Could Milton Keynes be the European City of Culture in 2023?

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Milton Keynes from above – is there culture down there?

Milton Keynes, a city that is derided by many probably because they are older than the city, is going to bid to become European City of Culture in 2023.

Given that we will be outside the EU by then and the European City of Culture awards are an EU award, I wonder whether Milton Keynes knows something the rest of us don’t, whether they haven’t thought of this potential fly in the ointment or whether they are just trying to get some publicity.

The EU website records that we will be one of two countries with winning cities that year. The UK government website has an application form available for cities which feel enthused enough to enter.

Forgetting this minor little problem for a moment, the other obvious question is why Milton Keynes? Apart from concrete cows, what has Milton Keynes ever given us? Culturally, I mean. As the city admits in a press release, it is “without a castle, centuries of architectural heritage or even a home-grown band with a number one single.” What culture or heritage is there then in Milton Keynes?

The Milton Keynes bid, Different by Design, says  that the city’s newness is “a virtue rather than a deficiency, positioning it as cultural Petri dish, with thriving emerging local talent in the fields of music, art, sculpture, literature and more, whilst at the same time looking outward and embracing influences from across Europe.”

Whilst all the other city entrants have many art galleries, concert halls, museums and historic buildings, Milton Keynes did not have a major theatre or art gallery until 1999 or a regular arts festival until the launch of the IF: Milton Keynes International Festival in 2010.

Cllr Liz Gifford, Milton Keynes Council’s Cabinet Lead for Culture says: “Many have described Milton Keynes as an audacious utopian experiment. Our bid seeks to challenge the idea that culture is all about history.” That’s true but it is about culture and where is culture in the city? Cllr Gifford went on to say, “The city has one of the largest public art collections and there are many creative spaces throughout the city.” It has 220 works of public art and says that the Milton Keynes Theatre is the most popular theatre in the UK outside London. There are apparently over 2,000 listed buildings in the Milton Keynes area and th city is the location of the ten- day MK International Festival has taken place bi-annually in July since 2010 and has attracted over 90,000 visitors each year.

But is this enough to win the accolade? It all depends on the competition  and what they have to offer.


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