Shanaz Gulzar Creative Director of Bradford 2025 shares her vision for the UK City of Culture program

Shanaz Gulzar Creative Director of Bradford 2025. Photo by Tim Smith.

Then last month it was announced that acclaimed artist, producer and presenter Shanaz Gulzar had been appointed as creative director. It was an announcement that was universally warmly welcomed – and rightly so. It’s hard to think of anyone better suited to the job. Part of Bradford’s cultural community for more than 25 years, her career spans film, visual arts, theater, public art and media. She has recently worked as a producer at Manchester International Festival and she has presented a number of BBC TV programmes including the popular Yorkshire Walks and the moving documentary Hidden Histories: The Lost Portraits of Bradford. And as the former chair of Bradford 2025, a post she held for over two years, she was a key player in the winning bid campaign.

“I am so happy to have been appointed,” says Gulzar. “I think it is fair to say I feel very embedded in our journey so far and I think that’s why I really wanted to apply for the role. Winning the bid was fantastic and now we have to deliver what we have said we are going to and that’s what excites me most – there is a different energy to that and I’m really looking forward to getting started. “

Gulzar will now be leading on the delivery of the year-long cultural program, working alongside Dan Bates who was appointed as executive director. The district received £ 275,000 in initial seed funding from the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). It has been estimated that the UK City of Culture 2025 title could bring an extra £ 700m into the Bradford district, creating thousands of jobs and potentially attracting over a million visitors by 2030. It could be a game changer for a city that has for many years been overlooked, some might say neglected.

Shanaz Gulzar1, Creative Director of Bradford 2025. Credit Tim Smith

“You can’t grow out of despair but you can grow out of hope,” says Gulzar. “And we are building on the foundations we have already created. Having won the bid, we are now is a position to make something amazing happen, but it has to come from an authentic place. I am really excited by the program and the conversations we have already had with artists. We need to sustain that energy and take people with us. “

Gulzar will be working with local, national and international partners to produce an ambitious program of work that is both outward facing and rooted in Bradford’s unique heritage and character. The city has a proud tradition of pulling together to make things happen, particularly in the arts sector and especially since the establishment of organizations such as The Leap and Bradford Producing Hub. “It is often referred to as a DIY culture,” says Gulzar. “There is an entrepreneurial spirit. It’s been wonderful to see theater makers, musicians, visual artists, filmmakers, artists of all kinds coming together to create that energy. I remember the hubbub when the City of Culture judges met the Bradford bid at Salts Mill. It felt like a real moment of pride for everyone – the business partners, creative partners and venues. It was quite something. “

Bradford is the UK’s youngest city – 29 percent of those living in the district are under 18 – and part of Gulzar’s vision is to present young people with opportunities to explore their creativity. “I am a Keighley girl and if you had said to me at the age of 16 that I would be doing something like this, I couldn’t have possibly imagined it. Now I’m in the position of being able to say to others ‘you don’t know what you are capable of until you try it’. I’m really excited about discovering some untapped talent. “

Gulzar’s vision also includes looking at the much longer-term future. “We can’t be a City of Culture without thinking about legacy,” she says. “So, it has been about factoring that in right from the start, even in the run-up to the bidding process. We have a ten-year plan for our city. When I think about legacy it’s not just about continuing with the projects that we are developing but also looking at our calendar of events to see what will help grow the cultural sector. There are a whole lot of exciting things going to be happening over the course of the next three years. We’re ready to write a new narrative for the next chapter of Bradford’s story. “

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