Paul Russ on Nottingham's Bid to be European Capital of Culture 2023

Photos: Tom Morley
Interview: Jared Wilson
Monday 23 October 2017
reading time: min, words

Nottinghamians don’t need telling that our fair city is the most cultured in Europe, but apparently some folk aren’t aware. We asked Dance4’s Paul Russ, chair of Nottingham’s bid to become European Capital of Culture 2023, to tell us about the campaign to make us European champions once again…



How did you get involved in the Capital of Culture 2023 bid?
It began two years ago when I became chair of the Strategic Cultural Partnership. At that point, we set out to establish our shared ambitions for Nottingham and what culture’s role should be in supporting the development of our great home. We’ve spoken to many people across the city about their desires for the future of culture in Nottingham so, from that point, the prospect of a Nottingham 2023 bid was on the cards.

Like many places, Nottingham has had its fair share of knocks, and austerity has hit many people very hard, but I believe that even in hard times people need great things to do; people want to be inspired and entertained and see new energy breathed into communities and neighbourhoods, as well in as the city centre. People of Nottingham have told us that they want to live in a more thriving, exciting and connected place. There’s a desire to see the education, employment and health prospects for future generations improve, and we were told as arts leaders that culture has to play its role.

What’s your role in the 2023 bid?
I support the partnership and the team developing the bid. I’ve been doing lots of interviews, presentations and trying to meet as many people as possible in the city and further afield; convincing them that this is the right time for Nottingham. This opportunity is going to help us reinvigorate our city, inspire lives for the future, and show others what’s so special about this great place.

If Nottingham wins, what does that mean to the average local punter? How will it make their lives better?
The European Capital of Culture is known for bringing tourism, jobs and investment into the awarded city. Even through the bid process we’re developing relationships across many communities, industries, schools; the list goes on. These relationships are bringing people and organisations together that have never met before, talking about how they can work together to achieve more, and how this competition can establish new ways of working to improve the lives of the local punter.

This is a five-to-ten-year vision in terms of the lead-up and legacy to transform this city, attract investment and increase resources and jobs. When Liverpool hosted the contest in 2008, it attracted 9.7 million additional visits to the city; a 34% rise on the previous year. These visits generated an additional direct visitor spend of more than £750m across Liverpool, Merseyside and the wider North West region.

As part of the bid, we want to give everyone in Nottingham the opportunity to take part in a project, production or experience and nurture the next generation of creative producers and cultural leaders. Culture is for everyone, and winning the bid will help us to provide the public, and visitors, with greater opportunities to experience the arts and creative activities, as well as foster a greater sense of civic pride.

Who are we up against for the award?
In 2023, both the UK and Hungary will host a European Capital of Culture. Belfast, Dundee, Leeds, Milton Keynes and Nottingham are all in the running for the UK designation. All really different places, with different ambitions and stories to tell, but of course, we believe Nottingham is the place to beat.

How many of us have been on trips to great cities across UK and Europe and oohed and ahhed at their museums, their performance venues and public spaces? Well, living and working in Nottingham over the years and having being lucky enough to visit many other European cities, I find myself constantly noticing that Nottingham has a stonkingly brilliant cultural scene, unrivalled by many of the other cities I visit. I don’t think there’s another city in the race that would deny Nottingham as a contender. Also, Nottingham were once football champions of Europe; the city loves a competition, and we certainly feel we can be champions once more.

What are the implications of Brexit on this? Particularly as we’re up against some pro-EU cities, and Nottingham was a majority leave-vote city...
This bid isn’t about membership of the EU, this is Nottingham's opportunity to demonstrate how it is one of the great European cities and to redefine our cultural relationship to Europe. We’re a place where people from all over the continent – and the world – live side by side. Nottingham has helped shape the world through inventions and great cultural exports. The designation provides us with an opportunity for the city to create a new set of European connections for generations to come, to enjoy and benefit from Nottingham’s welcoming and embracing European home for many nationalities.

What do you think makes Nottingham the perfect fit to become a Capital of Culture?
Previous winners are places that had a sense of needing reinvigorating, places that had fantastic things going for them, but needed something to focus on to bring everyone together. I want to see a place that can work better together and, through a cultural programme, transform the lives of people here. We’re an ambitious place with a large, young population as well as diverse communities.

As a city, we face many issues not unique to Nottingham, such as isolated older people, low education attainment and skills gaps. However, we’re a city with a culture of pioneering innovation and grassroots collaboration. Nottingham is the perfect canvas for a European Capital of Culture; it has a strong, collaborative local network of arts venues, artists, community-led organisations and creative businesses, ready to welcome visitors and to make the most of new connections so that everyone has the opportunity to thrive in the future.

Who are the people driving this bid for our city?
So many people: from our city’s cultural institutions, education establishments and businesses that have pledged early support to the bid, through to members of the community that are sharing their ideas and getting behind the great bid team. This is a big team effort, it can’t just be one person that drives it forward, and I’m thrilled to say it isn’t.

What’s Nottingham’s campaign going to involve?
It’s already begun with many events and conversations taking place across the city. Over the coming weeks, there’ll be stalls pitching up in all the neighbourhood markets talking to people about their ideas and aspirations. There’s a programme engaging young people through their schools that has already begun, as well as many cultural events throughout October that will showcase the talent in the city and the ability for us to put on great events. We’re also really wanting to hear ideas. If you have a great idea to support the campaign, feed the programme or host an event, just let us know.

How can the people of Nottingham get involved?
Backing the bid is simple. You can pledge your support by signing up on the website. Start following the bid on social media @Nottingham2023 and become a “Cultural Lion” by heading to the website and telling us what you’d like to see change if Nottingham was European Capital of Culture. We’d love to hear from people.

Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Where outside one of the major international capitals like London, New York or Paris can you see and take part in as much as you can in Nottingham? So many places envy what we have, I think it’s not only time to shout more proudly about what we have, but for us to work better together so everyone living and working here can begin to have a better future.

Nottingham Capital of Culture 2023 website 

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