Lancashire is in the running to host a once-in-a-lifetime celebration, showcasing the best of art, culture and design across the north of England.
The county is one of the four finalists hoping to stage the Great Exhibition of the North, with judges visiting next week.
Organisations from across the region are now being asked to throw their weight behind the campaign, to bring the two-month exhibition to the Red Rose county.
Marketing Lancashire, the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership and Blackpool Council submitted the joint bid to host the 2018 event, and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has announced the shortlist.
Blackpool’s Winter Gardens has been chosen as the “hub” that would host the exhibition, with organisations across Lancashire heavily involved.
The resort is now up against Bradford, Newcastle-Gateshead and Sheffield to host the event.
Ruth Connor, chief executive of Marketing Lancashire, said the team was working together to make the “best in class submission”, showcasing the latest design, innovation and “pioneering spirit”.
She said: “The heart of the exhibition would be Blackpool, but would have a hub and spoke effect in Lancashire and the north.” She described the town as the UK’s favourite seaside resort, and said: “We know we already have a thriving visitor economy, we’ve got a large exhibition space in the Winter Gardens complex.
“For us, the core principle would be centred around pleasure palaces, because the original exhibition in 1851 was how the Crystal Palace was built.
“It’s all about culture, design, art and technology.”
The exhibition would have elements including a digital palace, a palace of dance, a palace of “new realities”, and Ruth described the event as a “real diverse offer”.
She said: “Part of it is the latest technology, robotics, product design and manufacturing, because of Lancashire being the home of advanced manufacturing.
“From a digital perspective, visitors can interact with the latest in IT and gaming and computing and digital arts.
“We are trying to create experiences where visitors will not only come and enjoy, but experience and explore as well.”
She added: “What better way to showcase the Winter Gardens than having this pleasure palaces exhibition, where people get to see it first hand.
“It is about using one of our most important assets from a heritage perspective, but actually bringing it to the modern day in terms of what people want.”
She said hosting the exhibition would support the resort’s vision to “make the Winter Gardens a leading UK centre for popular culture”.
An interview panel will visit Lancashire and Blackpool next week, where they will be shown the Winter Gardens and “how the resort will deliver”.
There will be interviews with Sir Gary Verity, chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire and chairman of the Great Exhibition Board, and the winning venue will be announced this autumn.
Ruth said: “We are giving it our all, there’s tremendous ambition to secure this for Lancashire.
“Blackpool is absolutely the right place to host this.
“We believe we’ve got the strength, the right assets, and above all the people to deliver it.
“It’s about putting ourselves on the map, it’s saying we can do this, we want this.
“We’ve got a great foundation already with 63m visitors per year, and it’s about saying we can do more.”
Ruth said the team was bidding for a £5m initial fund, which she said would “help in terms of the operation and artists, making sure it’s an exceptional experience”.
She added: “There’s a legacy attached of around £15m, so the idea is we create a reason to come, visitors come and spend while they are here, and also stay over.
“That will again drive the economic impact.
“Creating and making is in our DNA and we’ll be doing our utmost to make sure the Great Exhibition of the North comes to its natural home in Lancashire in 2018.”
A new visitor economy strategy for Lancashire, aims to grow visitor numbers from 63 million a year to 70 million by 2020.
Blackpool will play a key role in reaching that goal, as current host to 17 million visitors annually.
Matt Hancock, Minister of State for Digital and Culture, said: “The Great Exhibition of the North is a unique opportunity to celebrate the creativity of Northern England and I am thrilled we received so many innovative bids.
“British arts and culture are among the finest in the world. I am determined we democratise the arts and celebrate the best in every part of our nation.
“What’s more, cultural investment can bring enormous benefits for communities - it drives regeneration, promotes tourism and increases life chances.
“The shortlisted bids show just what’s on offer and show we have brilliant options for hosting the Great Exhibition of the North.
“Whichever is successful, this exhibition will leave an important legacy to benefit the whole country.”
Show your support at www.marketinglancashire.com.