Bradford, where culture shines out of an industrial past

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MY STORY   Shanaz Gulzar, artist and chair of Bradford’s City of Culture 2025 bid

Bradford, birthplace of artists such as David Hockney and William Rothenstein, is bidding to be the UK’s fourth City of Culture in 2025, along with – so far – Chelmsford, Luton, Medway, Northampton, Southampton, Preston and Tees Valley. Spearheading the bid as its newly appointed chair is the artist Shanaz Gulzar, a producer at the Manchester International festival who last year presented the series Yorkshire Walks for BBC TV.

You’re a native of Bradford, do you still live there and did you start your career there?

I go away for work a lot, but my home base has always been Keighley (a suburb of Bradford).

What, culturally, has Bradford got to offer? 

Bradford’s biggest cultural assets are its artists and innovative creative sector. We have artist activists, visionaries and dreamers who dare to think and be different. The cultural institutions, the companies based and working in and from the city who attract the most exciting ideas and artists to be a part of the fabric of Bradford, to its rich film heritage reaching as far back as the dawn of cinema.

Bradford is famous for its cultural diversity. How important will this be in the programming should you win?  

Bradford’s diversity is one of its strengths and superpowers, providing opportunity for unusual and ambitious ideas that could be imagined nowhere but in Bradford, yet could have impact far and wide. This will be hugely integral to programming the City of Culture.

How have the arts developed in post-industrial Bradford?

Bradford has produced some of the greatest names in the art world. It’s not easy to carve a new identity for itself after being one of the most innovative and affluent districts in the industrial age, but the arts have helped it develop a new identity where art is activist, is innovative and entrepreneurial, and we’re still on that journey.

How have the creative industries in the city fared in the Covid-19 lockdown?

The creative industries in Bradford have adapted swiftly in order to survive. The ability of the sector to reach out, support and connect with one another, strengthen our existing networks and create new ones, has proved its best survival tactic. It is not an easy to be a creative in these very uncertain times and we’re all having to think of new ways of working, and possibly of a new blueprint for our industries in the future.

Are you able to take any lessons from predecessors such as Hull?  

I am very interested in the learning of and from the predecessors and how that can help inform our thinking around sustainability and maintaining innovation and imagination in legacy building. Equally important to remember is the uniqueness of each location, its industries, its people, and how that impacts on the shape and delivery of a bid.

Whether you are chosen or not, how important do you think the arts will be in Bradford’s economic recovery?  

It’s widely recognised that the cultural industries are fundamental to economic growth and recovery, and that’s even more so for a city like Bradford where it can make a huge difference to retaining and attracting businesses, talent and opportunity and invigorating all sectors.

What do you hope the city will gain from being City of Culture?

As City of Culture I would hope to see Bradford gain more local and national support for the arts and creative industries, for locals to rediscover our own city through a different lens, for us to use this opportunity to collaborate locally, nationally and internationally with artists and communities, friends we already have and new friends we can invite to Bradford.

What single thing in Bradford’s arts are you most proud of?

There are so many things to be proud of when it comes to the arts in Bradford, but if I have to choose it’s our resilient and imaginative DIY culture of making things happen even in tough circumstances, which will stand us in good stead for a post-Covid world.

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