As yet there’s no way of checking precisely how many of us in Sheffield responded to the Government’s consultation into potentially moving Channel 4 outside of London. But I was one of them, and near the top of my list of reasons to consider our city as the broadcaster’s new home was the strength of the city’s cultural scene.
We may not have the West End, or the South Bank, or London’s multiple galleries, but that’s partly the point – these institutions have always taken the limelight, and the Channel 4 review offers an opportunity to redress the balance, and position one of the nation’s key media players against a different backdrop that would give television a new flavour.
Our theatres – the Crucible’s two spaces and the neighbouring Lyceum – form the biggest complex of its kind outside the capital, and have a track record of producing successful, original work.
Hit musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, the tale of a teenage boy who dreams of stardom as a drag queen, is the latest show to transfer to the London stage, its cast and director intact.
Sheffield’s art galleries are a magnet for visitors – the Millennium Gallery is one of the nation’s most popular free attractions, pulling in more than 760,000 people annually at the last count, while the Site Gallery is set to treble in size.
Furthermore, the city is home to a growing community of individuals who devote their time to creative endeavours. Studio space is being snapped up rapidly, at relatively inexpensive prices, giving artists and makers more room to pursue their ideas in a huge range of disciplines.
And then there are our festivals.
Off The Shelf, the yearly books programme, is under new management courtesy of the two universities, and there is an ambition to grow the event, bring in bigger names and turn it into one of the nation’s premier literary celebrations.
Doc/Fest is admittedly more niche – but in the film and TV world it is a crucial marketplace for the commissioning of documentaries and will be well-known to Channel 4, which sends a delegation without fail.
Tramlines, too, remains on the list of must-see summer music festivals, and will likely to continue to do so, as the organisers focus on booking high-profile acts for the outdoor stages. Coverage of the proceedings on Channel 4 is a concept well worth considering.
Most importantly, more is on the way. Sheffield has just won £14 million in Arts Council funding over four years, an increase of 21 per cent as the organisation, now led by Sir Nicholas Serota, aims to hand more money to places north of the M25.
It’s a substantial investment, and audiences will feel the difference in the quality of exhibitions, new developments and the projects our venues can launch.
Channel 4 prides itself on its reputation as a risk-taker – and one of the keys to creativity is taking a chance every once in a while.
In that context, wouldn’t a move to somewhere as culturally vibrant as Sheffield make perfect sense?