1. How do you see the current provision of infrastructure for culture in Liverpool?
ST: In terms of the wider cultural ecology, I think we have a really good spread of spaces that support artists at different levels in their careers and practices. For example, in the visual arts, we have a number of artist studio groups including The Royal Standard, Crown Studios and various others - and they’re really important because they continue to feed into the creative ecology within the city.
Then going up a little bit, we have some smaller spaces that like Cactus Gallery and various other small spaces which I think are really important to maintain a healthy infrastructure - we are trying to encourage more grassroots galleries like these to pop up. In the next layer up, we have practice- or media-specific institutions, an ecology of institutions all of whom have a different remit. It’s really healthy - we have Open Eye Gallery which deals specifically with lens-based media and photography, then we have FACT whose remit is to engage with new technologies, and also have a cinema so they do quite a lot of media and film-based practices there. Then we have the Bluecoat which is a community-arts centre model and works across artforms - they have a really good performance space and studios including dance studios. And then we come to the museums! Liverpool has the second largest number of museums after London, including the Tate of the North.
And then of course we have the Biennial. We deliver an ambitious year-round programme where we bring international artists and practices in conversation to other organisations in the city and we do a lot of talent development on the ground as well.
PS: For STATIC which mainly operates outside of public funding - having designed the structure of its business and architecture to develop a variety of income streams from commissions, to space hires, studio rentals, event sales, food sales and art/music sales (the latter two via associated concerns KIMCHI HUMAN and PRODUCT RECORDS) - the landscape is pretty much consistent. The STATIC space acts a 1:1 scale physical space and organisational entity that allows us to continually operate and examine issues and subjects that interest us. The structure was designed to allow autonomy.
MS: Liverpool is undeniably in a much better place than before the European Capital of Culture accolade. It has become a city where it’s more acceptable to do art, to be an artist, and make a living as a creative. Liverpool City Council has a made a concerted effort to continue to invest in the arts and culture where other cities have not. This has enabled an ongoing confidence in art and culture as being a core part of the strategy to develop and improve everyone’s quality of life. It’s about the people as much as it is about the physical resources. That said, Liverpool has great venues and resources which, through collaborative working, fortunately get shared well. Over the last ten years, Liverpool Arts Regeneration Consortium (LARC) and Creative Organisations of Liverpool (COoL) have brought together the larger and smaller arts organisations from across the region to work collaboratively on projects and really make the most of opportunities.
The local and national debate around noise in the city is still urgent, particularly in cities like Liverpool where the proliferation of large-scale private housing and retail development coupled with a strong resident and commercial lobby has successfully brought local politicians and council enforcement departments onside. In many cases, the interests of new residents and businesses, many attracted by the ‘cultural vibe’ of the city, has taken precedent over the interests of the long-established venues, many of which programme live music as just one of their activities, but one activity that is crucial to its financial stability.
2. Are there particular forms of cultural infrastructure that are thriving or under threat?
PS: STATIC along with many other venues in the city has been the recipient of a city council Noise Abatement Notice (2011) which has put on hold the use of the venue for any event with Loud Amplified Noise. STATIC was able to reconfigure its activities and income streams but other venues are either still under threat or have ceased to exist.
ST: The ecosystem laid out in the visual arts is also echoed in theatre, and in music. We have a really strong music scene in the city, including lots of great independent music producers who are doing some quite experimental and interesting stuff, from Andrew Ellis up to the Philharmonic. We’re very strong in visual arts - if I compare what we’re doing to say Manchester or Leeds, I think we have quite a lot of artists in the city and I think there’s a strong ecology and infrastructure that can support their development and bring an international dialogue to the table.
MS: As parts of the city were regenerated, some of the smaller, grungier spaces such as Mello Mello and Wolstenholme Square inevitably became victim to property developers. However that said, the Ten Streets project in the North Docks has accommodated some of those interesting displaced groups, the best example of which is Kazimier. Now situated at the Invisible Wind Factory, they’ve really risen to the challenge of occupying a larger, more ambitious space with their new focus on production. I see the role of the emergent artists and groups to occupy these types of spaces, and artists/creatives are generally pretty good at that and really without this activity the larger venues will suffer for lack of talent.
I think the artform that lacks infrastructure in the city is dance. There’s MDI (Merseyside Dance Initiative) and there’s LIC (Liverpool Improvisation Collective) at the Bluecoat, but I don’t see much contemporary dance coming through the city. When I do present dance, people do come, but you need to build audiences, you can’t just expect them to come regardless - you have to build their appetite and their interest.
