Big Ideas

Seven Big Ideas

The Seven Big Ideas are at the heart of bringing the cultural strategy to the city. They represent achievable targets that will bring life and substance to the strategy’s principles and goals. Under each idea the strategy proposes examples of the steps that could be taken.

Godiva at Warwick University Godiva at Warwick University

1. Coventry The Place Partnership

Coventry will establish a new independent cultural place partnership to support cultural growth and opportunities in the city

The process of bidding for UK City of Culture 2021 is already joining up the city and delivering significant added value to the sector with the creation of the Coventry City of Culture Trust. The Trust is an independent body with representation from the City Council, the universities, the private sector and leading cultural and heritage organisations. The strategy sees the trust as a proto-type vehicle to drive the ambitions of a civic partnership approach to culture in the city. A partnership approach will access more funding routes for culture and ensure that resources are maximised and costs of maintenance and delivery are reduced. Some benefits to date include:

  • Coordinated research and evaluation across the city
  • Joining up the cultural sector and the beginnings of collaborative programming
  • Widespread engagement of the two universities – including business development support and international collaboration
  • Establishing a dialogue between stakeholders and communities
  • Business engagement and investment in the city’s cultural growth
  • Improved media profile and positioning
  • New partnerships – locally, regionally and nationally
  • Establishing a new narrative of re-invention and ambition and strong themes for programming the city
  • Making Coventry more ‘visible’ regionally and nationally
  • Improved networking across the city with cultural, heritage, business and community groups and agencies
  • Building capacity in the cultural sector and mentoring a new generation of producers, programmers and creative artists
The city has a very strong basis for a place partnership embracing the City Council, cultural sector, two universities, private sector and others such as Historic Coventry. The process of bidding for UK City of Culture 2021 has developed a team that can support longer-term cultural programming and collaborative investment in the city.

Coventry City of Culture Trust is a charity. It has provided a neutral and trusted space to attract new cultural partners and funding. The trust will provide a new financial model of cash and in kind support for a city-based partnership.

In time it could provide the basis for the ACE and HLF to commit funds for place-based working and capacity building of infrastructure. Capacity building and the strengthening of the professional cultural sector will be priority for a range of partners.

A key to the partnership will be the expertise of the University of Warwick and Coventry University in research, evaluation and the role of Coventry and Warwickshire Champions in promoting culture across sectors. There must also be a joined up approach in the delivery of policies and services to include culture as a part of the response to a wide range of issues including, deprivation, mental health, social cohesion, well-being and healthy lifestyles.

Summary actions

Next steps towards achieving the objective might include but are not limited to:

  • Establishing a partnership vehicle, based on the City of Culture 2021 Trust, for attracting inward investment and funding, maximising resources and coordinating partnership activity that reflects the needs and diversity of the city
  • Developing a talent growth fund to support the next generation of cultural producers and educators in the city
  • Coordinating partnership work around cultural equality and diversity
  • Joining up fundraising support and bidding for major projects and deliver themed cross-city programming on an annual basis
  • Coordinating listings, marketing and the promotion of the cultural tourism assets of the city
  • Maximising the collective promotion of heritage and cultural assets including Historic Coventry, Culture Coventry, the Cathedral and other partners
  • Leveraging the potential of the joint university input to city place-making through the creation of a joint University Coventry Creative Exchange
  • Building on the strengths and cultural attraction for visitors of the city’s museums, archives and architectural assets
  • A partnership capital plan to develop the cultural capital of the city working with the LEP, ACE and heritage funding agencies

2. Creative Production hubs

Coventry will expand the creative workspace for artists and develop creation spaces for production, rehearsal and incubator activity.

Coventry doesn’t yet have a critical mass of creative workspace. The spaces the city currently has are dispersed across a range of sites (e.g. Coventry Artspace, Canal Basin, ICE, Daimler building, Fargo Village). Few of these sites have the critical mass to be scalable or independently sustainable. The strategy recommends a plan to be created for improved workspaces and to consider a series of zones for:

  • Artists incubator workspace
  • Creative production hub
  • Digital industries growth
  • City animators
  • Local and accessible cultural and digital hubs

The Daimler Building could provide a basis for a production centre combining art, engineering, technology and street arts. The centre already houses Imagineer Productions, Highly Sprung and other part-time users and fits with the creative focus of Electric Wharf. This could become a building that brings together artists, engineers and technologists to make new art. The focus on engineering and technology has the potential to attract investment from regional industries and skills training.

The Canal Basin has one of the greatest densities of cultural businesses in the city but has limited accessibility. The area could be developed and linked across the ring road to other cultural quarters around Belgrade Theatre, EGO Performance and Coventry Transport Museum.

