Whose Liverpool Capital of Culture Year?

Young instrumentalists 05.jpg Is ‘high culture’ in reality only for ‘tourists’ in a city like Liverpool? Have civic leaders confused seeking excellence with its occasional and much less desirable adjunct, exculsivity? If the city is serious about opportunities to support the personal development of its citizens and the economic health of its communities, ‘high’ arts and culture surely have to integral to the experience of the many, not just of the few.
Liverpool City Council’s new Leader, Councillor Warren Bradley, has already given his opinion on the city’s current plans for the European Capital of Culture in 2008.
‘I want to raise the profile of Capital of Culture because many people feel it is not for them’, he says. ‘We will need high art for the city centre for tourists, but it must hold the hand of community art.’
Social inclusion
Well, what does this mean? Warren Bradley was before his elevation Executive Member for Culture in the city, so it’s good to see, if I’m reading him correctly, that he intends to bring the Capital of Culture programme to as many people in Liverpool as possible.
It’s quite true that not everyone in Liverpool will willingly pay to sit through a long performance of a play, concert or perhaps opera; and in that of course Liverpool is no different from any other city anywhere.
Community politics
But is it true that as things stand (almost?) no-one in the city would or does enjoy ‘high art’? I don’t think so. This has a feeling, albeit perhaps unintentional, of playing to the gallery.
It’s a strange world where it’s suggested that only ‘tourists’, presumably from elsewhere since that what tourists generally are, will appreciate or want to see ‘high art’. There significant numbers of people who live in Liverpool and Merseyside who enjoy and support ‘high art’ already – we have three universities, two famous cathedrals, well-known theatres, a very significant collection of museums and galleries, and a world-renown orchestra. And these instituitions were integral to the winning bid to take on the mantle of 2008 European Capital of Culture. So why are they by implication now perhaps for ‘tourists’?
Leadership in challenging cultural barriers
I’d like to see two things happen fairly quickly as far as Liverpool’s ‘high arts’ assets are concerned.
Firstly, it needs to be acknowledged absolutely without question that nearly everyone involved in ‘high art’ in this city strives very hard indeed to make what they have on offer more ‘accessible’; and even those who aren’t actively involved in this mission fully accept its imperative. And the same will apply to those additional visiting ‘high’ artists who come to Liverpool during 2008. So there is already a huge will to challenge the barrier which may be keeping some Liverpool people away from the excellent range of high art in their own city. ‘Community’ art in Liverpool is already a central plank in the ‘high art’ cultural offer.
Secondly, I believe very strongly that people should be helped to understand the role of high art in their communities. It can and should serve them directly, but it is also a significant factor in attracting and / or maintaining other highly skilled people within the local economy. Professional and many business people expect to be able to attend quality performances in their own city, they expect to be able to take potential investors and customers to good plays, opera, concerts and whatever. These high art commodities are not fluffy add-ons, they are essential to the developing local and regional economy. And they need to be presented in this light by our city leaders.
Cultural entitlement
But there’s also another thing we all need to keep in mind….. Like many other things which are worth doing, ‘high art’ takes a bit of effort and getting used to. Moving outside previous experience and comfort zones is not always an easy option, but that’s absolutely not a ‘reason’ why it would not be attractive to many so-called ‘ordinary’ people, if they were given genuine opportunities to enjoy it.
‘Community arts’ whilst essential, and indeed an excellent way to engage people in the artistic experience, are not a substitute for the ‘real thing’. Let’s not apologise for the fact that high art can be challenging or even difficult. There are plenty of massively accomplished performers and artists in Liverpool who came originally from less privileged backgrounds; what took them forward was the chance, often in unlikely circumstances, to discover that they had real talent in their specialist fields.
An exciting route to personal development
Music, drama and other arts can offer people amazing ways to expand their experience and lives. Everyone in Liverpool who cares about opportunities opening up for all our citizens must, as Councillor Bradley would surely if asked agree, say loud and clear that high art and community art alike are part of everyone’s cultural entitlement.
All the citizens of Liverpool should be encouraged by the active example of our leaders to try the whole cultural offer, not just (though this may come first) the ‘community’ part of it. ‘High art’ isn’t just for ‘tourists’, it adds meaning to the lives of many people of every background and experience; it’s for us all.

Posted on December 12, 2005, in Arts, Culture And Heritage, Equality, Diversity And Inclusion, Liverpool And Merseyside, Politics, Policies And Process, The Journal. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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