Culture is an identity and it is something which, when embraced, has a transformational power for good.
Our Culture is at the heart of who we are. As a city, a nation, a people, our culture is what defines us, it forms part of our DNA. Whether it is through our historical buildings, our music, football or sense of humour it is what makes us unique and binds us together at the same time. During times of hardship and austerity, our culture is something which not only unites us in Liverpool but which has been an essential driver for the city’s continued regeneration, acting as the rocket fuel you could say, it has enabled us to position our city on the world stage for all the right reasons, whether it’s embracing our historical routes to leading the way in transforming places to attract new audiences, encouraging investment and raising aspirations of residents for today and tomorrow.
Life is not black and white, there are no straight lines and clear cut responsibilities in real life, unlike the digital world of sterile code, life does not work in binary but instead is made up of people; their emotions, skills and experiences and as such their cultures and beliefs that are at the core of society. In this manner, culture, is a vital part of any society and its transformational power should not be reduced to one sector.
Inherently emotive, our culture, as I’ve said, is who we are, it’s in our DNA. In Liverpool we have embraced our arts organisations and cultural heritage to transform public spaces and overcome austerity measures, educate our residents, inspire generations and utilise our history to attract investment for the future. Our maritime history in Liverpool is a deeply ingrained part of our culture — sitting on the banks of the Mersey, Liverpool owes its existence to the famous Docks welcoming international ships from around the world including the famous Cunard cruise line. Once informally known as the capital for wealth and hub of the UK economy, the Docks were left to ruin in the 1980s before the city embraced its cultural past once again to transform the waterfront and reinstate our Mersey River Festival celebrating our maritime heritage which today, attracts more than 40,000 visitors each year. In addition to which we have recreated historical world firsts when we welcomed the Three Queens to the city in 2015 when more than 1 million people lined the banks of the Mersey to welcome Cunard back to its spiritual home before achieving a Guinness World Record on the same waterfront catapulting the city onto the world stage once more and the record books as it showcased its cultural maritime history once again for all the right reasons.
By embracing our culture in the city and not shying away from a need to recognise the requirement for investment and development, local authorities are able to see the importance of the arts in generating a positive change in communities. Over three different occasions, Giants have walked the streets of Liverpool, each time taking in some of our most deprived areas of the city. On each visit of the Royal de Luxe Giants to the city, attendance figures have increased into the millions and with international trends on social media and media crew from around the world, some cities could shy away from showing their less than glamorous side on the world stage. Not in Liverpool. Through this large scale outdoor, free, street theatre event we focused on visiting some of our city’s most socially and economically deprived areas on purpose — to bring art and culture to the streets of the city, out to the communities, to the residential streets and public spaces that ordinary residents live, work and play in and the people embraced it.
Through this public display of art a city took these performances and characters to their hearts, claiming them as their own. Community groups yarn bombed local parks, police stations, derelict buildings and streets were decorated by residents, letters, photographs and stories flooded in about the transformational power of this public street theatre event changing people’s lives, commentary on sick family members, loved ones lost and the positive power of the events in bringing people together, educating people on the city’s role in historic events and relevance today and encouraging residents to take pride in their home, their wellbeing and embrace the future — all through the power of public art.
There is a saying in Liverpool, that the people see themselves as “Scouse”, that Scouse is the nationality of the people here and to me that showcases the importance of culture as an identifying factor for any local authority to embrace. Culture is an identity and it is something which, when embraced, has a transformational power for good. There are a plethora of opportunities to embrace the positive power of culture and it is not just down to local authorities to stand alone in this. Within Culture Liverpool, my team have always sought to challenge our use of culture as a positive tool for change and with the support of our Mayor of Liverpool, have successfully set up the Mayoral Club — a public / private partnership opportunity which enables us to work alongside private sector partners to continue to fund and profile the cultural events and arts organisations within the city. During times of austerity, and as the public sector is hit increasingly harder each year, it is this forward thinking attitude and recognition by the private sector who are financially investing in our cultural scene in Liverpool that enables us to continue long term to utilise culture for the continued generation of a city.
Within Liverpool we hold culture at the heart of our regeneration, it has and will continue to be, the rocket fuel for our continued success but no longer can the public sector rely on its culture alone. Private and public sector partnership is something that financially enables us to move forward and continue to do this. Is this a new way of thinking? Is this a revolutionary act embracing our heritage and identity? I’d like to think not, I agree with the beliefs of Joan Littlewood, that creativity should indeed be accessible to all and that there is “genius in every to achieve this recognition in every individual and utilising our civic spaces to be able to do this. 70 years on from her pioneering work in the cultural field, I’d like to think that my team, my city and I, can play a role in continuing her legacy and showing that yes, in the contemporary environment, arts and cultural organisations are not just nice to haves, they embrace who we are, they showcase our identity, our past, present and future and are an essential part of civic life.
Claire McColgan, Director, Culture Liverpool