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August 10 2012

Manchester's Cornerhouse goes on a digital spree

Abandon Normal Devices and take part in the festival of new cinema, digital culture and art. That's what Anne Louise Kershaw is getting ready to do

The Cornerhouse is something of an icon in Manchester. For many years it has offered a continuously innovative programme of independent film and exhibition, including workshops and a rather nice café at which to enjoy a decent glass of wine.

It has built a reliable artistic reputation and is both an architectural and cultural landmark on the Manchester map and psyche. It is no surprise therefore, that when they launched Abandon Normal Devices (AND) festival back in 2009, it was a great success.

Working in collaboration with FACT (the Foundation for Art and Creative Technology), the regional AND festival began in Liverpool and has since alternated between Liverpool and Manchester. This summer the hub returns to Manchester with events and exhibitions spanning across more than twenty venues and locations with an extended regional programme across Cheshire, Cumbria and Lancashire.

Running from 29 August untill 2 September, nothing about these events is predictable or to be expected. They include exhibitions, film screenings, artists' talks and workshops as well as an outreach programme beyond Cornerhouse's doors

Exploring the theme of 'success', the AND festival wants visitors to experience, rather than simply observe, the complexities, gradations and anomalies encountered when we explore the notion as an ideal. With a very technological and scientific slant, AND is as much about the process, collaboration and evolution of work over time, as it is about the final product. At all stages audiences are encouraged to question their experience in a critical way.

Exhibitions such as 'Pigs Bladder Football' by John O'Shea give a small glimpse into the festival's epic and unusual scale. Through biological experimentation, rapid prototyping and an iterative design process, O'Shea will culture the world's first bio-engineered football, grown from living cells. This aims to encourage us to consider the colliding worlds of human enhancement, bio-technology and the capitalisation of sport, and what role each of these will play in our lives.

Of equal oddness but just as delightful is the 'Empire Drive-In' by Jeff Stark and Todd Chandler. A full-scale drive-in movie theatre made from wrecked cars, it is symbolic of the once thriving drive-in industry in the US. By day you be able to roam freely from car to car experiencing different sonic environments and art pieces. By night the scrapyard aesthetic will extend into a specially programed series of live soundtracks, a slide show of abandoned spaces and film screenings of films such as 'Mad Max II' and 'Robocop'.

From scientific and digital advancements to environmental and commercial failure, the experience of success is explored for both its fleeting and addictive qualities.The festival programme summarises:

Through unusual strategies, the artists and filmmakers working in this year's festival reveal alternative ways of being by offering rich counterpoints to perfection and undermining accepted logic.

The results are sharp and scientific as well as artistic and surreal. By combining these superficially polar opposites into one festival of digital culture and art, a new and forward looking way of thinking is encouraged; although exactly what this will entail, is anyone's guess.

The full programme is here. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

August 09 2012

Buskers campaign against new policy in Liverpool

Rules that clamp down on street performers are causing concern that Merseyside's street culture is being needlessly regulated under the the banner of 'business improvement.' Christian Eriksson challenges its basis

Up and down the country, corporate bodies called Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) are increasingly administering urban centres, offering their paying members privileged access to unelected officials who are literally 'on call' to take their grievances directly to policy makers. In the case of Liverpool City Council's recent decision to regulate busking and street entertainment, we find a lesson in the pitfalls of charging unnaccountable bodies with directing democracy on the public's behalf.

Would-be performers in Liverpool city centre must now sign up to a mandatory licensing scheme and obtain a photo ID card before they can book a two hour slot to play in council-designated pitches. The scheme requires that entertainers be bound by a number of restrictive terms and conditions. These range from entertainers being forbidden to sit on the floor or occupy a pitch more than 1.5 metres in a diameter, to a clause granting council officials the right to stop a performance purely on the grounds of personal taste - turning enforcement officers into what one busker describes as "a poor man's Simon Cowell". Any person failing to comply with these terms and conditions will be issued with a letter threatening prosecution for trespass.

In essence, Liverpool's policy is an attempt to bring busking and street performance under the remit of the 2003 Licensing Act, despite clear statements published by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in 2006 that busking is not a licensable activity under that legislation. The legally-questionable nature of Liverpool's policy does not end there, for it attempts to make it an offence for anybody under the age of 18 to busk, despite central government guidelines clearly stating that busking is permitted for anybody over the age of 14.

Accounts from buskers suggest that the policy was pushed through council meetings, with their recommendations flatly ignored. Jonny Walker, a Liverpool-born busker and singer-songwriter, was involved in the council's consultation process:

I was invited by officials to look at the proposed policy. I had major issues with it and was asked to prepare a report with suggestions for how to improve it. My report was ignored and no changes were made to the policy which was then rubber stamped at a council meeting.

Once he realized his views had not been taken into account in the finished policy, Walker started a petition which has garnered more than 3,000 signatures to date and launched a campaign to urge the council to rethink its policy. The campaign has gained the backing of the Musician's Union.

Diane Widdison, national organiser of the union, has said that Liverpool City Council did not consult them regarding the new policy:

The Musician's Union are happy to help the council put together a best practice guide for buskers. We would suggest a working party which includes street artists and performers so we can agree on a guide which is acceptable to both sides. We do not agree with making the process overly bureaucratic or too restrictive for no good reason.

Liverpool city council responds:

In essence, we are trying to balance the needs of all the people who use the city centre – shoppers, visitors, people who work there and buskers.

While there may be claims that there is a lot of opposition to the policy, it has also been welcomed by many people, especially on grounds of reducing noise and ending repetitive songs.

The council adds that the idea is also to be being fairer to all buskers and potential buskers by preventing the same ones hogging pitches for hours on end.

It is also important to note that the policy will be reviewed in three months and a panel including buskers, representatives from the musician unions and other interested parties will meet before the end of August to discuss the policy.

The council stresses that the regulations are not an attempt to stop busking, but to provide a balance between the different people using the city.