3. What is the best way(s) to ‘build in’ spaces for culture in the city?
ST: It’s possible but it’s complicated. We have an organisation and we meet every two weeks called LARC (Liverpool Arts and Regeneration Consortium). It’s made up of the chief executives of a number of bigger organisations and we have the smaller organisations represented in the group, and we try to lobby at a strategic level and work closely with the Liverpool City Council’s culture team to think about how we can better embed a cultural strategy at the heart of the city’s thinking and planning for the future. This all sounds marvellous and there’s definitely a goodwill around the table - not only from the organisations but also from the city and the wider city region, including our Mayor Joe Anderson and our city region Mayor Steve Rotheram.
I think that the role of arts and culture has been understood and is welcome, because at this moment in late Capitalism there’s a real need to re-invent what these post-industrial, post-manufacturing and post-port cities can do into the future. We have to think about what kind of jobs and employment people will have into the future and what the world of the creative industries will be. The population of Liverpool has declined since the 1930s from around 800,000 to under 500,000. It’s growing now, but there’s still a need for more people to move to the city.
Liverpool does have a desire to make itself a city where artists can live and thrive and not just where artwork is presented, but where artists can develop. We’ve had all kinds of fantasy conversations - can we give housing to artists?, can we create opportunities that give them long-term residencies?, can we support the desire we all have for people to grow in the city and to show to our various platforms that it’s not necessary to leave to be successful?, because I think that’s a mistake.
So yes there are lots of things that can be done, but the number of stakeholders involved in making those things happen is complicated.
MS: The best way is with people. With time, communities can make things happen. FACT itself came about from decades of development through Video Positive Festival and Moviola, a deep engagement program and a lot of passion from the founders and surrounding audiences. And now, we’re celebrating 15 years of the purpose-built FACT building on Friday 13 April and you’re all invited.
PS: It depends on what you mean by culture. In the context of the 2008 City of Culture title, in the bidding process the debate around what culture actually is in the city was largely closed down. Instead of looking in detail at what this could mean, how to engage with it or how to enable new projects, the successful bid reinforced the idea that the understanding, production and dissemination of culture could only be carried out by the existing funded ‘arts organisations’. Although there was small-scale funding for smaller ‘community’ based projects, the majority of the funding went to the already established arts organisations and the newly formed Capital of Culture company.
In this scenario, cultural product is carefully controlled, selected and marketed for the benefit of the city’s key agenda of developing commercial tourism. This essentially means that culture is ring-fenced for those who can receive funding in order to disperse it, and also ring-fenced geographically ensuring that the majority of funding is prioritised to the city centre. Therefore, it is of course possible to ‘hardwire’ culture into a place, but again, it depends on what that culture is, or what that cultural product is.
4. How has the legacy of Liverpool’s ‘Capital of Culture’ title impacted spaces for culture?
MS: One of the legacies of the Capital of Culture accolade has been the development of cultural spaces in all sorts of places. For the more formal arts venues, that has meant continued investment to keep them open and in some cases re-developed such as the Liverpool Philharmonic and Everyman Playhouse. FACT has used its own resources and fundraised to create an emphasis on residency opportunities and improved space for production such as FACTLab in partnership with Liverpool John Moores University.
At the other end of the spectrum, we have new spaces like The Royal Standard Gallery & Studios and Cactus Gallery popping up and growing stronger and stronger, transforming the surroundings of an old abandoned brewery into a vibrant place where artists can develop and exhibit their work.
ST: In my opinion it’s regrettable that we will be the last British city to host the European CoC. Ten years on from when Liverpool was CoC, the city has radically changed and I think it’s clear that the impacts were multiple. On one level, it was the confidence that came with that that gave the city a boost. Then you have the possibility of infrastructural development and change and I think that the actual fabric of the city has been changed since that time.
Furthermore, the city has to work together in a way that perhaps it hasn’t done very efficiently before. Suddenly you are under enormous pressure to deliver a coherent, ambitious and ‘world-class’ programme and if organisations don’t figure out how to work together, it would be a massive strain because there would be a competitiveness. So I think that the city learnt how to work strategically together across its different strands. LARC, for example, is a direct result of 2008 - we realised that we had to do it ourselves if it was going to be something we wanted and owned. There is also an understanding that we have to work hand-in-hand with all of the other parties including the city, and the LEP, and the developers and the others in order for us to make the wider city region argument. We learnt that from the ECoC process.
Collated by Melissa MeyerRead Less