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Science & Music books C.P. Snow introduced the idea of the Two Cultures in the annual Rede Lecture in Cambridge of 7 May 1959. Himself both an eminent scientist and contemporary historian of science, and a novelist, in that lecture he lamented the gulf between scientists and 'literary intellectuals', arguing that the quality of education in the world is on the decline. Now fifty years later (as on the fortieth anniversary) a range of commentators continues to debate this claim.

Science & Technology.

Some of us may feel that the great contribution to British culture of Charles Percy Snow (1905 - 1980) was in fact to write novels and commentaries about science which are still remembered for the light they shed on how science works in modern society.

For me that's certainly true: the dozen novels of the Strangers and Brothers saga (1949 - 1970) and his non-fiction (if not undisputed) accounts of how science 'works' - especially Science and Government (The Godkin Lectures at Harvard University) (1961), The Two Cultures and a Second Look (1963) and The Physicists: A Generation that Changed the World (1982, republished 2008) - have helped to bridge that science - humanities chasm.

Focus on the Corridors of Power
These were the books which, as a post-grad student of the sociology of science, opened my eyes to a world I hadn't even previously known existed: the world of high level science and policy, the world as Snow himself styled it, of The Corridors of Power.

But this focus has been largely lost in the debate about the Two Cultures and the heavyweight attack which the literary critic F.R. Leavis (1895 - 1978) made on C.P. Snow's thesis a couple of years after the Rede Lecture, suggesting that Snow was a dreadful novelist and rejecting the validity of his concerns that the literary elite was not scientifically literate.

Not always incompatible
Isn't it interesting in this context that quite a lot of excellent musicians are also good at maths and science; and probably just as many very good scientists are also decent musicians?

There remains as ever a cultural gap between the humanities and 'science', but they are both very complex enterprises, and it does not follow that all those in the arts are unaware of science, any more than the converse must always be true.

The nature of evidence
What is more worrying is that sometimes people don't seem to understand the nature of evidence (not 'science') ... that whenever possible it needs to be good enough to rely on, before conclusions are drawn.

Of course all evidence in the end is relative, but we have to start somewhere.... the important thing in a democratic society, is that the basis on which we as individuals, and those with influence, choose to decide actions and positions is open to scrutiny.

Moving towards rationality
Slowly, modern western society is becoming more rational and moving out of the mists of myth and cultural comfort zones. There is without doubt a limit to how much this can or should happen, but I think we're nearer to a balance on this than we were even a few decades ago. Many scientific terms are commonplace in everyday debate.

When C.P. Snow wrote his Two Cultures lecture we as a society 'knew' less than we do now. It's difficult to accept the claim that education for most people is 'worse' than it was in the 1950s and 60s - and I say that as the product of an inner-city grammar school of that era. Then we just didn't perceive the awfulness of the education which most children received; this was still the post-war era when anything was better than nothing.

For most people, cultural memory is it seems very short. We can surely now, despite all the naysayers, learn more, quickly, about anything, than ever before.

The longer view
It's said that 90% of the scientists who ever lived are here on this planet now. Possibly the same applies to artists, for what it's worth. But what I'm sure of is that C.P. Snow has excited a lot of people - including me - over several decades, with the debate he sparked.

Snow's perspective is of course now dated; but those who currently deny that things have got better have (potentially) the benefit of hindsight ,and they need to think quite carefully about whether they are using that very valuable vantage point properly. More people now know something about science and the arts, than ever before.

You don't need to be able to describe the double helix and the works of great poets in detail to share some mutual understanding about our complex cultural underpinnings.

Evidence and ideas for sustainability
What you do need to be able to do is draw threads together to make sense of where you find yourself in the world... and never has that been more true than now, with the 'one planet living' challenges we all face.

Indeed, Lord Snow argued himself that the breakdown of communication between the "two cultures" of modern society — the sciences and the humanities — was a major hindrance to solving the world's problems.

