Arts and the Urban Commons: New Visions for a Phoenix City


SpaceX Event, LTB Showrooms, Coventry. July 1, 2022. 

I was invited to speak at SPACEX event co-organised by the Centre for Postdigital Cultures and LTB Showrooms in Coventry. SPACEX (Spatial Practices in Art and ArChitecture for Empathetic EXchange) is a European Union-sponsored "transdisciplinary research action, comprising of 13 universities and academies and 16 cultural organisations, across 11 EU countries with 1 partner in Palestine, which tends to "respond to the troubling rise of populist nationalism and conflict in European societies by engaging new publics and forging a culture that embraces diversity, difference, and discursive exchange within cities, towns and urban sites."

The event entitled ‘Arts and the urban commons: new visions for the phoenix city’, will address "the issues arising from Coventry’s year as UK City of Culture. We will hear from artists, curators, researchers and local citizens, this will give an insight into some of the cultural activities that are played out in the city as well as the broader context of arts and culture as a UK government process of regeneration. We imagine questions of agency, function and the depoliticization of arts and culture will result from the talks and conversations planned for the day." - SPACEX 

Venue: LTB Showrooms, Coventry. July 1, 2022 

Below is a synopsis of my talk entitled: Cultural Mega-Event, City Centre South and the Destruction of Coventry.


“The English don’t do that, they apologise for it and say - okay it’s all rather shabby, let’s knock it down and build a new one.” - Jeremy and Caroline Gould, Coventry Telegraph, March 2016

In April 2021, only a month prior to the postponed launch of Coventry City of Culture, Coventry City Council gave green light to the City Centre South; a 15-acre (6.4 ha.) urban intervention in the heart of Coventry. Designed by Chapman Taylor architects for the Shearer Property Group; the £360m scheme was described as ‘a tragedy’, ‘total disgrace’, ‘absolute vandalism’ and ‘totally unacceptable’ by scholars and societies including The Coventry Society and The Twentieth Century Society. By virtue of the plan, Coventry will witness the demolition of some of its Modernist heritage including Bull Yard, Shelton Square, Market Way and City Arcade. The characterless, identikit scheme, as aptly put by the architectural historian Louis Campbell, ‘bears no relation to Coventry. It could be Milton Keynes, or Minneapolis, or Magnitogorsk.’ No doubt, the 15-acre site in questions is in desperate need for carefully crafted upgrades, additions and transformations. It is this selfish, top-down, carelessly dull, and purely market-driven, capitalist notion of so-called ‘urban regeneration’ that is problematic. There is a lack of imagination. This is a lack of vision. And yet, it is quite remarkable to see that a cultural mega-event dominating the city within the past year, has failed to address such colossal intervention scheme which tends to determine the fate of city’s future. I would argue that City of Culture, as a cultural instrument, should go beyond an unhealthy exercise of ‘artwashing’ which, as Oli Mould writes, is nothing but ‘the mobilisation of artistic creativity completely devoid of its subjective, complicated and politically-charged context.’ While ‘boosting participation, bolstering the ‘visitor economy’, improving artistic quality’ and simply putting the city on the map, ‘City of Culture’ also needs to critically engage with crucial matters related to the city (in this case creation of a new city centre) through providing platform for urban debates and intellectual discourse, as well as supporting artistic, social and political activism.

SPACEX poster designed by James Smith

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