefront of the city’s vision for itself, by bringing forward-looking performances of scale, public art, exhibitions and storytelling to the streets.   

Coventry’s year in the limelight is perfectly timed to explore how art and culture can impact the reimagining of a city. The pandemic challenged perceptions about the way we want to live. It connected people with outside spaces like never before, and now we are using culture and performance to invite local people to connect with their surroundings and make decisions about how they want to live. 

Challenging the concept of a livable city

Through the programme, we are challenging the concept of a ‘livable city’, finding innovative ways for audiences to explore Coventry’s natural heritage. The multi-sensory Random String Festival: Light night walks uses digital technology, light, sound and projections to introduce audiences to a 1km stretch of the canal, encouraging audiences to rediscover this area of environmental importance in the city centre.

Events which form the Green Futures programme, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, put environmental awareness at the forefront of audiences’ minds. The recent performance activism event, Walking Forest, has also given local people a voice to describe their relationship with their environment and nature.

A big part of what our team has achieved for Coventry City of Culture 2021 is ensuring multiple and varied points for audiences to connect with creative activity, to ensure access to all. Cara Pickering is Visual Art Programme Producer in the Dynamic City team, “Our ambition is for people to realise art is for everyone and that includes the making and delivery. Art does not have to be confined; it should be rolled out in every institution and every building and within the fabric of the city itself.” 

Constantly developing and reinventing

Coventry is a city that is constantly developing and reinventing itself, from the ashes of the second World War to its changing industry and social makeup. Post-lockdown Coventry faces a different type of resurgence, and we are exploring how the arts can encourage people back to the city centre with installations like The Show Windows

A collaboration between businesses, Coventry Business Improvement District, RIBA and local, national and international architects and artists, this initiative has created an ambitious programme of window art. Through these displays we invite local shoppers to both look inside and explore their own imagination. 

The diverse range of visual arts and installations curated by the Dynamic City team is opening up culture in non-traditional venues and challenging the expected. As the city undergoes significant redevelopment, artists and communities are being placed at the heart of these changes, helping to imagine a more playful city.  

Coventry is a youthful city by demographics, and in spirit. The average age of its population is eight years younger than the UK average. The arts and music scene here has, historically, been strongly influenced by emerging youth cultures and youth politics. Our programme reflects this significance of youth culture in a place which has given rise to several global youth movements. The rise of 2Tone in the early 80s, was a counter to the racism of the punk era and Coventry became the heart of the rave scene, hosting the first legal all-night rave. 

A celebration of its musical history

This month a new immersive, multi-media exhibition, House is a Feeling by Adi Dowling, has been exploring the impact of electronic dance and rave culture on Coventry’s young people. The exhibition contains uncensored accounts tracking Coventry’s place as the pioneer of this global movement and multi-billion-pound industry, creating a blueprint that was copied world-wide.

Ghosts in the Ruins, a site-specific commission created by Ivor Novello Lifetime Achievement recipient Nitin Sawhney CBE, aims to harness the spirit of the city’s past and bring it into the modern day. This new musical and performance piece will have its world premiere in January 2022, to mark the 60th Anniversary of the consecration of Coventry Cathedral, for which Benjamin Britten’s original masterpiece ‘War Requiem’ was commissioned. 

Local singers will join professional singers and musicians in the performance at the cathedral. It’s a reminder of a painful past but also a demonstration of Coventry’s pursuit of peace and reconciliation over retribution.

The work the Dynamic City team is delivering showcases the creativity and spirit of Coventry to the world, and those in the arts and culture industry can come and experience it for themselves by registering as delegates. The Coventry 2021 delegates team are on hand to support visits from professionals, build itineraries and open the door to new relationships between local and national creative talent. 

Jon Davis is Senior Producer for the Dynamic City Team, Coventry City of Culture Trust.

You can register with the Delegates office here. Or you can email delegates@coventry2021.co.uk.

This article, sponsored and contributed by Coventry City of Culture 2021, is part of a series inviting professionals from across the arts and the creative industries to experience the cultural programme as Delegates.

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