The mapping of cultural spaces offers interesting opportunities to create links or quarters – there is an outer ring road cluster of the Canal Basin, Electric Wharf, Daimler, ICE, Fargo and the Albany Theatre and an inner city cluster of heritage and events spaces. EGO Performance, The Pod, Belgrade Theatre, Theatre Absolute, Coventry University, Fab Lab, Drapers, Fargo Village and Inspire are growing a greater city centre presence combined with the Cathedral, Herbert Art Gallery and Museum and Coventry Transport Museum.

There are plans to develop Charterhouse as a major heritage centre and green space which connects to the Far Gosford creative quarter along a new River Sherbourne corridor. This corridor is planned as a home for creative businesses and work spaces and could lead to a major new cultural and creative quarter attracting creatives from beyond Coventry.

Summary actions

Next steps towards achieving the objective might include but are not limited to:

  • Supporting local industries with the development of a creative industries growth hub combining art and design, developed around existing facilities currently housing theatre, dance and festival producers
  • Provide creative workspaces and improved audience facilities which support an ‘Arts for Life’ agenda to ensure that the most vulnerable and challenged residents have access to meaningful arts and heritage engagement
  • Developing Coventry as a centre for professional and community creation and enjoyment of dance
  • Improving lighting and accessibility to the Canal Basin and encouraging new occupancies by creatives and artists
  • Developing new cultural tourism assets including hotels and visitor information resources through digital and virtual signposting
  • Universities to develop graduate incubator space

3. The City is the festival

Coventry will build a livelier urban culture based on an annual calendar of events that attracts visitors and grows the day and night time economy

The city has a major issue to address with the night-time economy. Various factors encourage a ‘drive in drive out’ mentality and the city needs to encourage dwell time in the city. Events, large and small, can be attractors to the city centre.

Herbert Lates, Drapers film nights, Cathedral special events and the Fargo niche festivals have shown how evening activity drives visitors. Tourism research has shown the draw of our festivals and social media heat-mapping demonstrates pockets of activity – Spon Street, Far Gosford Street, Millenium Place and Belgrade Plaza included. New restaurants in the city centre have added life and food is an important part of our diverse cultures. There is an appetite for street performances and artistic activity, markets and food to enhance a visit to the city. This applies to areas such as Foleshill Road potentially ‘a golden mile’ of food to rival Leicester’s Humberstone Gate.

Large events like the Christmas lights switch-on bring in thousands of people but the city needs a critical mass of small and regular commercial events. The city also needs to recognise the potential and benefit of venues beyond the ring road as well as in the city centre. Warwick Arts Centre, Tin Arts and Music, Albany Theatre and Ricoh Arena are prime examples. The Ricoh Arena, in particular, has shown the potential of large-scale events and concerts. These can be used to drive more city centre benefit by fringe events, marketing and hotel packaging. The city’s architecture, old and modern, is one of our defining features. More can be made of our subways and pedestrian spaces as galleries, temporary venues and well-lit urban gateways. The city has a fine collection of public art and there is a real opportunity to add to this through new developments including Friargate and the market redevelopment.

The “City is the Festival” is a concept to use the very fabric of the modern and historic city as an events space. As part of public realm there is the potential for an artist-led lighting and signage strategy that could bring visitors to the city.

Summary actions

Next steps towards achieving the objective might include but are not limited to:

  • Art trails – temporary commissions and trails to attract people to look at the considerable art and architecture of the city
  • Heritage Trails – to inspire people with the medieval story of Coventry linking the medieval collections at the Herbert to the extant architecture
  • Large scale events programme – annual calendar of events over a three-year period
  • A 365 day calendar and ‘what’s on’
  • All roads lead to …. A series of ‘years of’ – or focused celebrations – e.g. Cathedral 100, Year of Youth, Modernism and the city
  • A biennial plan to host major public celebrations reflecting the identity, diversity and confidence of the city
  • Winning UK City of Culture and bidding for other national events and conferences.
  • Pop up spaces – shop-front venues, showcasing talent in city centre and neighbourhood locations
  • A Shop Front Festival
  • Broadgate (‘Godiva Square’)/Cathedral quarter spectacles that enhance the night-time economy
  • Alternative performance sites are considered (e.g. car parks as cultural venues)
  • Strengthening existing community-based festivals with a particular emphasis on celebrating the diversity of the city (e.g. Melas, PRIDE)
  • Building capacity of the Cathedral as a year-round cultural venue

A cultural programme consortium will be established to plan two and three years ahead and to drive forward city-wide projects. This will be led by the Place Partnership and involve a more formalised grouping from local cultural networks such as Friday 13th and CW8.