Bridging the gap
I'm not therefore sure that the most important debate around education can continue now be an arid discussion of so-called 'standards'; surely it has to be about searching for common understandings? And in that debate C.P. Snow and those who followed have helped a lot.

If the musicians and their counterparts can sometimes bridge the gap, then maybe the rest of us should start to be more positive, and have a go too.


Read more about Science & Technology.

For more commentary on the fiftieth anniversary of the 'Two Cultures' Rede Lecture, see e.g. here and here.

violin, amplifier & briefcase The Liverpool Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) represents all sectors of business in the city - including those who work in arts and culture. A current Chamber concern is therefore to maintain and promote the gains made in 2008 by Liverpool's creative, arts and culture sectors. The recent momentum remains fragile, and for continued success it is essential that arts and 'non-arts' businesses across the city develop the synergies to be gained by working together in 2009 and beyond.

Enterprising Liverpool and The Future Of Liverpool

The Liverpool Chamber of Commerce and Industry has a Members' Council which has an Arts and Culture Committee, of which I am chair*. This Committee seeks to help maintain the profile and business health of Liverpool's creative sector; hence the following article, a version of which has just been published in the "Liverpool Chamber" magazine:


We sometimes forget that arts and culture, as much as any other formal activity, is Business. Artistic enterprise brightens our lives and captures our imaginations, and it’s done by people, often highly trained, who earn their living in that way.

It’s therefore important that Liverpool’s Capital of Culture Year 2008 momentum is maintained into 2009. Liverpool needs the arts to flourish because they enhance both our communities and our economy.

Momentum unsecure?
Some of Liverpool’s arts practitioners fear however that the momentum of 2008 is not yet secured. The Liverpool Culture Company expects the ’09 funding round to be ‘highly competitive’; and everyone anticipates that sponsorship will be difficult to come by in the current financial situation.

So it’s unsurprising that Liverpool’s arts practitioners are currently nervous, some of them already publicly predicting ’09 will be a tough call.

New but vulnerable synergies
Of course this scenario applies to other businesses as well; but the arts have developed new synergies and added value during 2008 which, once lost, it would be extraordinarily difficult to reinvent. The ‘08 cultural gains remain vulnerable, and need more time to embed if they are to bring maximum benefit.

This isn’t simply an academic concern. Liverpool’s established businesses are beginning to wake up to how they can work to mutual advantage with arts providers.

Live music brings in more customers; visual arts encourage customers to linger; drama can be an excellent training tool.... and it also all helps the economy to tick over because practitioners are earning and spending money locally.

A role for all Liverpool businesses
The LCCI Arts and Culture Committee is seeking to encourage this beneficial synergy, but there’s a role here too for companies across the city. We all need to say how important the ’08 cultural legacy is; and we need to think how to conduct real business with arts enterprises.

Hilary Burrage
Chair [* retired June 2008], LCCI Arts and Culture Committee

A version of this article was first published in the January / February 2009 edition (Issue 19) of "Liverpool Chamber", the magazine of the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Read more articles about Enterprising Liverpool and The Future Of Liverpool, and see more of Hilary's Publications, Lectures And Talks.

08.09.04 La Machine [The Liverpool Spider named La Princesse] La Princesse, a gigantic metal spider, came to Liverpool in early September 2008. This monster brought huge crowds to the city centre, as it enacted its story of 'scientists' and adventure. But the reasoning behind The Spider was no fairy tale. It was there to attract 'cultural tourism' business to the city. At almost two million pounds, one hopes this was a success. Whether the same can be said for the rational that it engaged people in 'culture' is less certain: at some point real cultural engagement surely also involves empowerment.

Few people will not know that Liverpool, in the early Autumn of its European Capital of Culture 2008 year, has been visited by a Big Spider.

This ‘creature’ (for some indiscernible reason named La Princesse) was constructed entirely of metal, wood and bits of hydraulic and was, it is said, fifty feet high. It paraded in the city centre over the first weekend of September 2008, ‘acting’ out a storyline involving ‘scientists’ who had to do ‘experiments’ to control the gigantic techno-insect.

