Top Five: Reasons why Stoke-on-Trent should become City of Culture 2021

As soon as we revealed our intention to campaign for the City of Culture 2021 title, I’m sure many folk around the country (who have never actually set foot inside Stoke-on-Trent) snorted and guffawed at the idea. In the national press, our city has rarely been discussed in reference to a rich cultural scene; instead, we are reduced to a poor, uneducated and overweight city. Yes, we are still struggling with the lasting impacts of the total destruction of our industries and yes, education in Stoke-on-Trent needs to improve, but none of these things can take away the cultural activity that is currently subsuming the city. Here are five examples illustrating why Stoke-on-Trent deserves the 2021 title:

  1. Festivals. Stoke-on-Trent hosts a plethora of different festivals of all shapes and sizes. At the larger scale, there’s the Hot Air Literary Festival. Hosted at the Emma Bridgewater Factory for the past 3 years, we’ve seen huge names from the literary world pootle down to Stoke to share their thoughts and experiences including the likes of Nick Hornby, Joanna Trollope and Michael Palin! The British Ceramics Biennial is another wonderful example, celebrating everything pottery in the old Spode Factory. Another Stoke-based extravaganza, The London Road Festival, returns this year with more arts and music activities while Appetite Stoke’s Big Feast has showcased world-class theatre across the city in recent years.
  2. Art. It’s everywhere! We’ve got perceptive street art from the likes of Doddz; regular celebrations of urban style at Upstairs Gallery; local artists on display at One One Six and more classical pieces at the PMAG. Art is taking shape as I type this with the resident artists at the newly opened ACAVA studios, art classes at Burslem School of Art and the incredible student artists studying at Staffordshire University. Perhaps most importantly, the community art scene is growing at breakneck speed. The hugely successful Portland Inn Project saw members of the community coming together to learn and create while Art Stop Stoke hosts regular crafting and art sessions.
  3. Independent Businesses. The Cultural Quarter in particular is now home to a mix of innovative independent businesses, each demonstrating their own creativity in different ways. Tsp, for example, have just opened their upstairs seating area along with their take on a traditional afternoon tea, except their “high tea” includes mini bagels and cupcakes with a scone on top. AMAZING. Rawr, on the other hand, give a whole new meaning to healthy eating with their delicious smoothies, juices and sandwiches and Klay Pizzeria and Bar encourage the best kind of creativity with their make your own pizza menu. Not forgetting new kid on the block, The Quarter, who continue to host a range of performances from local musicians, comedians and poets.
  4. Pottery. You can’t talk about Stoke’s culture without mentioning its pottery industry – we are built on clay for goodness sake! Plenty of folk are quick to condemn the pottery business as a dead duck, but they couldn’t be more wrong. Take Emma Bridgewater for example, her designs continue to grace the shelves of middle class families up and down the country and Steelite is supplying the hospitality industry all over the world. Moreover, smaller pottery businesses like Black Star Ceramics and Emma Bailey Ceramics are enjoying huge success too. Of course, our own Middleport Pottery is also home of The Great Pottery Thrown Down, which has just hit our screens for the second series.
  5. Individuality. Our city is the home of the mighty North Staffordshire Oatcake – surely that in itself is worthy of the 2021 title? The Stokie dialect is still alive and well, whether it’s “ay up Duck” or “nesh” or “look to rhyme with Luke” and our reputation as a generous community remains in tact – you only have to look at the city’s foodbank or the community night shelter project for evidence. Finally, we might be the only city who consistently turn over our crockery to see where it’s made. We are creative and caring and unique, and we deserve to be recognised as such by winning the 2021 City of Culture title.

REVIEW: Professor Pigment’s Trail & Error- The Movie

Last night, I spent part of my evening down at the Staffordshire University Film Theatre, for the premiere of Professor Pigment’s ‘Trail & Error- The Movie’. In case you missed it, Professor Pigment is a street artist, dubbed Stoke-on-Trent’s answer to Banksy and he has been sharing his Stoke-inspired art with the rest of the city for nearly 3 years.

Monday night’s event celebrated the creation of ‘Trail & Error’: an urban art trail that allows the visitor to explore the best of ProPig’s work to date, while reflecting on the trial and error process that life so often follows. More specifically, the gathering allowed guests to watch the never-seen-before ‘Trail & Error: The Movie.’ The film celebrates the impact that Professor Pigment’s artwork has had within the community and told a number of inspiring stories that showcased the artist’s generosity as well as his talent. Perhaps the best example of this is his lasting memorial for Jordan Burndred. ProPig customised the football stand named after the 17-year-old, after he so sadly died from a cardiac arrest that he suffered on holiday in Turkey. Jordan’s mother was featured in the documentary expressing just how much of a boost this gesture gave her, especially over the difficult Christmas period.

The overwhelming theme running throughout the documentary (made by Inspired Film & Video) is that Stoke-on-Trent is a unique city which has a great deal to celebrate, if only we’d stop whinging about Hanley bus station and look around a bit more. His passion for the area is plain to see and his desire to depict the best of Stoke-on-Trent is infectious, whether it may be talented musicians like Slash; the mighty Staffordshire oatcake or Stoke City Football club. I came away from the premiere determined to do the same. (The celebrating-the-best-bits-of-Stoke-on-Trent part that is, not the street art!)

The biggest surprise of the evening was undoubtedly the revealing of Professor Pigment’s true identity. At the end of the documentary and his message to the audience, the 21 year old Staffs Uni student stood up and thanked everyone for coming. He also discussed his plans to take a bit of a break from street art, but promised to return under the alias “DODDZ” (taken from his ‘Defy the Odds’ motto I presume). No doubt this change represents an attempt to broaden his art and impact beyond Stoke-on-Trent, as defying the odds is an idea that everyone can relate to, not just Stokies. While it’s certainly tempting to try and limit ProPig’s canvas to just our city, I’m sure we can all agree that other areas and communities could benefit greatly from his perceptive social commentary.

Good luck Professor Pigment, just don’t forget where you came from!


The ‘Trail & Error’ Guide

For more information on ProPig’s Trail & Error: