No plans to further delay Coventry’s UK City of Culture festival, say organisers

Richard Vernalls, PA
·4-min read

Organisers of Coventry’s £30 million UK City of Culture 2021 festival have no plans to further delay the showcase amid the Covid-19 pandemic as they revealed more details about the packed programme.

More information on the host of “people-powered” artistic and creative events and collaborations were unveiled on Tuesday, including a “summer of surprises”.

The signature event kicking off the 12-month festival will be a performance called Coventry Moves on May 15, involving up to 10,000 people from across the city.

The Specials' frontman Terry Hall
The Specials frontman Terry Hall is due to perform in the summer (Isabel Infantes/PA)

Chenine Bhathena, creative director, said Covid had meant more focus on “extending the reach” of the live events catalogue, involving more outdoor spaces across the city, and using television and social media broadcasts.

She said: “We are working within Government restrictions, looking at what we can do but understanding what it won’t be possible to do.

“But we do intend over the summer to have live events back in the programme but have a strong focus on broadcast and live activity through different media.

“(We want to) bring people back together again in a socially distanced way, in a way people will feel safe and reassure people, but we know it is possible.”

BBC's Contains Strong Language
The BBC’s annual three-day poetry and spoken word festival, Contains Strong Language, will be hosted in the city (BBC/PA)

She said that “for the moment there’s no intention of delaying or postponing” the start of the festival, with the Government saying almost all aspects of society could reopen by June 21.

However, Ms Bhathena said organisers were “working within the restrictions”, pointing out they were able to host an ice rink in Coventry city centre over Christmas which was enjoyed by more than 16,000 people despite “very difficult circumstances”.

The BBC is supporting the festival with a range of national and local television and radio programming, including a community radio takeover of BBC Coventry and Warwickshire Radio.

The broadcaster’s four-day annual poetry and spoken word festival, Contains Strong Language, is also coming to the city in September.

The BBC’s director-general Tim Davie said in a pre-recorded message on Tuesday: “To be chosen as the UK City of Culture 2021 is a huge honour and whilst things may run a little differently this year, I can’t think of a better place than Coventry to embrace the uniqueness of the event and make it an even bigger reason to celebrate.”

He added: “The BBC will be here to support the city every step of the way, helping to showcase the many talents of a city that is on the move and drawing on its rich history to connect with audiences through the joy and celebration of music, arts, poetry, film, comedy and much, much more.”

Festival organisers also revealed that the virtual announcement of the literary International Booker Prize winner will come from the city – the first time it has ever been announced outside of London – in June.

The prize is awarded for a book translated into English and published in the UK or Ireland.

Herbert Museum & Art Gallery
The Turner Prize will be coming to the city’s Herbert Art Gallery & Museum (Coventry UK City of Culture Trust/PA)

In October last year, organisers revealed the festival’s keynotes, including the arrival – in a first for both Coventry and the Midlands – of the prestigious Turner Prize, to be hosted at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum.

An exhibition of the shortlisted artists is set to run from September 2021 until January 2022, with the winner announced on December 1.

One of the city’s most famous sons, The Specials frontman Terry Hall, is also set to be performing live and collaborating with other artists in July.

Coventry will also host a 3.5-metre tall mechanically operated puppet named Amal on October 27, which will by then have travelled nearly 5,000 miles across Europe from the Syrian border, to raise awareness about unaccompanied child refugees.

There are also dozens of collaborations with city artists, youth and community groups, in visual arts, theatre, music and dance, and literature, covering topics such as history, the environment, race and religion.

Rapper and grime artist Jay1
Coventry rapper and grime artist Jay1 (Coventry UK City of Culture Trust/PA)

In August, the CVX Festival featuring music co-produced by rapper and grime artist Jay1, will spread an anti-violence message among young people.

Coventry was named City of Culture in 2017 by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), following in the footsteps of Derry-Londonderry and Hull.

The trust which has been organising Coventry’s showcase announced in summer last year that it was delaying the start of its programme to May 2021 because of the impact and ongoing uncertainty caused by the pandemic.

Commenting on the latest announcements, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said: “Coventry UK City of Culture is shaping up to be truly spectacular.

“The festival will catapult this fantastic city on to the world stage and offers a fantastic chance to bring people together both in the city and across the UK through innovative events and installations.

“I look forward to witnessing it first-hand as we build back better from the impact of the pandemic.”