SWANSEA might consider a bid to become City of Culture in the future after declining to throw its hat in the ring for 2025, council leader Rob Stewart said.
The council applied for the inaugural City of Culture, in 2013, and then again for the 2017 and 2021 status but lost out to Derry, Hull and Coventry respectively.
Newport, Powys, Conwy County, and the City of Bangor and Northwest Wales are among the 20 UK contenders vying for a year in the cultural spotlight in 2025.
Asked by the Local Democracy Reporter Service what Swansea Council’s reasons were for not applying this time round, Cllr Stewart said: “Our current efforts are firmly focused on helping Swansea and its cultural community lead Wales out of the pandemic.
“That work has continued throughout the pandemic and will continue in the months and years to come.”
Cllr Stewart said when Swansea last made a City of Culture bid it pledged that culture would play “a transformational role here, unifying people and place, mobilised by stronger, richer and deeper participation”.
He said the council had delivered on what it promised, despite not being winners.
The Swansea 2021 bid team included the city’s two universities, creative businesses, arts leaders and the Welsh Government, among others. Actors Michael Sheen and Rhys Ifans were among those who backed it.
Cllr Stewart insisted that Swansea – the birthplace of poet Dylan Thomas – was Wales’s city of culture.
The Glynn Vivian Art Gallery has been refurbished, the Albert Hall is to be renovated and reopened as a live music venue, and the new indoor arena off Oystermouth Road is expected to open, in phases, from the end of 2021.
Cllr Stewart said the city’s Grand Theatre was “building a new more inclusive future for new and existing audiences”. In 2019 the council pulled a booking by Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown at the venue, saying the controversial entertainer “doesn’t reflect its values”.
Cllr Stewart said the city would be busy for the Swansea Fringe festival in October, and that another historic building – the Palace Theatre – is to be given a new lease of life as a creative business hub.
The Swansea Labour leader added: “We’re introducing new art into busy public locations such as the (city centre) Copr Bay hoardings, major music events are planned for venues such as Singleton Park and the Liberty Stadium, and the hugely popular Wales Airshow will be back next summer.”
Cllr extended the council’s best wishes to the 2025 City of Culture contenders, and added: “We may consider a bid in future years.”
Feedback on Swansea’s failed 2021 attempt said that despite positive aspects, the bid was “not as strong at illustrating cultural leadership from the cultural institutions in the area, and whilst judges clearly understood the cultural infrastructure and leadership in the city, they needed to see how the authority would and could do its part”.
There were also some concerns about the focus on regeneration, with culture adding value but not driving the agenda.
Opposition leader Chris Holley led the council when it applied for the 2013 City of Culture, and recalled it being a rushed process.
The Swansea Liberal Democrat leader said he was disappointed when the 2017 and 2021 bids were unsuccessful.
Cllr Holley said he’d heard that Swansea’s key role in the city deal for the Swansea Bay City Region was a factor the 2021 result.
“I understand we (Swansea) didn’t get it because we had the city deal,” he said.