«ORIGINAL: The Role of museums and the arts in the urban regeneration of Liverpool. Edited by Pedro Lorente. Leicester : Centre for Urban History. ...»
ORIGINAL: The Role of museums and the arts in the urban regeneration of Liverpool. Edited by Pedro
Lorente. Leicester : Centre for Urban History. University of Leicester, 1996. 172 p. (Working paper / Centre
for Urban History ; 9)
-Introduction. J. Pedro Lorente p. 2
-Liverpool's urban regeneration initiatives and the arts: a review of policy
development and stratregic issues. Richard Evans p. 9
-Making creative connections. Our architectural townscape and its re-use potential for museums and the arts. Susan Carrnichael. p. 25
-Museums as catalysts for the revitalisation of ports in decline: lessons from Liverpool and Marseilles. J. Pedro Lorente p. 33
-Museums and welfare: shared space. Lewis Biggs p. 59
-Some museum developments in Liverpool and their benefits to the community.
Patrick Sudbury and Jim Forrester. p. 68
-The contribution of tbe arts scene to tbe revitalisation of declining inner city areas in Liverpool and Marseilles. J.Pedro Lorente p. 88
-Liverpool City Council and tbe evolution of the ‘Creative Quarter’. Andrew Green p. 114
-The leap frog effect. Terry Duffy p. 122
-Communities of art. Kate Stewart p. 125
-Art and community: regeneration or gentrification. Ibrahim Thompson p. 149 Introduction.
J.-Pedro LORENTE Liverpool is undoubtedly one of the best study cases one could choose to discuss the role of museums and the arts in the regeneration of deprived urban areas.
Previous work on this topic had shown very interesting examples in districts of New York, Baltimore, Paris, Dublin, Barcelona, Berlin or London. But obviously in such rich and burgeoning cities urban revitalisation has been boosted by an array of vested interests, among which the arts sector was just one component -and not necessarily the most consequential. No matter the size and history of the arts presence in particular districts, it seems obvious that any derelict area in the heart of a prosperous city is bound to be revitalised by urban developers anyway. However, the prospects of redevelopment are less likely when dereliction lays in the middle of a declining city facing economic recession, unemployment, depopulation, social/ethnic unrest, and physical decay. If we can show that even in such adverse circumstances, arts-led regeneration can prosper, then we would have demonstrated its deeds beyond doubt.
Liverpool is such a case: in the last decades everything seems to have gone wrong there, except the arts, which constitute the most world-known winning asset of the city's limited resources.
I shall never forget my deep impression during my first long visit to the hometown of the Beatles. I admired the Walker Art Gallery, the Sudley, the Lady Lever and the Tate of the North, but I was struck by the contrast between the appalling physical decay of the city and those testimonies of past riches, which together with the astonishing collections of the Liverpool Museum, the Museum of Liverpool Life and the Maritime Museum, make of Liverpool the second museum capital of England.
Moreover, as I soon was to learn as well, there are in Liverpool 'more artists per head of its multicultural population than anywhere else in the country' (Brady, 1993). I was then about to start my present research on the role of museums and the arts in urban regeneration: thus Liverpool was naturally my first choice, followed by Marseilles
-Glasgow and Genoa might have equally qualify as appropriate study cases. But Liverpool has also an added personal appeal to researchers on urban studies, for it was there that Leslie P. Abercrombie, one of our most revered pioneers in the discipline, started his career in town planning firstly thanks to a research fellowship established at the University of Liverpool by the soap tycoon William Lever and from 1914 as Professor of Civic Design, succeeding Albert Stanley Ashfield in the chair. Following on his footsteps, other famous urban planning scholars have come to study and work in Liverpool.
At first I hesitated a bit on the approach and method most appropriate for my work. Being myself an historian, I was prepared for long days of archive research; but urban renewal, as distinct from urban expansion, is a recent phenomenon, particularly in the case of arts-led boosting and redevelopment of derelict city areas. More than a social historian of art and culture, the job needed an art sociologist, ready to analyse an ongoing phenomenon. Thus I started with a mailing to museums and commercial galleries, followed by interviews with prominent agents and enablers of arts-led regeneration; then for two years I have tried to keep an open eye and ear, looking for related news in the press, chatting with the well-informed and trying to infiltrate the local art-scene by making my presence ubiquitous in the social ceremonies which bring its members together: prize-award ceremonies, festivals, private views and exhibition openings, etc. Such local contacts gathered momentum on the occasion of the one-day symposium 'The Role of Museums and the Arts in the Urban Renewal of Liverpool' (Tate Gallery, Liverpool, 21st October 1995). That was an extremely enriching meeting, where major analysts and enablers of arts developments in Liverpool came together, some of them as speakers and others in the audience.
That symposium originated this book, with some variations. To start with, the title is slightly different, at the suggestion of Andrew Green, who proposed to use 'urban regeneration' instead of 'urban renewal'. The change is not just about replacing an already worn-out stickword by the one which is more fashionable now. It is about being accurate and, at the same time, paying homage here to the teaching of Chris Couch, a senior Liverpool scholar who argued for a clear differentiation between the two terms in the introduction to his renowned handbook on urban renewal: 'A distinction should be made between this process of essentially physical change, which is referred to here as urban renewal, and the wider process of 'urban regeneration', in which the state or local community is seeking to bring back investment and consumption and enhance the quality of life within an urban area' (Couch, 1990: 2-3; the emphasis is mine). This definition of 'urban regeneration' as revitalising not just dilapidated buildings but also a deteriorated quality of life, describes very well the main thrust of most of the papers gathered here.
