The vision for Coventry UK City of Culture 2021 (UK CoC 2021) stated that:
We will reimagine the role of culture in a diverse, modern Britain, demonstrating that culture is a force that changes lives, moving Coventry and the region forward.
The Coventry City of Culture Trust’s strategic objectives for the programme were therefore about:
- creating art
- increasing participation
- improving the viability and vibrancy of the cultural sector
- influencing strategies
- effecting change for the citizens of Coventry.
The Trust acknowledged that a joyful, celebratory programme of arts and culture in 2021 would achieve short-term benefits for the city and its people. However, they sought to ensure that the programme spoke about the city, its people, its stories, and its challenges; only then could they ensure the programme had a strong social conscience at its heart.
The Trust’s three producing teams were tasked with establishing and delivering outcomes-based programme outputs, each focusing on different communities.
The Caring City
The Caring City team had a remit of using culture to reduce societal problems in the city. These problems were identified through partnership with Coventry City Council and other third-sector organisations and by analysing data. Four areas were highlighted:
- Healthy City – using arts and culture to tackle mental health problems, improve wellbeing and tackle loneliness/isolation
- Safe City – working with young people at risk of exploitation
- Welcoming City – involving new communities and welcoming refugee and asylum seekers
- Inclusive City – using arts to tackle poverty, homelessness and promote human rights.
The Collaborative City
The Collaborative City team was geographically focused, with producers working within specific areas of the city to build on existing community infrastructure and networks to devise cultural activities and events directly with members of Coventry’s communities.
The Dynamic City
The Dynamic City team developed major events, promoted a youthful city and championed the environment through the Green Futures strand, as well as considered innovation with digital and new technologies.
All three teams worked together to ensure that inclusion was championed across the programme, and to allow social action to run through events and activities.
Coventry is a Marmot City, with inequalities in health: a situation that is reflected equally in access to cultural activities and events. UK CoC 2021 activities were therefore designed as a social change programme and targeted specific groups to try and reduce the gap between areas of low and high cultural participation.
Using the concept of proportionate universalism, the programme ensured that there were events/activities that all citizens could enjoy or participate in, but also ensured that there were targeted interventions with key and marginalised population groups. Often these were some of the most seldom-heard groups from across the city – facing major and multiple societal barriers and challenges to being able to participate.
The City of Culture Trust’s ‘Coventry Model’
To guide the planning and development of the programme, the Trust established six core principles which both built on the bidding process and were a direct response to discussions with communities in Coventry. These principles were consistent with the outcomes and impacts of the Theory/Story of Change and the goals of the ten-year Coventry Cultural Strategy.
Co-creation sat at the heart of the Trust’s UK CoC 2021 programme. The concept of a social change community-driven programme was described by the Trust as ‘The Coventry Model’.
‘The Coventry Model’ of programming and production presented opportunities to those that would typically be less likely to engage with culture, by putting co-creation at the forefront of both hyper-local and large-scale events.
It was important to utilise, equip, upskill and empower existing communities, artists and organisations in the city to create the programme, when looking towards a sustainable legacy beyond the UK CoC 2021 year.
Conference: ‘The Coventry Model’ – Embracing Co-Creation
The Trust hosted a conference on 26 May 2022 to explore the community focused co-creation model. A series of panels, workshops and roundtables reflected on the year of culture to identify tips and look at the many ways of experimentation in the co-created, public-facing, collaborative, large-scale programme, undertaken at a time of global pandemic.
I think we have conducted quite a radical experiment. We’ve put co-creation at the heart of what is a £35 million major event.Chenine Bhathena, Creative Director, Coventry City of Culture Trust