Coventry to host Turner prize in city of culture year in 2021

City’s bid is ‘glimmer of hope’ for UK arts sector amid Covid crisis, says creative director

Coventry will host the Turner prize, a south Asian film festival and a music festival curated by the Specials’ Terry Hall during its city of culture year, which is being billed as a “glimmer of hope” for the UK’s arts sector amid the Covid-19 crisis.

The first 15 events for the year-long programme were unveiled on Wednesday by Chenine Bhathena, the creative director for Coventry’s city of culture year, who said it could be an example of how to put on Covid-safe arts events.

“Hopefully, what we’re doing is creating a glimmer of hope for 2021 and showing that we can still do live events, we can still put on a great show in this new world that we’re living in,” she said.

The Turner prize 2021 will be held at the Herbert art gallery and museum in the city with a judging panel that will include Russell Tovey and the director of the Chisenhale gallery, Zoé Whitley, announcing the winner on 1 December 2021.

Terry Hall of The Specials will host a three-day live music event with a lineup made of local and international talent. Coventry’s city of culture year will open with Coventry Moves, which will be created by Nigel Jamieson, the man behind the opening and closing events for the Commonwealth Games, and Justine Themen, the deputy artistic director of the Belgrade theatre Coventry.

The UK Asian Film Festival will be hosted at the Belgrade, and the Royal Shakespeare Company will present a commission called Faith, which is described as “a 24-hour invitation to find out what keeps each of us going in tough times”. The rest of the events will be announced in January.

Bhathena said events such as Faith were key to Coventry’s offering, which is based on projects that engage the local community and address some of the city’s biggest challenges, including mental health, homelessness and the integration of new communities.

“To just put on a shiny glitzy kind of festival wouldn’t really be the right thing right now,” she said. “We need to face up to some of that stuff and talk about British identity, and what’s going on in our towns and cities, and the role that culture plays in changing some of that.”

Coventry’s city of culture year was moved back from its initial January 2021 launch date to May 2021 because of the Covid-19 crisis. Bhathena said the events all have Covid-19 contingency plans, so that if the pandemic worsens they can still be held in some form.

The successful Coventry bid has secured funding of between £30m-35m, with money coming from a “tapestry of funders”, according to Bhathena, including local council and businesses, and the lottery.

Previous city of culture bids have measured success by the number of “engagements” people in the local area had with events held during the year.

In 2021, with Covid-19 measures potentially meaning fewer people are prepared to venture out to live events, Bhathena said there are audience targets but the most important thing is to create “a new identity that everyone feels they can belong to”.

Coventry council confirmed on Wednesday evening that the area would be moved into the government’s tier 2 coronavirus restrictions from midnight on Friday. Households will be banned from mixing indoors in the city after a rise in positive cases in recent weeks.


Lanre Bakare Arts and culture correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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