The elected member in charge of the policy, Coun Steve Munby, Liverpool's cabinet member for neighbourhoods, has claimed that the policy was crafted to deal with the many complaints the council receives
from businesses and shoppers about noise levels, repetitive performances and the number of buskers at certain times.

Munby says that buskers add "animation and colour to the centre" but on some Saturdays, there have been 12 performers in a short stretch of Church Street competing "in effect for limited cash." He added that having a regulated system for street entertainment is in the best interests of buskers, businesses, shoppers and other city centre users and brings Liverpool into line with other major cities.

Ged Gibbons, CEO of Liverpool's City Central BID and champion of the new policy, says:

This new busking policy is hugely welcome and will make a real difference to the vibrancy of the city centre

and has claimed to have received regular telephone complaints from the likes of M&S and Primark about troublesome buskers. In the same vein, minutes from the council Cabinet's agenda in which the policy's terms and conditions can be found, describe the policy as crafted to deal with long-standing "complaints from businesses, residents and others".

However, information acquired under Freedom of Information legislation shows that as of November 2011 the number of city shopkeepers who formally complained to the Council to regulate buskers/street performers was so low that the council themselves do not bother to record complaints:

[...] due to the immediate nature of the complaint the majority of complainants simply draw the matter to our street Nuisance Officers but do not formally complain. Subsequently the licensing department do not formally record the number of complaints they receive regarding buskers/street performers.

And why do affected retailers not formally complain? The answer, in short, is that they do not need to. That is what Liverpool's City Central BID is for.

Around 650 businesses currently make up the BID, and each pays a levy on top of their business rates to fund it. Besides extra cleaning, care and security, this levy effectively grants businesses an amplified voice in local democracy. Like BIDs in other British cities, Liverpool's is a quasi-governmental corporate body which works with local authorities, but is not wholly accountable to them. Karen Lappin, Store Manager for Liverpool's Blacks, explains what you get with membership into Liverpool's City Central BID:

Ged [Gibbons] will come round, one of the team will come round, and they'll sit down and ask how they can help you.

Critics of the new busking policy argue that with its access to policymakers, Liverpool's City Central BID has hastily embarked upon the needless regulation of Liverpool's street performance culture under the banner of 'business improvement'. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

August 08 2012

Liverpool prepares to mark Slavery Remembrance Day

The city's 13th annual celebration will see major building renamed after Martin Luther King, with his son unveiling a plaque

Liverpool's links to the slave trade are well-known, and will be recalled on 23 August at the Slavery Remembrance Day organised by the Museum of Slavery. A number of events are being held in the city this month, including a visit from Mr Martin Luther King III, son of the murdered US civil rights leader.

Liverpool apologised in 1999 for its prominent role in the 'triangular trade' which saw ships sail to West Africa, ship slaves to the Caribbean and return laden with sugar. The radical Liberal prime minister William Gladstone was the son of a major slave plantation owner and much of the centre's noble architecture was built with profits from the trade.

The date, which Liverpool has marked every year since the apology, commemorates an uprising of enslaved Africans on the island of Saint Domingue, modern-day Haiti, in 1791. It was chosen by UNESCO which picked it as a reminder that enslaved Africans played a major part in their own liberation.

The museum says:

This year we welcome Martin Luther King III, eldest son of the great Civil Rights leader Dr Martin Luther King Jr. Our guest offers a powerful reminder that it is as important as ever to acknowledge a major period of trauma and injustice in world history.

You can see the full programme of events on the museum's website here. Highlights include a memorial lecture from King, a Walk of Remembrance and a libation ceremony. In a specifically local tribute to the King family, the Dock Traffic Office, a National Museums Liverpool building, will be named after Martin Luther King Jr with a plaque unveiled by his son.

The museum also quotes an excerpt from Slavepool, a poem by Mohammed Khalil, recounting the city's role in the slave trade:

Branded like beasts who feel no pain
And all for Merrye Englande's gain

But England's Changing-Rearranging
Only we can clear our Name

Growing! Knowing! Trade Winds are blowing!
Things'll nevva be the same.

Liverpool Slavery Remembrance Initiative is a partnership between National Museums Liverpool, individuals from the Liverpool black community, Liverpool city council and The Mersey Partnership.

The museum says that the Day seeks to:

commemorate the lives and deaths of the millions of enslaved Africans and their descendants who were central to the rise of Britain as an industrial power.

remember that we live with the legacies of transatlantic slavery such as racism and discrimination and ongoing inequalities, injustices and exploitation

celebrate the resistance, rebellion and revolution that ended slavery, as well as the rise of popular movements for racial justice and social change that said both then and now "never again".

It adds:

Resistance to injustices and discrimination is a central theme of the International Slavery Museum and that is why we fully support the continued observance of this important event.

Liverpool's most famous sugar name, Tate & Lyle, dates from well after the abolition of slavery. Henry Tate - commemorated in the four galleries including Tate Liverpool which used his money and bear his name - and Abraham Lyle did not start their refining businesses until 1859 and 1865 and neither's family had previous involvement in the trade. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

June 28 2012

Arabic arts festival comes to Liverpool

The distorting lens of news, focussed on the dramatic and unusual, can give the impression that the Arab world is synonymous with turmoil and war. A week in Liverpool will show otherwise.

Liverpool has long had connections with the Arab world, particularly with Yemen. In common with other port cities such as Cardiff and South Shields, Yemeni sailors formed the origins of a substantial community over a century ago.

For all the colder temperatures and Atlantic rain, they enjoyed the cosmopolitan atmosphere of the great port, which was then the principal gateway in the UK, and for much of Europe, to the burgeoning United States.

Most Liverpudlians of Arabic origin today trace their ancestry to the Yemen; few remain in shipping but they have flourished as newsagents, with members of the community owning some 400 corner shops. The Liverpool Arabic Centre, founded in 1997, has run a marvellous project called Moving Here, publishing online memories contributed by its members and their friends and neighbours.

