Liverpool’s European Capital of Culture Year in 2008 was a tremendous success and did much to raise the city’s profile both domestically and internationally and to instil in Liverpudlians a renewed sense of pride, optimism and creative empowerment.
Of course, our year-long event was no artificial gimmick - Liverpool truly is a city of culture and the challenge was to showcase that to the world at large. We managed it, I think, with aplomb. And the city’s cultural life didn’t stop there, in 2008, once the fanfare was over and the glare of publicity had dimmed. It’s continued to thrive and evolve and Liverpool City Region now boasts a confident and growing cultural tourism industry. This is great news for the local economy and great news, too, for the collective self-esteem of the population.
But whilst Capital of Culture was – naturally, necessarily – about promoting ‘Brand Liverpool’, it was also about inspiring and encouraging Liverpudlians; raising their awareness of and participation in their home city’s cultural offer. Many thousands of ordinary scousers had their cultural appetites truly whetted.
That’s why I’m so impressed with the “Long Night” project, which began in 2008 and now continues as a very positive local celebration of art, culture and entertainment. It was originally initiated by the Liverpool Arts Regeneration Consortium, comprising eight of the city’s major cultural institutions working in partnership, and has gone on to become a bi-annual event funded and supported by key local stakeholders.
This year’s pan-city centre programme, to take place on Thursday 18 November, will see a massive and diverse range of venues – from Tate Liverpool to the Metropolitan Cathedral, from the Playhouse Theatre to the Queensway Tunnel – staying open late (until the early hours, in some cases) and offering all manner of spectator and participatory activities. Many of the attractions will be free, to boot. With over 100 events there will – quite literally – be something for everyone. This reads like an enthusiastic piece of PR and I make no apologies for that. Such a fantastic initiative ought to be widely promoted.
What I particularly like about the event is its inclusive and non-elitist nature. Sure, all the obvious players are involved – the big mainstream institutions. But so are many small, independent or community-based organisations. Take the Arena Studios and Gallery, which will be offering “Take Away Art”. Or the Kuumba Imani Millennium Centre, which will be putting on a celebration of African, Caribbean and Reggae music, dance and cuisine.
I also like that it’s been organised for a weekday night. Culture-buff outsiders will certainly travel into the city centre to take part and that’s to be welcomed. But my feeling – my hope – is that it will largely be Merseysiders who are in a position to take advantage of what’s on offer. That, in my view, comes pretty close to culture ‘of the people, by the people, for the people’.
Difficult economic times lie ahead, thanks to the Government’s spending cuts agenda. We already know that the city’s museums and galleries are to have their collective budget slashed by some 15% and this is certain to impact upon their ability to deliver the quality and quantity of attractions they would like to. I have no idea whether the purse-tightening will jeopardise the future of the Long Night. I sincerely hope not. But just in case, I’d urge Liverpool City Region locals not to miss out, this time around, on the opportunity to experience Liverpool culture – our culture - at its vibrant, eclectic best.