002173410001 Masterji & Coventry: Photographic Exhibition at Fargo Village. November 2016

4. Seven years younger

Coventry will become a leader in youth arts and talent development and young people will be directly involved in the delivery of cultural programmes.

Coventry is seven years younger than the England average age. Therefore a focus on youth engagement through culture will be key to the success of the strategy. The strategy must address issues of talent and access to culture for marginalised young people alongside initiatives that will encourage graduate retention and talent pipelines. Some wards have over 40% of children living in poverty with limited access to facilities. We have many cultural organisations and agencies in the field such as Belgrade Youth Theatre, Positive Youth Foundation, Shoot Festival, EGO Performance, Coventry Music Education Hub, Tin Music and Arts, Young Imagineers, Sprungsters, Notables, Grapevine, Irish dance groups, Coventry and Warwick University programmes and student societies. The city also has networks of schools, leisure centres and community facilities. The Coventry Music Education Hub reaches 12,000 children and young people across the city and is recognised as a national leader.

Many young people now access their culture on the streets, digitally on phones, on tablets and in their homes. As well as traditional opportunities, culture needs to be accessible and engaging to young people across different media, virtual and physical. Coventry can develop a new generation of young programmers and producers and grow access through youth support agencies, training providers and education services to target hard to reach young people.

The strategy must engage with all generations, but children and young people should have meaningful opportunities and a voice in cultural planning. They should experience high quality arts and culture as audience members, participants, creators and leaders. It is a young city and the young should be supported to shape the city’s cultural future.

Summary actions

Next steps towards achieving the objective might include but are not limited to:

  • Providing accessible digital information about all of the organisations that work with children and young people, what they offer and what safeguards they have in place and at what cost. The information should include opportunities for talent to access progression routes through to advanced levels of training
  • Establishing a new cultural education hub to expand on the music hub and to include digital and other arts popular in the city
  • Strengthening the Cultural Education Partnership already in place and increase the number of schools with Artsmark status and delivery of Arts Awards
  • Creating a new dance partnership to respond to the demand and to bring together different dance forms in the city
  • Aspiring to create a national reputation for excellence through a Youth Digital Arts hub
  • Supporting a new Cultures of Coventry Youth Orchestra that is inclusive of the cultures of the city

5. The Nation in Coventry

Coventry will position itself as a cultural city of national and international importance.

Coventry was a pioneer for town twinning and has 26 civic relationships around the world. The Cathedral, through its peace and reconciliation work and through the Community of the Cross of Nails, has over 90 international connections and in-depth relationships with Dresden and Volgograd. Coventry will partner with Kiel in 2017 to seal a relationship since 1947. The universities have major international footprints and Coventry artists have forged relationships abroad. However, whilst several organisations mentioned ad-hoc international work there are few sustained international and European cultural collaborations other than at Warwick Arts Centre. There has been limited cultural engagement and creative exchange with the 26 twin cities.

International partnerships could engage with the natural links to the diversity of the Coventry population and of artists in the city. India, China and Poland offer particular potential. Given Coventry’s proud record of welcoming refugees the city could develop links to national and international cultural work covering issues of migration and sanctuary.

Coventry was once the capital of England. Imagine if it housed the Tate Gallery, the Globe Theatre, the National Portrait Gallery, The London Jazz Festival and the O2 arena events. Well maybe it can.

Coventry is well positioned as a showcase for the nation – with 40 million people within two hours travel time. The city will work to develop a plan to make Coventry a city of choice for national collections, events and productions.

Warwick Arts Centre is already a significant production hub and could be the equivalent of the LIFT Festival or Manchester International Festival working with national producers. The Herbert Art Gallery and Museum is already developing exhibitions with the Courtauld, National Portrait Gallery and British Museum.

Both Coventry University and the University of Warwick are used regularly as national cultural conference venues and the city could build on this to position itself as a welcome host for national and international conferences. Winning UK City of Culture would help this process.