Here's Marie, for instance, on her childhood in the 1960s:

I had a happy time growing up in Liverpool. My father was a lorry driver in here and my mother was British. I was growing up, trying to be a Muslim in England but it was in the 60s/70s and there weren't really any Mosques around or anything like that. Not like today. There was a 'Zawia' and we used to go there to learn the Quran and Arabic as children. We'd have our own parties at the David Lewis Hotel. It was great really, I was really happy.

And here's another, which I hope you'll agree is worth quoting at length:

Hello, my name in Mohamed Rajeh. I moved to Liverpool from Yemen in 1943.

I was a farmer in the 1930s. I was cultivating the land and we were very happy. At that time, there was nothing in Yemen except agriculture. People though started to protest against Great Britain while the Second World War needed people (to enlist). We moved to Aden. English welcome more people, we had passports, they gave us 200 French Ryals each and put us in boats and took us to Britain. I lived in England since then.

In Yemen, I suppose, I was looking for a job in the sea. It was a war time and all boats arrived to Yemen ports empty. There was no-one there who could help me go out and work at sea. Anyhow if you had British passport or 'chash book' you were given the opportunity to go. So I joined up and they put us in boats with others. Some people they were jumping off the boat, they were afraid of war and of facing the danger of sinking in the sea! Others took the risk. I was one of those people who took the risk. We moved from one country to another until finally we arrived here.

The trip wasn't difficult. In Aden we were happy, we had food and drinks, the soldier came and checked our papers. Nobody could have a job in the sea unless the soldier agreed. It was war time. However, on the boats we didn't know what to do, we knew nothing. The soldier patiently started to teach us what to do. It was not like nowadays, if you don't know how to do a job they tell you to 'go away!'. Though then, they were in need of human resources.

At the beginning we arrived at Middlesbrough. I had a British passport but they said, 'you don't have the right to enter Britain just yet, unless you do another trip on the boat'. I went back to the boat where we went to Africa for two months and when I came back they said, 'ok, you are allowed to enter Britain'. Afterwards I don't remember where I moved to … I think to Liverpool in 1943.

I knew nothing of the language at that time, I was living in Parr St. in the China Town. Anything I needed was easy to get hold of and when I got lost and couldn't find my house, the policeman would take your hand right to the doorstep. It was a different time where policemen were good and Arabs were good. When you can't find your address all you have to do is to give your address to the policeman and he would take you to there.

An Arabic Arts Festival in Liverpool now hopes to illuminate more of that context to life's dramatic, 'newsy' events, as Mr Rajeh himself does so richly. From July 6-15, the city will host a wide range of events covering most genres of art, craft and music.

Venues include the Bluecoat, FACT, the Kasbah, the Philharmonic, Unity Theatre, Walker Art Gallery, St George's Hall, Sahara Restaurant, Liverpool Arabic Centre, as well as outdoor events at Sefton Park (which will see a family day) and Liverpool One.

Films, literary readings, drama, dance workshops, ballet, readings, art exhibitions and concerts will feature, along with discussions on recent events in the Arab world. They will highlight diverse Arab cultures from Morocco to Iraq. Some events are free, while there is a charge for others.

Razanne Carmey, the festival's executive director, says:

In Liverpool, a city that can say much about its art and culture coming through change and turmoil, we look beyond reports of riots, war and politics to celebrate the arts, culture and life behind the news.

Good to end, perhaps, with Rajeh's conclusion, especially if you cross-refer it to some of the comments on the threads to the Northerner's recent posts on Sheffield's campaign against the deportation of Lemlem Hussein Abdu. See here and here. And here's Rajeh:

The British never hurt anybody, they are the best people, and they never use bad words with you. They respect you in offices. They are honest with you. They care for you if you are ill as if your own Mum and Dad would do. They will bring you anything you need. In Yemen only your own people would take care of you. Even some of my family they might ignore an old man like me. They would say I'm a drunk or naughty!

As for where I consider my home, I can't deny Yemen. You can't deny the country where you have been born. I have to go back to Yemen one day but I don't want to leave my daughter here. However, Britain is a very good country, I do love it, I do love it. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

May 22 2012

Liverpool's seventh Biennial festival set to be biggest ever

The autumn arts extravaganza will include a makeover of Everton park and the Cunard building opening to the public

There will be the Communist manifesto performed by a Russian slam poet rapper, a remake of Polanski's Chinatown with one actor playing all the parts, and a VIP door with bouncers but no entry. Liverpool has announced the art works it will be welcoming to its Biennial, the largest contemporary art festival in the UK.

Programme details were revealed on Tuesday for what is the seventh edition of a festival that takes place every two years over 10 weeks across the whole city.

Sally Tallant, the Biennial's new director, appointed last November from her previous job as chief curator at London's Serpentine gallery, said there were more venues and organisations taking part than ever before. "Liverpool offers the richest visual arts environment anywhere in the UK outside London," she said. "It has more galleries and museums and commissions, more new art than any other city except the capital."

Because it is the Olympic year, organisers have decided on a theme of hospitality. Tallant said: "It is a way of thinking about the welcome we extend to strangers and how we define what hospitality might mean in the 21st century."

Among the commissions will be US artist Doug Aitken installing a work on Albert Dock in a structure designed by architect David Adjaye; Argentinian Jorge Macchi wedging a huge shipping container into the Walker art gallery, and Scandinavians Elmgreen & Dragset making a VIP door with bouncers that people cannot pass through.

Other highlights include the French artist Sylvie Blocher presenting a work in which she filmed unusual performers delivering historically important speeches and manifestos, Ming Wong remaking the 1974 movie Chinatown starring himself in all the roles, and James Corner collaborating in a makeover of Everton park, introducing wild flowers and food crops.

It was also announced that the city's Cunard building, one of the "three graces" along the Mersey shoreline between the Royal Liver building and the Port of Liverpool building, would be an exhibition venue, opening to the public for the first time.

