Robyn Archer Departs Liverpool’s Culture Company

CoC badge (Community) 06.7.39 004.jpg Robyn Archer’s resignation, announced today, as artistic director of Liverpool’s Culture Company leaves many questions about what the 2007 and 2008 celebrations are actually intended to achieve. Acknowledging this simple reality would help a great deal in making progress.
So the first question everyone’s asking is, Why? Why has Robyn Archer, after in reality such a brief sojourn in Liverpool, decided that Liverpool’s 2007 & 2008 events are not for her?
Only Ms Archer can answer that, of course, and she is unlikely to add much to her media statement that it’s for ‘personal reasons’. (Well, yes, but that could mean many things to many people.)
In the meantime, the question I would still really like to see a proper response to – and which I asked Robyn Archer directly on one of the very few occasions when I actually encountered her – is this:
By what criteria will we know that Liverpool’s 2007 and 2008 celebrations have been a success?
The fundamental question for Capital of Culture
Hope Street Refurb end - notice 06.7.15 001.jpg There may well be more than one sensible response, but perhaps – who knows? – it was partly a lack of clarity in various quarters about this fundamental question which provoked the latest departure. (Some of us recall that the very first 2008 lead director also departed Liverpool, almost before he’d unpacked his bags.) Perhaps there are multiple possible answers – to renew and regenerate our city, to promote and celebrate communities, even, just maybe, to bolster ‘cultural’ activities as such – but no-one seems able to offer a definitive and widely agreed response.
Whether or not it bothered Robyn Archer, this question continues very much to worry me. There still seems to be a confusion in the minds of some local people about the difference between Excellence and Elitism, between the absolutely correct requirement that Liverpool’s cultural celebrations include as many local citizens from as many different communities as possible, and the frankly silly idea that anything which is, as they say, ‘artistically challenging’ is also somehow inappropriate in this city.
The real cultural challenge
How are we as citizens together to grow in our understanding of art, music, dance, drama, or anything else, if we are afraid to take it to people who haven’t encountered it much as yet?
Of course people should be offered and involved in artistic activities which engage them directly – ‘community education’ projects and so forth – but somehow we also have to encourage them to see that there is much more than that too.
The courage to offer leadership
At present, it feels as though those – and there certainly are several, on the Culture Company Board amongst other places – who are willing and able to promote the idea that we gain more from cultural experience when we permit it to challenge us – are being outnumbered by those who, to use the old metaphor, play to the gallery of small town politics.
The real issue is cultural and civic leadership. Liverpool will be a city fit for the 21st century when the local powers-that-be are ready to acknowledge not only how far we have already travelled, but also how much further there is to go before we can really call ourselves a Capital of Culture in the sense that most other European cities understand that term.
Then, perhaps, we won’t have to rely on the wonderful goodwill of just those seasoned artistic directors who show a commitment to Liverpool well beyond the call of professional duty. Only then will the lure of Liverpool to the international cultural community be irresistible.

Posted on July 4, 2006, in Arts, Culture And Heritage, Equality, Diversity And Inclusion, Events And Notable Dates, Liverpool And Merseyside, Politics, Policies And Process, The Journal. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Why Robyn Archer in the first place ? Why did Liverpool not choose someone who has strong links with the city, someone who is proud and passionate about Liverpool ?

  2. I have suspected for some time that fundamental questions such as measuring success (even accountability) have not been addressed yet by the “powers that be” (namely Liverpool City Council) in relation to the 07 and 08 festivities. When Robyn Archer announced she was leaving, I thought about what impact this may have and in particular the lack of continuity and direction and I fear this is symptomatic of a much wider problem in the City of Liverpool.
    From the comments above about your article, I tend to agree with Tony Parrish that what is unfolding in Liverpool is like a “car crash”, but how can this be solved? Strong leadership – an elected mayor maybe as Liam Fogarty suggests. But for sure someone is needed with the power to steer these festivities but without the stench of corruption that appears to be following certain senior executives at Liverpool City Council.

  3. For another view on the car crash that is Capital of Culture, have a look at liverpool-evil-cabal. A bit more abrupt than Hilary, but basically going in the same direction. And there is room for all kinds…

  4. Smart piece, well done. Certainly a breath of fresh air when compared with the trash circulating on the Liverpool Echo’s website right now.
    [Thanks, much appreciated!! Hilary]

  5. Dennis Spicer

    I, like many other people cannot judge whether Robyn Archer has or has not been a success, because we know very little about what has been going on, and a vacuum allows all sort of speculation to take place. I gather that an announcement of the main points of the programme will be made in November,so we should parhaps wait for that. But the priority now is to get someone in who can show committment to the project and has a broad view of culture both in an international and local sense.
    We need stuff to bring people in to Liverpool and what they don’t want to see is an overblown parochial carnival celebrating Liverpools “greatness”. God knows, we have had enough of that already.At the moment it looks like Liverppol culture means just more and more places to shop, judging by the amount of building going on.But I am optimistic . I hope this will be a great success for Liverpool.
    But what is this I hear? The Dreamspace installation in Mount Pleasant has been attacked by vanndals. This is the sort of attitude the C.oC. will have to contend with unfortunatly.

  6. Hugh Thompson

    I think you make very cogent and vital points. More than ever I think we should be pushing the point you make that ‘Hopes and organisations like it’ should at least have the opportunity to be included in what, after all, is our party.
    This is not to exclude outside events (such as the plate spinners or whatever it was at the Royal Court) who doubtless have their place, but the whole point about Liverpool being the CoC is that it should have at least some identifiable ‘Liverpool’ content. Otherwise it just becomes a generic off the shelf CoC event that could be replicated in any other city.
    By its efforts to date, the CoC Co is doing its very best to keep the door closed to organisations such as Hopes. One has to wonder why. What are they afraid of?
    More importantly, the legacy that ‘Liverpool’ events will create will reinforce the work we have already done in deprived areas such as Toxteth and Granby, who were this week in the local press saying how they felt passed by and excluded by the CoC.
    It is indeed difficult to see what relevance or benefit plate spinners at the Royal Court and their ilk would have in regenerating and developing some of Europe’s most deprived areas, who have most to gain, and most to lose, from an exclusively ‘bought in’ festival.
    We are at the 25th anniversary of the Toxteth riots. They were all about one section of the community being actively excluded in various ways. However yet again we see a golden opportunity to assist in the regeneration and inclusion of deprived communities being squandered by incompetent and uncaring autocrats. Would it be any surprise that maybe there would be some reaction from these same people in 2008?
    Kind Regards
    Hugh Thompson

  7. Hilary, you have corectly identified the elephant in Liverpool’s living room, namely the lack of accountable, creative and honest civic leadership.
    Those who queued up to praise Ms Archer over the last two years have now deemed her the scapegoat for the failure of Liverpool ’08 to inspire, create and engage.
    When we need straight talking, we get spin. Yesterday’s “resignation” is today’s “sacking.” Ms Archer’s has gone from being “the outstanding candidate”(M.Storey, April 2004) to “not my first choice”(M.Storey, July 2006)
    Robyn The Divine is now Robyn The Diva, and even the “Tasmanian Devil.” R.A. is deemed guilty of the ultimate sin for anyone in public life, being “difficult.” Sure there are questions to be asked about her appointment, her commitment and her achievements. But R.A. had bosses, including people who don’t know their arts from their elbow.
    We need straight talking from our “leaders.” But I won’t hold my breath waiting for any.
    Liam Fogarty, Chair of

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