Summary actions

Next steps towards achieving the objective might include but are not limited to:

  • Continue to nurture existing relationship with key National bodies and work towards developing practical relationships with key national agencies including the likes of Nesta, Historic England, Creative England
  • Building the capacity to bid for and access national funding
  • Place partnership/City of Culture Trust bids to host major national events
  • The Nation in Coventry – A residency each year by a national/international company, held in the city
  • Developing broadcast relationships – BBC stages and BBC the Place
  • Targeting Coventry as a central space for cultural conferencing
  • A special relationship with the Royal Shakespeare Company – our national neighbour – to develop access for all to high quality professional arts works
  • Working with the BBC locally, and regionally (The Space and Academy) to attract and establish joint events
  • Building closer cultural links and exchanges with the 26 twinned cities
  • Leveraging the iconic status of the Cathedral and its surroundings as a sought-after national/international performance site
  • Promoting the national importance of Coventry Transport Museum which tells Coventry’s story as the birthplace of the British Road Transport Industry.
  • Annual residency for leading artists focusing on the architecture and heritage assets of the city
  • Attracting dance and other performing art industry conferences to the city e.g. One Dance UK and People Dancing
  • Developing national partners for the Herbert and Mead Galleries
Little Girl With Umbrella. Copyright Masterji.

6. Diverse City

Coventry will showcase the diversity of the city and its talent and support a programme that encourages participation and attendance in a wide variety of cultural activity.

The rich diversity of the population of Coventry is a key cultural strength and provides a platform for a wide range of new and traditional forms of expression that are representative of the people and their neighbourhoods. The strategy embraces diversity in its widest sense and proposes a cultural future in which all generations, all heritages and all abilities have a voice and presence in the cultural life of the city. It is important that there is diversity amongst audiences, artists and board members of our biggest cultural organisations. The recent 2016 exhibition of Masterji’s photographs, the telling of the story of Ira Aldridge, the ex-slave who ran Coventry’s theatre in the 1840’s are excellent examples of the power and appeal of the stories and voices of Coventry’s communities.

Traum, an electrifying 2016 dance work by Theatre Absolute and the Romanian artists Marius Mates and Dimitar Goranov showcases the talents of the European communities in the city. The Herbert Art Gallery & Museum has a history of intergeneration work with new and older communities including specific projects with the Polish, South Asian and Asian communities. The city has a proud tradition of artistic work with and for people with learning disabilities and also has the opportunity to become a beacon for professional deaf and disabled artists. Several of the city’s cultural organisations such as EGO Performance, Highly Sprung Productions and Talking Birds have worked with disabled groups such as Grapevine and disabled artists.

Culture Coventry’s, Creative Bridges programme, specifically works to support young people with learning disabilities into Creative Industry careers. Coventry Transport Museum is one of only three UK registered Makaton Friendly Museums. This work has often been low profile and needs to be given greater prominence in the city. The city has been at the national forefront of welcoming refugees and integrating communities. The cultural strategy will build on this distinctive feature of the city.

Faith and ethnicity have a strong influence on cultural choices and preferences in the city. There is a proud tradition of faith-based and secular cultural activity including music, dance and food events and the strategy proposes a major focus on developing the cultural arts of expression and talents of the African, Asian, European and wider international residents of the city and showcasing these so that they can be enjoyed across the city and region. A truly inclusive and diverse cultural strategy will also celebrate the different inter-generational cultural preferences to ensure that both young and old from all cultures are represented.

The strategy’s cultural audit highlights a limited number of formally constituted or funded groups within the city’s ethnic communities. There is an active branch of BOPA, an African cultural association and several local dance groups. The city has hosted a number of Melas at the Belgrade, Transport Museum and Ricoh Arena, and Romanian dance artists have emerged from graduate programmes. The ambition to address diversity in the city will require proactive and professional interventions supporting residencies, building capacity and engaging with agencies such as the Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre who promote festivals such the refugee week celebration in the park. Coventry should be the touchstone for the Arts Council England’s challenge to reach more BAME diverse communities. Coventry could also be a place to pilot new initiatives and test new solutions for engagement of different cultures.

Summary actions

Next steps towards achieving the objective might include but are not limited to:

  • Establish a refugee arts festival during refugee week
  • National residencies – by international artists from cultures represented in the city
  • Celebrating the voices and stories of the city through neighbourhood and city-wide story-telling projects using performance, music, film and other digital media
  • Leveraging the role of artists in leading peace and reconciliation initiatives
  • Marketing and programming the Coventry Godiva Festival as a stage for the city’s diversity of ages, cultures and abilities
  • Co-creation and engagement programmes with BAME residents from all our main cultural producers
  • Showcase and nurture the work of deaf and disabled artists at local, national & international level
  • A neighbourhood-level BAME focused Arts Council England’s ‘Creative People and Places’ project
  • Curating a photographic archive of diversity and working class lives in urban Britain
  • Programming neighbourhood food festivals that attract people across the city and region
  • Creating a Cultures of Coventry Youth Orchestra and dance company that is inclusive of the cultures of the city
  • Prioritising for the first five years the professional development of BAME, non-UK artists to build capacity within Coventry’s diverse communities

7. Getting Coventry Moving

Coventry will focus on promoting dance, physical activity and active lifestyles to support the health and emotional well-being of the city.

