Musikkens Hus
Musikkens Hus, Aalborg.

Manchester, Aarhus and Aalborg: Three cities working together for cultural collaboration 

On the 25th February 2019 a Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) was signed between the cities of Manchester, Aarhus and Aalborg. At a time when strong cultural relations are needed more than ever, this agreement promises to bring the UK and Denmark closer together through resilient cultural cooperation and bilateral partnerships. 

The agreement is officially backed by the following organisations:

  • Arts Council England (UK)
  • City of Manchester (UK)
  • Danish Agency of Culture and Palaces (DK)
  • Danish Arts Foundation (DK)
  • Embassy of Denmark in the UK (DK)
  • Danish Ministry of Culture (DK)
  • City of Aarhus (DK)
  • City of Aalborg (DK)  

This agreement forms part of Denmark’s International Cultural Panel’s UK strategy and was officially launched by the Danish Minister for Culture, Mette Bock. The event follows in the spirit of the 2017 Aarhus Capital of Culture, which featured many British artists, and whose CEO was Rebecca Matthews (UK, now Director of Goodenough College). It also follows on from Nordic Matters, held in 2017 at the Southbank Centre and which showcased a range of Nordic artists in the UK. 

The launch included presentations by the Councillors in each city: 

  • Luthfur Rahman, Manchester – Councillor for Schools, Culture and Leisure
  • Rabih Azad-Ahmad, Aarhus – Councillor for Culture and Citizens
  • Mads Duedahl, Aalborg – Councillor for Health and Culture

A panel discussion was held on the topic of cities, cultural regeneration and collaboration. On the panel was:

  • Eva Frost (Chair) (Denmark, Jazz Denmark)
  • Alison Clark (National Director, Combined Arts, Arts Council England)
  • Dave Moutrey (Director and Chief Executive of HOME, Manchester)
  • Lars Danielsen, Head of Culture, City of Aarhus
  • Morten Lautrup-Larsen, Deputy Director, Danish Agency for Culture and Palaces

To date, a delegation of cultural leaders have visited Manchester and a delegation of cultural leaders from Manchester (see below) have visited Aarhus and Aalborg, with the aim of creating connections and networks across various art forms which in due course will shape a strategy. 

Attendees from the UK included representatives from Manchester’s top arts and cultural destinations, including Manchester Museums, HOME, Brighter Sound, Abandon Normal Devices, Manchester Literary Festival, Young Identity, Z Arts, Sick and Manchester International Festival.

Main points from the launch

Mette Boch, the Danish Minister for Culture, said that Great Britain remains the country that Danes feel closest to, especially with regards to culture. She also stated that:

  • Political realignment means that the UK will no longer sit alongside Denmark as part of the EU, hence existing cultural bonds need to become stronger. 
  • This is already helped by the fact that Danes take a great interest in the UK, and the UK takes a great interest in Denmark – especially with regards to art and design. 
  • This collaboration launches a new era, especially for cities that sit outside Europe’s capitals, and provides an opportunity for exchange and participation. 
  • Aarhus and Aalborg are both homes to people who see culture as an important ingredient when it comes to regeneration and the future.
  • At the annual cultural meeting in Mors (Culture Summit / Kulturmoedet), she was impressed to learn about the ACE’s Creative People and Places. 

Michael Eakin, Chief Executive of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, drew attention to the range of art forms from Manchester represented at the meeting, and mentioned how:

  • Manchester is city that is outward looking, interested in regeneration, the importance of culture + health.
  • There are strong synergies between the north of England and Scandinavia, and a history of knowledge exchange.
  • For the Arts Council, international cooperation is very important, especially as the UK prepares to leave the EU. 

Luthfur Rahman, Councillor for Manchester, spoke about:

  • The need for cultural democracy, the widening of access to all, and the need to raise the profiles of cities like Manchester, Aarhus and Aalborg.
  • How an investment in culture is important for jobs, regeneration, and offering people of all ages prospects and mental well-being. 
  • The Council has set aside £4.9 million for culture, and will soon open the Factory in Manchester, which aims to be an ‘outward looking’ destination for artists and artistic exchange.

Rabih Azad-Ahmad, Councillor for Aarhus, emphasised how this collaboration is an important legacy of the 2017 Aarhus City of Culture which provides an opportunity for continued cultural cooperation between the north of England, and the north of Europe (in 2017 Tree of Codes was performed in Aarhus, as well as What if Women Ruled the World; 10,000 citizens from the city got involved in the City of Culture). In addition, the collaboration continues the City of Culture theme of ‘Rethink’.  

Mads Duedahl, Councillor for Aalborg, referred to:

  • The history of Aalborg, and its industrial importance in the ‘70s and ‘80s. He mentioned how the city needed to open up to the rest of the world, welcome other points of view, and learn from how other cities like Aarhus and Manchester have developed their cultural sector. 
  • The exceptional work done in Manchester around the issue of art and mental health. 
  • The desire for Aalborg to become a green city, a liveable city and a city with a strong cultural offering. 
Representatives of the three cities (from left to right): Mette Boch, Luthfur Rahman, Lars Danielsen, Rabih Azad-Ahmad, Mads Duedahl, Michael Eakin.
Representatives of the three cities (from left to right): Mette Boch, Luthfur Rahman, Lars Danielsen, Rabih Azad-Ahmad, Mads Duedahl, Michael Eakin.
Kunsthal Nord, Aalborg.
Kunsthal Nord, Aalborg.
Utzon Centre, Aalborg.
Utzon Centre, Aalborg.