Culture is a word often used: but what does it mean?

Culture is something that means very different things to different people. It is often batted about in different contexts from culture wars to pop culture.

Culture is sometimes used to divide and polarize people by class, wealth, education, ability and ‘taste’.

But if culture, in its many forms, is accessible to everyone, it is a very powerful way of bringing people together and of sharing experiences.

York has been described (by Make it York) as a 'city with culture at its heart.’

York’s culture strategy – York's Creative Future – sets out the city’s aspirations for culture until 2025.

It has a vision that ‘by 2025, York will be known as a city where outstanding, renowned heritage comes together with a cutting-edge contemporary approach to creativity, reflecting the city’s rich history and its status as the UK’s first UNESCO Creative City of Media Arts.’

Two years ago, in January 2022, led by Make it York’s Culture Team (now unfortunately disbanded), York created a Culture Forum for anyone working in the arts and heritage sector to come together to discover what was happening in the city, build partnerships and hear about new opportunities.

The Forum elects an Executive group to help deliver the Culture Strategy and represent the creative and cultural sectors.

But where is all of this culture?

The Arts Council, the national development agency for creativity and culture, describes culture as how we encounter the results of a creative process, in museums and libraries, theatres and galleries, carnivals and concert halls, festivals, and digital spaces.

So, whether it is going to the cinema to see a Hollywood blockbuster or an independent film, playing a digital video game, going to the pantomime, supporting a local band at a concert or borrowing a book from the library - this is all culture.

Culture is one of the things that adds richness to our lives. It stimulates, it excites, it entertains and it can simply help us to pass the time. Culture makes our lives more interesting. It can be challenging, and it can help us to look at the world differently.

Culture, and the creativity that goes into making it, contribute some £80 million to York’s economy.

There are 3.5 million visits to the city’s museums and galleries and 620,000 visits to our libraries.

The city’s two universities have invested over £100 million in media arts facilities and resources to support the sector. Thousands of students study arts and creative technologies across both universities.

In September 2023 York BID, Aesthetica Film Festival and Viridian FX, one of the world’s leading visual effects studios, staged an event, ‘Reignite the Economic Impact of the Media Arts’, raising the profile of those companies based in the city working in digital gaming, cinema and television, often for global brands - and also highlighting the opportunities for York from the presence of these leading companies.

York’s draft Local Development Plan, which will hopefully be approved in 2024, sets out how our city will develop over the next 15 years and beyond.

The Local Plan includes a policy that requires all property developers to provide a plan to enable and promote the delivery of new cultural facilities, activities and services and which does not cause the loss of cultural facilities, venues or spaces.

So with the amount of proposed development across the city in the coming years we should all expect to see a flourish of new cultural facilities and activities for all of us to enjoy and benefit from.

The Culture Forum is hoping that a detailed supporting planning document will be developed by the City of York Council to build on this policy and give everyone a clear understanding of what is needed in the city.

Culture is vitally important to York socially and economically. It needs to be diverse, rich and accessible to everyone. Culture represents, on both a national and international stage, a spotlight for York’s future, offering pathways into amazing careers.

Andrew Morrison is chief executive of York Civic Trust