Coventry has major health challenges and is seeking to tackle health inequalities through the Marmot Cities agenda. There is increasing evidence that arts interventions including using museums and galleries as venues can alleviate a wide range of physical and cognitive conditions including obesity, dementia and depression. The strategy recommends a close working relationship between the cultural sector, health providers and public health strategies to maximise the opportunities for the social prescription of arts interventions for a wide range of conditions and health-related issues.

On the surface, health and well-being may not appear to be a major problem in Coventry relative to England. Life expectancy at birth in Coventry is slightly lower than in England as a whole—for males it is 78.6 years (vs. 79.5 years in England) while for females it is 82.3 years (vs. 83.2). However, what is more worrying is the wide inequality gap, as a man from the most deprived area is likely to die 9.4 years earlier than one from the least deprived area. The difference for a woman is 8.7 years.

Childhood obesity is a particular problem in Coventry. In 2013/14 one in four Coventry children in Reception class (ages 4 and 5) at primary school are overweight or obese and one in three children in Year 6 (aged 10 and 11) are overweight or obese. This is a slightly higher rate of obesity than either the regional or national average. Childhood obesity doesn’t affect all of society equally, it is affected by the conditions in which people are born and grow. There is a strong relationship between deprivation and childhood obesity. This means that children from the poorest backgrounds are the most likely to be obese.

Projects such as The POD have expertise in arts and mental health and do valuable work through the visual arts. Herbert Media within Culture Coventry has a European reputation for its creative media and visual arts training for young people with learning disabilities and difficulties. The West Midlands Combined Authority has established a priority for physical activity. Coventry will contribute to this through the arts and heritage activities as well as sport and physical activity.

The city has a strong sports tradition and historic association with the bicycle. The link between cycling and the arts will be developed as a theme through to 2021.

Coventry is a walkable city. The plans for architecture, heritage and a pedestrianised city centre and other trails will seek to move people around the city. The proposed Richard II loop will provide a new walking and cycling route connecting a number of cultural quarters in the city. Historic Coventry has visionary plans to create a walking equivalent of the ring road, which could become a new set of cultural lungs for the city and uses public art as an attraction. The cultural sector could usefully learn from sports models to drive healthy living and lifestyle change through physical and mental cultural activity. Whilst there are many public and private gyms, Coventry has over 102 dance organisations and no major centre for dance. Dance is a strength of Coventry University with a centre for dance research and could work well alongside the inspirational dance programming of Warwick Arts Centre. The strategy proposes that the city consider the possibility of a new dance centre and federation, which brings all the various dance organisations in the city together. Working with schools, community groups and ethnic communities, the strategy proposes the working up of a project based on dance to get Coventry moving. There is evidence that dance is the most popular form of exercise after football and a focus on dance will help get the city moving for people of all ages and abilities.

The strategy will embrace and celebrate the food of our different cultures. There is great affection for Coventry Market. The city has the opportunity to enhance the food offer for visitors but also to make the market a meeting place and tackle isolation through cultural engagement.

There is increasing evidence that participating in the arts and various cultural activities can make a significant impact on people’s health and well-being, as well as their perceptions of and interactions with their neighbours.

Public commissioning (an initiative supported by Arts Council England) is being pushed, based on the notion of integrating arts and culture into services such as those focusing on health and well-being. This means that greater emphasis is put on preventing harm and reducing the need of residents for more acute services. In terms of older people, it is found that arts and cultural activity can foster resilience and independence. Such activities also contribute to mental health and well-being outcomes, especially when it comes to preventive and community care and instances where medication is not a viable alternative.

Summary actions

Next steps towards achieving the objective might include but are not limited to:

  • Increasing dance and physical cultural activity as a key priority in health and related strategies
  • Feasibility work to explore the potential for a dedicated dance centre
  • Working with health commissioners to produce artist-led interventions in mental-health treatments and other health education priorities
  • Establishing walking trails and cultural and heritage walks in the wards and the city centre
  • Supporting artists in developing targeted health education projects with children and young people and older residents
  • Developing the Richard II loop as an exciting pedestrian ring-road with cultural attractions that appeal across generations
  • Making greater use of parks and open spaces for regular dance and physical activities with a cultural twist
  • Work with Public Health colleagues and local NHS commissioners on projects that will alleviate isolated and emotionally challenged residents of all ages
  • Developing a centre for innovative practice in arts and mental health
  • Themed outdoor arts events which focus on a specific need like child obesity and encourage healthy lifestyles in a fun and engaging way