Paula Ridley, chair of the Biennial, said the event seemed to get bigger every time it was staged: in 2008, 624,000 people attended, generating £27m of income to the local economy. "It makes a huge contribution to Liverpool," she said, "both economically and we hope, socially and artistically. We love to do it."

• Liverpool Biennial runs 15 September-25 November. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

May 09 2012

Stormy Waters

A Liverpudlian response to Rowan Moore's criticisms of the Liverpool Waters plan

Liverpool is still one of the most deprived cities in the UK, but it does have an economy that is slowly improving. Only last week, it jumped to fifth place in the table of cities most-visited from overseas. The 1,000 new jobs at the Jaguar Land Rover plant in Halewood are another welcome boost. Yet the fact that some 35,000 people applied for those vacancies shows how it still has a long way to go.

This is why ambitious projects like Liverpool Waters, the controversial plan for new offices, homes and other facilities around decaying northern dockland, are important. The biggest planning application ever submitted in Britain, seems on a fanastastically inhuman scale which naturally makes people uneasy, including The Observer's London-based Rowan Moore; but sometimes, especially when you're at the bottom, you have to think big.

When Liverpool's early leaders built the world's first enclosed wet dock, which opened in 1715, they mortgaged their entire modestly-sized town to build it. It was a big risk that paid off; so was Liverpool's pioneering of the world's first intercity railway, to Manchester, in the face of many who said that it would never work. Such risk-taking helped to build Liverpool. But it is something we seem to have lost over the last forty years.

There has also been a knee-jerk reaction against Liverpool Waters as a scheme of that instinctively mistrusted group, property developers, in this case Peel Holdings. This can be justified, as more often than not such organisations focus on profit above all else. Yet if property development for profit had never happened here, the historic docks that we now admire would have never been built.

Grade 1-listed Albert Dock was not built to look nice. It was built to make money as a fireproof shed, that in 1846 was starkly modern and was criticised at the time by local historian J.A Picton for its brutal mediocrity.

Neither would have the famous 'Three Graces' on the city's Pier Head. Built on redundant dockland, the Graces were the Canary Wharf or Liverpool Waters of their day; early examples of corporate headquarters built in the latest trendy styles to aggrandise the businesses that constructed them. They were not universally popular with the critics at the time either. The Royal Liver Building was dismissed by Charles Reilly, professor of architecture at Liverpool University, thus:

A mass of grey granite to the cornice, it rose to the sky in two quite unnecessary towers, which can symbolise nothing but the power of advertisement.

Today's aggressive heritage lobby and aesthete critics are fond of proclaiming Liverpool's past innovations and achievements, with the hindsight which Reilly could not have. But they are as blinkered as he could be to the city's need to continue to innovate and develop. The threatened loss of the UNESCO World Heritage status which covers part of the site, if the development goes ahead, would be a blow. But the pluses and minuses of having the status are hard to quantify. Dresden in Germany also lost its World Heritage Site status when it built an important modern bridge. It remains a prosperous tourist magnet.

Meanwhile such critics seem content to oppose Liverpool Waters without offering any realistic alternative plan for this huge area, not even a notional one. That would condemn the historic structures in the northern docks to continue to rot for want of money or a reason for being. Nearly all these old buildings would be restored as part of Liverpool Waters, alongside new developments.

I believe that the Waters should be compared to Liverpool 1, the new shopping and leisure area developed by the Grosvenor Estate and opened four years ago. It too was heavily criticised during construction, but vox pop on its streets today and you would find few who would want to go back to the 1970s Moat House hotel, the wasteland car parks, concrete Paradise Street Bus station and the Argos Superstore that used to stand there.

Liverpool 1 created thousands of jobs and helped the city to leap from 14th to 5th in the UK's retail rankings, while not, as many predicted, destroying the traditional shopping areas of Church Street and Bold Street. It has also attracted dozens of new shops to Liverpool at a time when town centres nationally are collapsing, the development creating the demand. I didn't like Liverpool 1 while it was in gestation, but now I find it hard to argue now against its success in transforming Liverpool's town centre for the better.

I'm not Peel's PR. They have some questionable business arrangements, tend to rely heavily on outside investment and often build dull architecture; but again I turn to the critics and ask: what else do you suggest? No one else has any workable plans for the northern dock. So do we go for it? or do we duck the risk, let Liverpool's economy struggle along and allow an historic part of our city to rot indefinitely while wistfully hoping for something else?

Even as a supporter of the Waters, I admit that I will believe it all when I see it. But I never would have believed the developments that have already happened in contemporary Liverpool were possible a few years ago. The city and the Government should take a leaf out of our history and go for it. Critics should meanwhile put pen to paper or easel, to show us they think could go in its place.

Kenn Taylor is a writer and journalist based in Liverpool. You can follow him here and here. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

May 08 2012

Sea Odyssey's vast puppets bring more to Liverpool than the Grand National

Merseyside's recent spectacular show illustrates how street theatre and public art can attract vast crowds. The north west's industrial heritage is doing the same. Alan Sykes reports

Two new reports highlight the value of cultural tourism to the economy of the north west of England. Last month's 'Sea Odyssey' street theatre jamboree in Liverpool is reckoned to have brought in £12m in extra spending by the vast crowds which thronged the city streets. Meanwhile, an estimated £11m was spent in the last year by people visiting industrial heritage attractions throughout the region.

For 'Sea Odyssey', the city's Business Improvement District managers estimate that their core area of the city centre alone saw a footfall just shy of 1,000,000 people over that weekend – 53% more than for the Grand National a week earlier. As well as those watching the event itself, visitors poured into shops, restaurants and other attractions which saw significant rises in custom – the Walker Art Gallery was 145% up on the previous year, the Maritime Museum was up 130% and Merseytravel, who laid on an extra ferry for people wanting to watch the giants sail down the Mersey, handled an extra 143% of passengers.

Councillor Wendy Simon, Cabinet Member for Culture and Tourism at Liverpool City Council, says:

"We always knew this would be a huge weekend for the city, but 'Sea Odyssey' exceeded our expectations in terms of the crowd numbers and their reaction to the show. An independent report on the impact of Sea Odyssey is now being put together with final figures available within the next couple of months."

