Aisha Iqbal: Why has ‘culture’ become such a dirty word?

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Why has ‘culture’ become such a dirty word for some people?

The build up to Leeds’s submission tomorrow (Friday) of its bid to be European Capital of Culture in 2023 has been somewhat tainted by regular doses of negativity from some quarters.

I completely understand some people’s scepticism and the cries of ‘vanity project’ aren’t necessarily complete misfires.

After all, our elected heads and bigwigs love a photo opportunity and a chance to be associated with headline projects.

But isn’t that a big part of their job - to be our figureheads through good times and bad?

This is one of those good times, and a bit of ‘one for all and all for one’ spirit is required, I feel.

And what is wrong with indulging in bit of collective vanity anyway?

Wasn’t the London 2012 Olympics a huge, national vanity project?

And every time we host - or bid to host - a big international sporting event like the World Cup, aren’t we indulging in more of the same?

More locally in Yorkshire, the Tour de France Grand Depart and World Triathlon have both been dubbed the same, often by the same naysayers.

Then there are huge ambitious projects like Leeds Arena.

Should we not have bothered? Of course we should have, and did.

The economic benefits these events and developments have brought are undeniable and manifold, and - crucially - they are all part of the growing history and rich cultural tapestry of our nation and our region.

We should also grab every opportunity to celebrate all that is good about our communities, and let the world see it.

Of course, we - and by that I do mean our decison-makers - don’t always get it right, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t put ourselves out there.

Yes, I know money is tight everywhere.

We are all feeling the squeeze.

But the cries of ‘we could spend the money elsewhere’ seem politically naive and are unhelpful at this time, when we ARE going for it. They smack of malice and disingenuous intent at times.

One of my favourite comments throughout this three-year bid process has come from the current children’s mayor of Leeds, Grace Branford, who hopes the Leeds 2023 momentum will “spread kindness through all our communities”.

I can’t think of a better way to sum up why this bid journey - regardless of the result - is so important for us all.

Grace and her contemporaries will be young adults by the time 2023 actually comes around.

What a fantastic legacy it would be for the generations to come.

As our nation lurches from left to right between political extremes post-referendum - and questions about identity and unity hover everywhere as Brexit approaches - Leeds’s 2023 bid is and should be a unifying force.

We need to have some faith in ourselves and each other that we can make this work.

Perhaps there is confusion in some people’s minds about the juxtaposition of multiculturalism - that other dirty word of our current times - and culture.

But both are part of this wonderful, complex, beautiful thing called Leeds that we have created and live every day.

Culture is everywhere around us. It is us and everything we do and say and feel.

Perhaps there has been a failure by our decisionmakers up to now to really get that message across to every single Loiner at grass roots level, but tomorrow is the day to do it.

We are the sum of all our parts, and our parts are pretty darn fabulous.

I’m not usually one for hyperbole, but I just think it’s time to throw off the mental shackles and embrace this opportunity.

It’s also about joining the dots between our past, present and future to rewrite both Leeds and the UK’s roles in the wider European story.

At a time when unity and community are increasingly missing in our everyday interactions with each other, we could do a lot worse than indulging in a bit of collective vanity.