Thursday, December 18, 2008

Reflections on Liverpool's Capital of Culture year 2008

We are being encouraged by the local media to reflect on the Liverpool European City of Culture 2008 experience so I thought I might add my thoughts to the debate.

Let me begin by saying that I am interested in art, music, drama, film, museums, history, photography etc, so my views come in no small part from my experience of some activities in those areas.

However, I am also a Labour councillor for a very deprived ward in Liverpool, Kensington and Fairfield, and so I have to have an eye for how the year has affected the ward too.

And finally, as a recentish incomer, I have lots of friends and family who live elsewhere and so another big part of my experience this year has been reflected through their eyes as they have visited me and visited the city.

The first thing I want to draw positive notice to is the poster and postcard campaign that began a few years ago to promote Liverpool 08. A series of photos with messages across the front, I recall particularly one which said that Liverpool has more art galleries and museums than anywhere outside of London. There were a series of posters running up the escalators at Euston Station underground for instance and I felt proud thinking I lived there. I dont have a link to the posters and would be grateful if anyone who does have could post it up here.

Without question my favourite thing about the year was the wonderful Superlambananas which I later contrasted with the Berlin bears. I loved them personally, because they were fantastic and colourful and energetic, but I also loved them because everyone else loved them too. I particularly remember going down to the plateau in front of the new Jury's Inn where three superlambananas were grazing, and getting in a queue for photos behind grandparents with their tiny grandchildren, a couple holding hands and two hooded teenagers, all really enjoying the experience. Everyone of every age loved the lambies.

I loved the Turner prize at the Tate - of course it came in 2007 but it came because of the City of culture label so I think it is okay to include that. I would say the same about the Liverpool Nativity too.

I enjoyed the Klimt exhibition but more for my step-father Roger who has loved Klimt for decades and had such obvious pleasure from seeing so many works in one place.

Lisa and I went to a wonderful event at the Anglican cathedral - One step forward, one step back, which will live in my mind for years to come. It was magnificent.

I also enjoyed the opening event at the Arena - the Liverpool Musical.

Another real hit for me was the boxes of treasure in the exhibition space at St George's Hall

I popped into the building on Old Hall Street that houses the Liverpool Echo to see Anthony Brown's 100 Heads exhibition earlier this year, it was fascinating, I expect it is still on somewhere in the city.

Another great favourite during the year was an event that the Culture Company refused to support - A Liver Bird Sang. I thought it was tremendous, a local performance, for and by local people.

Of course, given my declared support for them, I was thrilled to see two Liverool Mural Project murals take shape during the year. All power to Peter Morrison's elbow, I hope we shall have a mural in our ward next year too.

Who could not have been delighted by meeting
Irish President Mary Mcaleese at a special Irish reception at St George's Hall? I was nearly struck dumb I was so chuffed to shake her hand in the line-up.

I was impressed that Liverpool had won the hosting of many big events in 2008, things like the Tall Ships, the World Firefighter Games, the MTV awards, the Sports Personality of the Year awards, the National Holocaust Memorial event for example, but whether we shall get the same level of support next year is a whole new challenge for everyone, the Arena managers notwithstanding.

I should say I did not like the princess spider - I only saw it once, on the Saturday night, and it didn't do anything and I think it may have broken down for a while, although nobody admitted it. I know lots of other people loved it, but if they had only seen what I had only seen then they would have felt the same as I did, it was a let down.

I loved lots of the Liverpool Biennial art - the blue spider in Exchange Flags, the exhibitions in the Blue Coat Art Centre, Turning the place over (from 2 years ago) but must point out that they would have happened despite the 08 Capital of Culture, and indeed I would say the same about the
Mathew Street Festival

There are of course those who insist that the Labour Party has not supported the year but that is crap, we even had our own dinner with Phil Redmond as a speaker to celebrate the year.

My friends and familly have all enjoyed several visits to Liverpool and I have enjoyed showing the city off to them, but will they clamour to come again next year? I really don't know, will the city still be 3rd on the list of places to visit in 2009? Can we sustain the interest? That is a real question when we think about the legacy of the year, was Liverpool only flavour of the year for 2008 or can we keep it up?

Has the year positively impacted on Kensington and Fairfield? Not really, no.

We have had of course the controversial and much despised Edge Lane murals and a complete failure of the council to tackle the other boarded up houses on Prescot Road and Drive in Fairfield.

I guess for those residents who like art and exhibitions and live music and so on, there have been things in the city centre that they could enjoy, but there has been little impact on the appalling levels of poverty, health, unemployment, housing or other crises in the ward. It is true that our school children have had some cultural experiences and been involved in concerts and exhibitions but will their lives be clearly improved or enhanced as part of the millions spent this year? No I am afraid I don't think they will.

In fact we end the year in Kensington and Fairfield in a worse place than we began, with the housing crisis deepening, thousands on waiting lists for somewhere to live and no obvious progress in terms of worklessness for instance.

Speaking as a culture lover I have loved 2008 and have been so proud of much of the year's activities, but whether that has deeply touched the wider population as much is doubtful, and whether it will be all over on January 1st 2009 is something we may have to wait and see - but I fear that it will be and I hope I am wrong. It is the battle to sustain the city when we are out of the headlines that will be the real challenge for city leaders in years to come.

1 comment:

Jimmy P said...

Great review of the year, we should all be proud of the city of culture year, it's only a pity that a city such as Liverpool with its great socialist history didn't have a Labour council in charge when we got the chance to showcase our city to the world.