The city council certainly believes it got value for money for the £1.5m it cost to commission the French street theatre outfit Royale de Luxe to put on the event.

Meanwhile, a similar contribution to the region's economy, albeit in a more widespread and low key way, is claimed for the industrial heritage attractions spread throughout the area.

For the last year, Visit Manchester, working with the other tourist boards in the North West, has been managing a project called Modern History, an ERDF-funded project aimed at promoting around 100 of the North West's industrial heritage attractions, including Manchester's Museum of Science and Industry, Cumbria's Honister Slate Mine and the Anderton Boat Lift in Cheshire. The research shows that mines, mills and transport systems that have been converted into visitor attractions are increasing the tourism revenue of the region. Honister, for example, which continues to produce the Westmorland green slate that was probably mined there in Roman times, now offers a via ferrata climbing path – giddily strung from a cliff-face and shortlisted for this year's Enjoy England awards - to go with the mine tours and slate sales.

The report shows that an extra 24,000 day visits and over 5000 overnight stays throughout the North West were generated by the campaign. Lisa Houghton, marketing manager for Modern History, is quoted in the Manchester Evening News saying:

The north west was instrumental in moving the world into the industrial age and the rich stories that surround this period are still relevant today – as the high visitor levels reflect. The research proves what a hard-working campaign Modern History has been and we are confident that even though the project has come to an end, it leaves a strong legacy that will continue to drive footfall to our wonderful attractions and museums for years to come. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

April 18 2012

Aircraft safety fears over Olympic column of mist

Delays have beset the £500,000 project that would see a tall column of mist projected above the River Mersey

Fears that a three-mile high £500,000 column of mist due to light up the skies above the Mersey as part of the Olympic celebrations could be scaled down have emerged this week.

Artist Anthony McCall's installation at a disused docks in Birkenhead may be abandoned completely if it is deemed to be a dangerous distraction for aircraft landing at the nearby Liverpool John Lennon Airport.

Taller than Blackpool Tower and with a 20 metre diameter, the mesmerising work which would be housed at Wirral Waters is intended to be a "slender, sinuous spinning column of cloud" visible on the horizon up to 60 miles away.

The coherent connection of cloud and mist would be created via a rotating water surface above the River Mersey with heat added to create the ever-changing vapour.

During clear days when the sky is blue, it would appear to be a column of white, yet when it is overcast it should manifest itself as a dark line.

But difficulties have blighted the project since the planning application process began last October. Crucial tests will take place in the next fortnight to assess how feasible the project is and to ensure that its not distracting to nearby aircraft.

When the Cultural Olympiad approved the £500,000 funding for the project, supported by Arts Council England, they described it as "a landmark project" that will "act as a symbol of the Cultural Olympiad and will be a beacon for the north west."

The Civil Aviation Authority says it wants to test that this project can be delivered safely and are in talks with the developer. It is possible, the CAA says, that the light could affect aircraft on descent, either as a distraction or through poor visibility. But hopefully a solution will be found so that it can go ahead.

It had been intended that the beacon would be in place in the New Year, but more than four months on, there's no sign of it. Even if the tests in the next fortnight are a success, it is unlikely to be in-situ by June when the Olympic torch arrives in Merseyside.

The local authority, Wirral Council, is waiting on information from the CAA that everything is fine and safe before it can consider planning approval.

The organisers, Projected Columns, point out that the London 2012 Festival in honour of the Olympics is running from 21 June until 9 September and that the column forms part of that. They don't have a launch date for Column, but add that they hope to soon.

Artist Anthony McCall was born in Britain and studied graphic design at Ravensbourne College of Art and Design in Kent in the 1960s, before moving to America. He began experimenting with light and cinema techniques, but stopped creating art for 20 years, until he restarted his solid light series, using digital projectors. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

January 25 2012

Liverpool's DaDaFest wins prestigious prize

The international disability and deaf arts festival has scooped the Lever Prize

The DaDaFest in Liverpool has won this year's prestigious £10,000 Lever Prize, just over a year after I wrote about fears over the festival's future funding due to Arts Council cuts.

The UK's largest disability and deaf arts festival, which attracts international artists was chosen by senior representatives of the 30 largest companies in the north west to receive the prize.

In 2011, DaDaFest celebrated its 10th anniversary, having begun in 2001 as a community arts event. Over the last decade, it has attracted 100,000 visitors.

When it started, there were a handful of performers; last year the number of artists has swelled to 313, with a total of 1,200 participants and visitor numbers expected to reach at least 11,000.

The festival's aims are simple – to inspire and celebrate talent and excellence in disability and deaf arts. The performances took part in mainstream venues – Liverpool's theatres, art spaces and galleries, so the festival was accessible to all audiences.

At the time, festival's artistic director, Garry Robson, explained its ethos. He said: "DaDaFest is here to present the work of deaf and disabled artists, whose work is on a par with mainstream artists.

"Disabled and deaf people are not simply passive consumers of a tragic destiny but active participants in all areas of life, with a unique and valuable cultural perspective that we plan to share during the festival."

In 2011, there was an international feel to the festival with performances from north and south America, Europe and Australia, as well as the UK. American writer and director Christine Bruno is performing Screw You Jimmy Choo, a play "about a woman obsessed with men she can't have and shoes she can't wear."

Ugandan hip-hop artist Rockin Ronnie, who is involved with Krip Hop Nation, a collective of musicians based in Berkeley, California, wrote and performed a festival theme song.

The festival's CEO, Ruth Gould, said that research undertaken to evaluate the festival shows that 75% of participants have gone on to get employment in the creative arts sector.

"At DaDaFest we know that the arts give us a voice; give us a hope in a world where we feel excluded, forgotten and ignored," she says.

Previous winners of the Lever Prize, named in honour of 19th soap magnate and philanthropist William Lever, include Liverpool Biennial, Tate Liverpool and Manchester International Festival.

