What’s The 2008 Liverpool European Capital Of Culture Year For?

Four dots Markings 140x55 030bb.jpg Liverpool ‘s 2008 European Capital of Culture Year will be upon us in just a few months. But deep divides remain between artists, civic leaders and many local people about what the 2008 Year is ‘for’.

Alex Corina has taken the plunge into controversy on developments with the Liverpool’s plans for the 2008 European Capital of Culture Year. He’s reinvented Edvard Munch’s The Scream as The Liverpool Scream, just as in happier times he produced the Mona Lennon.
How do we measure success?
Despite the intentional playing to the gallery in all this, there is a very serious issue to be considered here. It concerns the rationale/s which lie behind the 2008 culture programme.
For many (not all) in the Culture Company I gather that one of most important ‘real’ ways that success will be measured in 2008 is number of tourist beds (i.e. overnight stays) which are achieved during the year.
The local artists’ perspective

I can see why this is a significant measure, but it’s not the message which most ‘community arts’ people in the city want to prioritise. They, like some Culture Company officers, seek to develop their communities by using ‘culture’ as a socially helpful way to bring people together.
This is however obviously much harder to measure and has less immediate impact on the seriously challenging sub-regional economy (though longer-term it would be good).
A view from cultural institutions
And then of course there are the ‘high arts’ bigger organisations which no doubt see the major outcome for themselves as being numbers of tickets sold for shows, concerts, whatever.
Again, a very valid perspective, and we need to recognise that if these organisations were not to benefit from 2008 ‘celebrations’
they would be in serious trouble in 2009 – which would mean the loss of many very accomplished artists and performers who currently work in the city(but often choose not to live here because the additional employment opportunities are so much better in, say, Manchester – see below).
Nurturing home-based professional artistic talent?
But the requirement to sustain the big arts organisations, though vital for Liverpool’s future status, still ignores the need – not at all as yet recognised as far as I can judge – to support locally-based fully trained and professional artists and performers with very high levels of skill who want to work in the city simply as artists and performers, not as community-based animateurs.
An edgy approach
This may be difficult when, for instance, the new Liverpool
stream requires that applicants offer something wacky and on the edge; which is good for some, but sounds absolutely daft if you are a historically-inclined fine arts person or a classically trained musician.
Playing to the local Liverpool gallery, which prides itself on being on the edge, is understandable, but it won’t impress many others from elsewhere; and why aren’t local professional artists being respected as artists in their own right – or so it might appear – in the same way as visiting ones?
I have already asked How Will We Know That Liverpool 2007 & 2008 Were Successful? And that debate continues.
At least three views?
In the meantime, I’m still not sure what the answers might be, but they seem to coalesce around the three views above:

1. tourist spend / beds
2. community cohesion and capacity building
3. (potentially) retention of high-level artistic skills in the city
Where’s the dialogue?
Unfortunately however there seems to be very little dialogue between those who promote each of these perspectives.
Indeed, I’m not sure it’s possible to do this under the present ‘consultation’ arrangements, with occasional meetings of large numbers of people – professional artists and others with very different experience together – in sports halls and the like.
Bringing the issues into focus
If Alex Corina’s current activities can help everyone to focus on
the ‘what’s 2008 for?’ message whilst there’s still at least a little bit of time left, that will be excellent.
As a city resident I’d like to see everything succeed so that proposed cultural ‘villages’, respected highly-skilled professional artists and performers, and our tourist trade all flourish ; but we’re still a way from achieving this.
A matter of urgency
The dialogue does need to be getting somewhere, and pretty quickly, please.

Posted on May 8, 2007, in Arts, Culture And Heritage, Liverpool And Merseyside, Regeneration, Renewal And Resilience, Travel and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Hi Hilary
    Read with interest your blog on CofC. especially today – Yellow House will create an action in support of Alex Corina this evening at Ken Martin’s gallery.
    In my opinion there has been little or no debate about the wider issues of CofC – sadly because they now seem to hold all the financial strings; artists and particularly arts groups, seem to accept that you just have to stand in line and get your bowl of gruel and just eat what you get – this is not severe criticism of those groups and artists because we all have to live and eat.
    The sad thing is we seem always to end up competing and fighting with each other for crumbs – debate seems almost dead to me. Whenever there is a meeting or a debate, we are asked to send in our questions early – or there is an agenda – this is not debate.
    There is an interesting book available by Francis Wheen “How mumbo – jumbo conquered the world” – worth reading.
    As for art and culture – I do not believe in high or low just quality – Yellow House is an elitist organisation – not based on elitism of class, or ability but of quality and of trying to offer the best to our young people . Have CofC listened – well of course they will tell their funders that they have had a series of “debates” with everyone in Liverpool – but debate and meetings are worthless unless all participants feel their worth, and believe that their comments, thoughts and opinions are truly taken into account and acted upon – otherwise is is merely a patronising pat on the head.
    And then there is the issue on numbers – is this a measure – millions read The News of the World – how many read The Independent – do numbers make the NOTW better than The Independent? Is it important to get people into the Art Galley to get out of the rain or for tea and cake – or to really look at and appreciate art.
    How do you measure art and culture – who gets 9 out of 10 or 5 out of 10. None of this for me – art and culture are I think immeasurable. Plato asked the question 2500 years ago “what is the point in art” – have we answered it yet – in fact does it need answering and for who’s benefit?
    Maybe I’m rather crazy to say this but for me I will carry on creating work with Yellow House every day for the next 25 years as I have done for the past 25 years – why – because I have to. I have no option – it is my life – my daily bread.
    OK enough for now – see you around – good luck – cosmic grooves
    George Mc Kane

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