N Ireland cities urge promotion of marching bands in bid to be cultural capital

Marching bands on July 12
Marching bands on July 12

Northern Ireland marching bands should be promoted as a form of creative expression during Belfast and Londonderry's bid to become European Capital of Culture, the cities' councils have been advised.

The two city councils are applying to be selected for the accolade in 2023.

Philippe Kern, an adviser to the project from the Brussels-based creative consultancy firm KEA, made the proposal in a speech addressing a conference about the bid at Belfast City Hall.

He suggested that Northern Ireland could replicate how marching bands feature as a prominent cultural expression in Corfu, which is home to dozens of different bands.

Mr Kern said: "Here, marching bands can lead to some disturbances or troubles and the idea was maybe for 2023, you could develop an idea around marching bands and maybe organise a competition with bands from Corfu and other kinds of musicians throughout the world and get them to show that actually marching bands are truly a cultural resource, a creative resource which can be apolitical or political in a different way.

Mr Kern added: "I think the advantage of thinking culturally or creatively about these issues and making the most of your cultural assets, ones you maybe don't consider cultural or may trigger difficulty, may actually be turned into truly a way of creating cohesion in society."

Hundreds of marches are held throughout Northern Ireland as a celebration of unionist and loyalist culture each year.

Although most pass without issue, some have been the subject of controversy and violent disturbances.

Mr Kern also suggested that peace walls situated in Belfast and in Derry could be used as cultural resource during the bid. He said: "Cities make huge progress and there is a thirst for breaking down those walls.

"Here what I'd like to see is for authorities to trust your cultural workers and trust your artists to bring down those walls because they have the courage to address those walls.

"Maybe in a controversial way, but controversy is a part of democratic debate."

The two cities announced in February that they would be entering a joint bid in an attempt to be named European Capital of Culture in 2023.

The accolade is given to two cities per year and is highly sought after as an opportunity to publicise the cities' creative industries and to promote tourism.

Other UK cities which have launched bids include Leeds, Nottingham, Dundee and Milton Keynes.

The cities will submit their proposals to the UK Department of Culture in October. The chosen city will be announced in 2018.