Each year the prize is judged by the North West Business Leadership Team (NWBLT) in partnership with Arts & Business North.

Arts groups, buildings, events, festivals, libraries and archives are all eligible and in addition to the £10,000 cash prize the award opens the door to collaboration with the region's top businesses. Last year's winner of the Lever Prize was the Whitworth Gallery in Manchester.

Gould said: "We're delighted the NWBLT have acknowledged the unique work DaDaFest does in representing disability and deaf culture in the north west and internationally.

"The award and resulting creative collaborations with NWBLT members will allow us to present an even more relevant and enticing festival later this year."

Geoffrey Piper, chief executive of NWBLT said: "DaDa's success in landing the 2012 Lever Prize is a truly outstanding achievement having seen off an extremely impressive range of the north west's other well-known arts organisations to win this major accolade."

This year's DaDaFest takes place from July 13 to September 2. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

October 06 2011

Latest Beetham tower block administration leaves '£50 million debt'

What next for the cityscapes of northern England as the super-skyscraper era comes to an end?

There's an instructive piece in North West Business Insider about the mountain of borrowing which underlay those modern landmarks of the North, the Beetham property company's various towers. Rising proudly above Liverpool and Manchester they prove to have been built on the sort of credit which has slid away in the crunch, like sand.

Insider's correspondent David Casey has been reading a report from Baker Tilly who were appointed administrators when a winding-up petition was filed at the High Court in July for Regional Landmark Hotels, formerly called the Beetham Organisation.

This puts the amount owed at more than £50 million and follows previous administrations of other parts of the firm, which saw KPMG sell the iconic Beetham hotels in Manchester and Liverpool in March to Cypriot businessman Loucas Louca for an estimated £65-70 million. The full piece is here.

A similar fate befell Leeds' highest profile developer Kevin Linfoot, whose KW Linfoot firm had the vaulting ambition to design a 54-story glass-clad skyscraper with a 32-story twin called Lumiere. The launch scenes were extraordinary, even for the giddiest moments of the city's property boom, with the French designer Philippe Starck holding court amid stiltwalkers, chocolate-coated women and fireeaters.

Linfoot went into administration 19 months later, in February 2009, and the Lumiere handling company sought liquidation the following years. The site remains an undeveloped plot with plans for a temporary minipark being mulled.The skyscraper neededover £1 million just to pay for planning costs.

The elan of the schemes, built or not, was remarkable but many felt queasy at the scale of lending which inevitably had to underly such vaulting notions. It is hard now to recall an era which saw Leeds planners talking about an avenue of skyscrapers marching up the hill towards the university with 23 applications for towers averaging 35 storeys in the planning system in 2007.

What now? Modest development has survived or is restarting in all the major northern cities, but it will surely be a long time before we see ambition again on the scale of this century's first seven years. Where next for architects and property developers; what advice would you give? Can small be beautiful again? © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

July 23 2011

Museum of Liverpool

It's part of a world heritage site, but the showy Museum of Liverpool fails to complement the city's proud past

How can this have happened? How could so many positive words – "regeneration", "vision", "culture" – plus so much public and private funding, plus so much scrutiny by bodies such as the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, have led to what now stands on Liverpool's waterfront? How could so many noble titles – Unesco world heritage site, capital of culture, the "Three Graces" – have been bestowed on what is, to use a sophisticated critical term, a godawful mess?

Last Tuesday, the £72m Museum of Liverpool opened to the public, billing itself as "the largest city museum in the world" and "the largest newly built national museum in Britain for more than a century". It contains busy, impressionistic displays of the city's history and culture – the Beatles, football, Brookside, trade, wealth and poverty – that are light on original artefacts and big on videos and blown-up pictures. The pace is frantic. You hardly get a moment to dwell on the horrors of the first world war before you're on to something else. Slavery gets a single 3ft by 2ft panel, with a couple of small exhibits, there being an International Slavery Museum elsewhere in the city that goes into more depth.

The museum's tone is boosterish, albeit seasoned with sobering data about deprivation, rates of heart disease and low voter turnout. You hear much about the city's fast-talking, cheeky, gobby, independent spirit, its perseverance and endurance, its wacky chaos and madness. "In one word, I would describe the accent of Liverpool as brilliant," says one talking head. A more eloquent quote comes from Willy Russell: "The nature of the spoken word in Liverpool" is, for writers, "as the sky and the light must have been to the impressionists."

The exhibition areas are planned by the Los Angeles-based exhibition and theme park designers BRC Imagination Arts and are the bet-hedging mulch of video, exhibit, text, sound, image and 3-D mise en scène that is now standard in museums. It is like a ready-made school project, or a Wikipedia entry made flesh, a warm gloop of unchallenging information.

To judge by the lively opening day crowds, having their memories prompted by this or that nostalgic nugget, the museum's aim of connecting the city with its past is powerful and important, but those crowds deserve more provocative and insightful displays than they are now getting.

But the main issue is not the presentation of the museum's contents nor, exactly, the design of the building that houses them, but, rather, the composition, or lack of it, of the museum building, combined with other new structures that are rising around and the historic monuments that were already there. For the museum stands in a Unesco world heritage site, between the impressive warehouses of the Albert Dock and the Three Graces, the three great Edwardian commercial buildings that define the city's waterfront. One of them, the Royal Liver Building, was a century old on the day the museum opened.

The Danish practice 3XN is credited as "creative architects" of the museum, which means the company designed it, but was later removed from the project, and it has been completed not entirely in accordance with 3XN's wishes. Inside, there's a big spiral stair conceived as a social heart of the museum, which is nice enough, except that it rises towards cheap suspended ceilings that undermine its splendour. It's like the ramp of Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim installed in a Travelodge. And it seems to eat space: for all the museum's boasting about how big it is, the galleries feel squeezed.