Actually, physical urban renewal features very little in the contents of this book, most unlike the symposium programme, where it was the main topic for the papers commissioned from architect Ken Martin, who was a most brilliant speaker in that event, but has now excused himself from writing a paper due to overwork. As a result, this publication is not much about the urban renewal of Liverpool but about the renaissance of the city's culture, image and self-esteem, which is in fact a most popular stand-point in our times. In the eighties, when the arts failed victim to the cuts in public budgets, analysts adopted arguments according to the prevailing business mood of the decade, trying to show the economic importance of the arts (Myerscough, 1988; Arts Council of Great Britain, 1989). These were years of hardship for art institutions, artists and community arts, but golden years for consultancies required to measure with quantifiable 'returns' that money given to arts was not a mere 'expenditure' but also a good 'investment', which would 'trickle down' -a favourite Thatcherite term- jobs creation and economic benefits. But now we know better (on present cultural policies cf. Bianchini, 1993; Landry & Greene, 1995; Langsted, 1990). Culture and the related business of the so-called symbolic economy provide many jobs, but they are mostly part-time, insecure or low-wage. It is not with the arts budget that politicians are going to solve all the problems of unemployment and poverty in Liverpool. Too many expectations for economic boosting and tourism attraction were raised on the arrival of a new branch of the Tate to Albert Dock. Only now this junior sibling of the national gallery of modern art is starting to be judged for questions really related to contemporary art encouragement and curatorship (the same happened with the creation of MASS MoCa in North Adams, Massachusetts, cf. Zukin, 1995: 79-108). This led to disappointments and, most dangerously, to a feeling of estrangement between some Liverpudlians and the lavishly converted wharf, which was seen locally as a sort of horse of Troy, sheltering officials sent by the right-wing government in London for the conquest of left-wing Liverpool. It has taken much effort and some time to normalise relations between this national museum and the local citizens.
Increasingly, dialogue and the pursuit of social consensus seem to become now pervading attitudes in world politics as well as in Liverpool. Years ago, it might have been unthinkable a symposium bringing together in non-confrontational discussions scholars, planning consultants, city officials, art mediators and artists. But now this has proven possible and, furthermore, some of the accusations criss-crossed between the different parties on the day of the symposium have shoftened in the pages of this book.
This publication is therefore not a definitive account on the role of museums and the arts in the urban renewal of Liverpool, but just one more step in the discussion and, most importantly, in the process of networking and making local connections.
Everybody agreed that similar events should be more and more customary, so that all parts involved or interested in arts-led regeneration could have a say and be heard.
I am extremely happy that two senior curators from the National Museums and Galleries of Merseyside (NMGM), not represented in the symposium programme, have now joined the discussion in the public platform offered by this book. On the other hand, I am very sorry that number of Liverpool urban developers, owners of independent galleries, artists, artists associations and community arts groups who have been most collaborative from the start, declined to participate here for a series of reasons: firstly because they all tend to be creatively busy 'doing' all sort of extremely interesting things and have very little time or patience to describe what they do; second because although most of them are professional communicators using visual media, they are not equally at ease using words; finally in some cases personal reasons or health problems detached from the project excellent speakers like Bill Harpe -from de Blackie- or Bill Callaghan -editor of Artspool North West. In view of that, using my notes from interviews with them and their pairs in Marseilles, I have written one extra paper giving a historic survey and a general picture of all the recent urban regeneration initiatives emerged hand in hand with the new burgeoning of the arts scene in both cities.
The structure of this book is only slightly different from the order of interventions followed in the symposium. The order of papers has been arranged to advance from general surveys to particular points. Indeed, it seemed most fitting to start with the broad review of recent urban regeneration and heritage revitalisation policies written by Richard Evans and Susan Carmichael, whose analyses embrace the whole of Liverpool, without stopping in any specific district. Still general in character, but already focusing in some museums as study cases, are the three following contributions, by myself, Lewis Biggs and Patrick Dudbury/Jim Forrester. Then, my second paper and a battery of three articles by Andrew Green, Terry Duffy and Kate Stewart discuss the so-called 'Creative Quarter' of Liverpool from very different points of view. Finally, Ibrahim Thompson explains the work of LARCAA, an example of community art working for the defence of ethnic minorities rights, which leads the way to the aforementioned closing remarks by Franco Bianchini. For reasons of budget, the pages of this book have no illustrations, which is really a shame for a publication on art matters. I wish I could have included views of Liverpool's architectural landmarks converted in galleries or artists studios, and some of the slides of public art installed in derelict areas, which were shown at the symposium. Or even better, art-works like those of the exhibition Making It at the Tate Gallery on the day of the symposium, among which that installation with melting sugar blocks by Janet Hodgson, which I found particularly touching as an artist's response to creating art in Liverpool, in a former dock-store of colonial goods, and for a gallery which bears the name of a sugar magnate. But I am very proud of the book's cover, which features a drawing generously offered by Liverpool artist Ken Allen. It reminds me of the initial confrontation between highbrow nationally sponsored modern art and the down-to-earth social housing policies of Liverpool, which are humorously evoked by a van of City Council workers reclaiming the bricks of Carl Andre's installation, one of the most controversial exhibits in the collection of the Tate Gallery.