The few weeks as 2007 ended and became 2008 saw much festive activity in Liverpool. Here, the set for the BBC’s special production of the ‘Liverpool Nativity’ was surrounded by excited onlookers well before the performance started, but alongside all the high technology Saint George’s Hall stood serene, just as it has for the past 150 years.
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
Commissions 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.