Outside, 3XN has created a dynamic twist of a building, in pale white stone, that rises at its extremities to give panoramic views of the Three Graces in one direction and the Mersey in the other. There is also a forbidding-looking slalom of wheelchair ramps and stairs at each end, with the idea that people can wander up, through and down again, choosing to look into galleries or not as the mood takes them.

This idea of casually strolling up ramps and stairs seems over-optimistic, as it's easier just to walk round the outside of the building at ground level. Overall, there's a sense of misplaced energy, with too much in elaborate circulation, and too little in the details, in the gallery spaces.

3XN's Kim Herforth Nielsen has overcome his differences with the museum sufficiently to turn up at the opening day and he claims he wanted to be "respectful" of the Three Graces and not "to compete with them, but do something completely different". So in place of their square, symmetrical, majestic repose, he came up with a restless squiggle, which he says is also inspired by both the shapes of ships and land art.

This approach was probably a bad bet, as it is possible to be different from and respectful of the older buildings without being so ostentatiously their opposite, but it might just have come off if the squiggle had been undeniably brilliant and if the other new buildings in the area had been quiet and unified, so as to offset its individualistic dazzle. But they wanted to be clever and different, too, so in addition to the museum there is a block of flats in the form of giant black crystals, by Broadway Malyan architects, and the Pier Head ferry terminal, a sub-sub-Hadid exercise in odd shapes by Hamilton Architects of Belfast. (The terminal won the 2009 Carbuncle Cup, for the nation's worst building, a prize for which the museum is this year shortlisted.)

Further off are the jerky shapes of flats on the edge of the Liverpool One shopping development. It is as if a huge incontinent dog had deposited them on the pavement, except that the latter's droppings would have had more consistency of form and texture, one to the other. There is no coherence, rapport, sense of wholeness or purpose to the ensemble. The older buildings manage to be expressive, varied, bold, dignified and unified all at once; the new do not.

There is history to the current state of Liverpool's waterfront. In 2002, a "Fourth Grace" was proposed – a public-private enterprise whereby a landmark building would house the Museum of Liverpool, some other ill-defined purposes and a money-making development. It would be the centrepiece of Liverpool's capital of culture celebrations in 2008. Leading architects were invited to suggest ideas and Will Alsop won, with a giant blob called The Cloud.

The original Three Graces were classical goddesses and if you were to imagine Canova's marble statue of them hugged by a giant, full-colour Katie Price, you would have some idea of the effect of the Fourth Grace proposals – by whichever famous architect – inflated as they were by their commercial content. The Fourth Grace plan eventually foundered, but it established the idea that the historic buildings could be honoured by blocking views of them and surrounding them with noisy new structures.

The only improvement is that what has actually been built is smaller than the Fourth Grace proposals, but this is a short-lived relief. Close by, an undistinguished, 55-storey tower is now proposed as part of a £5.5bn scheme called Liverpool Waters, which will poke its way into views of the Three Graces.

According to Building Design magazine, members of Unesco's world heritage committee have expressed "extreme concern" and are sending a delegation to urge Liverpool's city council to reject the plans. The council might finally wake up, but if so it will have to reverse a direction in which it has been heading for a decade. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

July 14 2011

The Tate of the nation

As Tate Liverpool reviews practices and sheds staff, is it being dumped in favour of the more southerly parts of the Tate empire?

What is the trouble at Tate Liverpool? The Merseyside branch of the Tate has had a run of high-impact successes including its current René Magritte exhibition. Or were they successes at all? The apparently thriving gallery announced this week that it is to shed staff in a comprehensive review of the way it is run. Meanwhile, director Christoph Grunenberg is leaving for a new job in Bremen.

In the Liverpool and national press, the news has been received with bland acceptance. But it begs a couple of questions. Only one of two scenarios makes sense of this situation: either Tate Liverpool has been run very badly and got itself into a mess of its own making, or it is being – to put it bluntly – dumped on to protect more favoured parts of the Tate empire. Note: every other Tate museum is in the south.

Either way this is disturbing. Tate Liverpool, remember, was not founded out of pure cultural idealism. It was created to help regenerate Liverpool and the northwest. In the 1980s Conservative minister Michael Heseltine made it a personal priority to restore economic life to the city of Boys from the Blackstuff and Militant. The birth of Tate Liverpool in part of the reclaimed Albert Dock (where Atlantic shipping including slave ships once made the city rich) was part of this initiative. With its reuse of an old industrial building, it set the pattern for more recent cultural ventures including Tate Modern. Liverpool has come a long way since its economic tragedy of the 80s – but not far enough for Tate Liverpool to be irrelevant to its future.

In the northwest, public-funded service sector institutions such as Tate Liverpool are critical. I love art. But to be honest, I think Merseyside needs jobs and stimulus more than it needs lovely exhibitions for their own sake. If the social purpose of Tate Liverpool is lost, if it can't play its part in enriching a historically troubled part of the UK, what is the point of it?

This is, at best, a worrying reflection of the drift in cultural as well as economic wealth from north to south. In the New Labour era, public arts ventures helped to spread the assets of Britain throughout our regions. City centres prospered, even if it was a different story away from the high street. Now high streets are shrinking and so is the illusion of a just balance of north and south. The changes at Tate Liverpool seem to reflect these times when not even the pretence of geographical redistribution is being maintained. As the north shrinks, so does one of its most important public galleries. Why is Tate letting Liverpool down? © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

July 13 2011

Job losses at Tate Liverpool as director moves on

But it is hoped the jobs will go through voluntary redundancies and redeployments

There will be job losses at Tate Liverpool, its management has confirmed as it was announced that the gallery's director, Christoph Grunenberg, is moving on.

Over the last decade Grunenberg has overseen successful exhibitions by Klimt, Picasso and Matisse. He is leaving to join the Kunsthalle Bremen gallery in Germany.

He chaired the Turner Prize judging panel in 2007, when the ceremony was held at Tate Liverpool, the first time it had taken place outside London.

The announcement follows news that the gallery is to make an unspecified number of redundancies.

