Sheffield is in the running to host a major £10 million festival pulling in 250,000 visitors over two months – staking a claim for the city as the ‘gateway to the North’.
City leaders have thrown their weight behind a bid to host The Great Exhibition of the North, a celebration of arts, culture and design set to take place in July and August 2018.
Events would take place across the centre of Sheffield, along with ‘satellite shows’ in Barnsley, Rotherham and Doncaster, and other Northern towns and cities will be invited to make contributions.
If the application is successful, £5m in funding will be provided from the Government and extra sponsorship and support will be sought, creating a total package of up to £10m.
The bid’s organisers believe Sheffield has a strong chance of being picked and have planned an extravaganza highlighting the city’s strengths in manufacturing, research, music, beer and much more.
Other immediate economic benefits of being chosen would include an extra 250,000 visitors to the city over the two months, a 20 per cent boost in hotel stays and spending by exhibition-goers of around £4m.
The city region’s bid is being led by the Sheffield Culture Consortium, set up in 2011 and comprised of arts chiefs, both universities and the council, as well as others.
The focus would be on a central exhibition at venues – some temporary – across the city centre, featuring contributions from other Northern towns and cities.
Significant public art commissions are envisaged along with the Feast of the North – a celebration of food – a neon light installation pointing the way to Sheffield across Northern towns and cities and the world premiere of a new production at the Crucible.
A theatre pavilion would be created on Tudor Square and there will be a comprehensive exhibition and events programme at the Millennium Gallery and other venues.
The Great Exhibition would also link with Sheffield’s other key festivals – Doc/Fest, Tramlines and Sensoria.
Displays looking at the future would cover robotics, advanced manufacturing, and technology, and a ‘spectacular ribbon’ of meadow planting will join up transport stops and exhibits.
Sheffield believes it has a strong case to make because of its claim to be the North’s ‘gateway’, the region’s reputation as a home for manufacturing, its strengths in music, beer, and the arts and regeneration projects happening locally.
Professor Vanessa Toulmin, chair of the consortium and Sheffield University’s public engagement director, said: “We’re exhilarated that we’ve actually got the confidence to go for this. I think what we have is very unique, quirky and independent, and we have some fantastic collaborations from across the North. It’s about pushing ourselves into that next level of competition as a city.”
The bid argues the impact of Sheffield being picked could be ‘incalculable’.
“I think it’s incalculable in terms of pride – regional, national and international pride,” said the professor.
“There will be people on the panel who have never been to Sheffield and they will see it in a new way.”
Three reports published recently by Sheffield University concentrated on the city’s music scene, its artistic community and its prowess in brewing beer.
“We’ve got evidence,” said Prof Toulmin.
Kim Streets, CEO of Museums Sheffield, which is part of the consortium, said the timescale to prepare the bid was short – the competition was announced by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in April.
“There’s some great creative talent across the city region and across the North, so we’ve brought to the table some brilliant ideas. We’re really building on what’s already here and giving it a platform. I think we’ve got every chance.”
People who live, work and invest in the area are being encouraged to champion the bid, she said.
Prof Toulmin emphasised that the Great Exhibition has not been affected by the EU referendum’s outcome.
“We thought it might be but it hasn’t. It’s about giving aspiration and hope to people who are under 25 or 30 who might be feeling negative about what’s happened recently. It’s about young Sheffield and the city of the future.”
Coun Mike Drabble, the council’s cabinet advisor for culture, parks and leisure, said: “It really is a great chance for us to show the world what Sheffield is about. Anything that will put Sheffield on the map is worthwhile.
“People want to live and work in places that are creative and innovative.”
Sir Gary Verity, the chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire who led the campaign to bring the Tour de France to Sheffield and the region in 2014, will chair the Great Exhibition Board that will report to the Government on the applications.
Bradford, Preston, Newcastle and Halifax are among the other bidders from the North East, North West and Yorkshire.
A decision is expected in September.