Tate Liverpool, which attracts around 600,000 visitors a year, opened in 1988 in a former warehouse on the city's iconic waterfront at Albert Dock.

On Tuesday it was announced the gallery would look at ways to make the gallery run more efficiently and review the number of front-of-house staff.

Staff at Tate Liverpool are considering ways to make efficiency savings and are reviewing the numbers of front-of-house staff.

It is not yet clear how many jobs will be affected by the programme of efficiency savings.

Any changes would be sought through voluntary redundancies and redeployment, Tate Liverpool said. The review will continue into 2012 and will be implemented by spring 2013.

Tate Liverpool is a beautiful space, natural light floods in from the banks of the Mersey onto its blond floors and white walls. It is currently housing a major show of the Belgian surrealist René Magritte's work.

A spokesperson for the gallery said: "The review will increase Tate Liverpool's organisational flexibility, enabling us to enhance and develop our visitor experience.

"This will include opening on Mondays year round, and maintaining special exhibitions, such as Turner Monet Twombly in 2012, at the heart of our programme."

What are your favourite moments in Tate Liverpool? For me, it was watching my daughter mesmerised by Ron Meuck's Ghost. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

July 12 2011

Liver bird sculptor rehabilitated by city that tried to forget

Liverpool honours Carl Bernard Bartels posthumously, nearly a century after he was imprisoned and his plans destroyed

Liverpool seldom forgets an injustice. But for almost a century, the city has harboured one of its own, which will now be put right during a weekend of 3D projections and free concerts.

They will mark the centenary of the famous Liver building on the Mersey riverfront, topped by its pair of extraordinary birds, half eagle and half cormorant.

They were made by a talented artist who won an international competition for the commission, but was then airbrushed out of history.

Although a naturalised Briton, who had fallen in love with the country on honeymoon in 1887, Carl Bernard Bartels was arrested in 1915 at the height of anti-German feeling during the first world war, and imprisoned in an internment camp on the Isle of Man. At the end of the war, he was forcibly repatriated to Germany, separated from his wife, children and the home in London where they had lived for 20 years.

Worse was to come, as Liverpool city council admits in citations accompanying the posthumous award of citizen of honour to Bartels during the centenary celebrations between 22 and 24 July. "We are setting the record straight," said Wendy Simon, the city's cabinet member responsible for culture and tourism. "There was very strong anti-German feeling at the time, especially when the Lusitania was sunk in 1915 on her way to the port. It didn't last, even with the second world war, because we're a very multicultural city and famously welcoming. But it was too late by then for the man who gave us our famous Liver birds. He just got forgotten."

Rehabilitating the artist proved tricky, even in the last decade, because the 1915 xenophobia saw his drawings and blueprints for the 5.5-metre (18ft) copper sculptures destroyed, while false trails appeared to have credited foundry designers or the architect of the Liver building, Walter Aubrey Thomas.

Bartels himself accepted the cold-shouldering after a long and difficult struggle to return to the UK, where he eventually resettled and carried out commissions for Durham Cathedral and a number of country mansions.

"He also made artificial limbs for servicemen in the second world war," said his great-grandson Tim Olden, a graphic artist from Southampton who is one of 13 family members travelling to Liverpool to receive the award. "But it's only very recently that he has started to get real recognition. My mother took a 'let things lie' attitude, but one of her last wishes was to go and see the birds, and Liverpool gave her a warm welcome."

The visit in 1998 began Liverpool's rediscovery of Bartels, including his skill as the first person to sculpt a nonexistent bird only previously portrayed in drawings and paintings. He also managed to create a male and female, giving rise to the scouse legend that one or the other flaps its wings if a virgin or an honest man walks along Pier Head. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

June 08 2011

The kids are all right: photographer Paul Trevor captures Liverpool's lost innocence - video

Photographer Paul Trevor discusses his joyous images of the lives of children in 1970s Liverpool, where poverty was no barrier to happiness and freedom

March 11 2010

Liverpool profited from year as capital of culture

Designation brought in millions of extra visitors and pounds in 2008, says research

It may not have been an unalloyed critical triumph, but Liverpool's year as European capital of culture earned the city bumper visitor numbers and a multimillion-pound boost to its economy, academics have found.

A five-year research programme published today analysed the social, economic and cultural impact of the 2008 title and found that the festival year saw 9.7m visitors to the city, an increase of 34%, and generated £753.8m for the economy.

Media coverage of Liverpool's cultural attractions doubled and for the first time in decades, positive stories outweighed negative ones focusing on social issues.

It found 85% of Liverpool residents agreed that it was a better place to live than before.

Dr Beatriz Garcia, director of the research programme, Impacts 08, said: "We found that general opinion of Liverpool was informed by very dated images of the city, which ranged from positive but fixed associations with the Beatles in the 1960s to more negative views of social deprivation in the 1980s."

She said it presented a richer picture of the city as a modern, multi-faceted place with a vibrant cultural life that reaches far beyond music and football.

"We also found, however, that the levels of enthusiasm generated by the bid led to unrealistic expectations and a feeling of uncertainty in the years preceding 2008.

"This resulted in the expectation, by some residents and stakeholders, that capital of culture [status] would single-handedly redress acute long-term inequalities between Liverpool and other UK cities, from unemployment to low income and poor health."

The report noted a 10% rise each year in arts audiences across Liverpool and higher levels of interest in museums and galleries. Visitor numbers at the seven largest attractions peaked at 5.5 million in 2008. Throughout that year, visitor numbers increased by 34%. Of the visitors surveyed 99% said they liked the general atmosphere and 97% felt welcome.

The study, by Liverpool University academics, found the local population initially had increasingly mixed views in the lead-up to the capital of culture year, which persisted until the end of 2007.

"Their concerns related in particular to the possibility that the expected positive change might not spread beyond the city centre and that it might not impact on their neighbourhoods or on 'ordinary people'," said Garcia.

But these trends were reversed during 2008 itself, showing a more optimistic view appearing by late 2008, when the latest survey took place. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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