A European connection
A direct descendant of the Sultan’s Elephant (which suddenly appeared in London in May 2006), another construction from the company La Machine, this creation cost even more – apparently something under £2 million. In both cases considerable sums will have gone into the coffers of the French business which built these monster artefacts.... which by their genesis at least bring a much-needed ‘European’ angle to our singularly Scouse Capital of Culture 2008 activities.

And it is worrying to learn from Artichoke, the UK company which brought the machines to Britain, that there was a serious shortfall in anticipated budget (the sum of £300k to £400K has been suggested). Indeed, a charitable appeal was put out to plug the gap.

Arts budget shortfalls and sensible audits?
What, I wonder, would happen if smaller, less publicly vaunted, arts organisations had proportionately similar shortfalls? And if they started from the premise that they could keep the arrangements to themselves, feeling no pressing need to be particularly transparent about anticipated ‘audience’ numbers, budgets, impacts or outcomes?

I ask this as a volunteer community arts promoter threatened last year with the withholding of one thousand pounds from the munificent five thousand promised (our total budget was around £18,000), simply because of a genuine mistake by a single supplier involving very considerably less than just one pound – and which it took many weeks of my (and others’) unpaid time, as well as hours of city employee activity, to resolve.

Proportionality
Which Council officials, I must enquire, have time and salaried capacity to pursue relentlessly a sum amounting to the cost of one postage stamp? (If nothing else, we can now see that corporately they really don’t understand proportionality in accounting.)

Are these the same people who seem happy to permit the continuation of their own projects when over-running by six figures (predictably, since some – how much? - of this was attributed to the fall of the pound against the Euro)? Perhaps La Princesse should be renamed La Suprise.

The rationale: cultural tourism
It might seem here as though I’ve lost the point of what La Machine’s creations are ‘for’. But I don’t think so. The Spider was and remains at its metal heart a vehicle for marketing and tourism; and perhaps also a justification for the self-laudatory outpourings by the powers-that-be which those of us who live in the city encounter on a daily basis from our local media.

But using ‘art’ promotionally is not an especially Liverpool activity. It happens everywhere, from Glasgow to Vienna to South America; just think of the previous UK European Capital of Culture, or the Vienna Philharmonic, or the Andean statue of Christ the Redeemer. Very different ‘arts’, but given in the modern world (if not in origin) the same message and intent.

Marketing becomes the meaning
What bothers me is when the one and only meaning of an art(efact) is the marketing message.

Our Austrian orchestra and South American statue began in very different ways – one started in 1842 as a celebration of the great tradition of European classical music, and the other as a celebration (in 1904) of a peace treaty between Argentina and Chile, bickering over their national boundaries. Only subsequently have these cultural icons become brilliant marketing tools.

Different 'rules' for different ventures?
So here’s the rub: whilst perforce relatively junior local government officers were (a) assiduously trying to delay – we can all guess why - the payment of the final grand of the magnificent ‘funding’ allotted to my hard-working on-the-ground arts charity and (b) ignoring equally assiduously (they had to) my remonstrations that this sort of behaviour is exactly why many ‘in the community’ give up and walk away from delivering grassroots community arts and cultural activities, other more senior officers were short-cutting to hugely expensive ‘projects’ which amount to a cross between the disneyesque and hard-sell.... which they then self-declare to have been a massive success even before it’s all finished. QED.

I don’t, as it happens, mind spectacle and fun; entertainment in the right places is great. But entertainment is just not the same as real engagement.

Community engagement
Community engagement in the arts doesn’t ‘hand down’ from on high, it nurtures reaching up and out. It is both responsive and self-determining, a laborious (but never boring) process, building slowly on trust and developing each individual’s confidence and skills, both as a performer / practitioner and as an appreciative perceiver of the art/s on offer.

You have to believe in people for the longer term to be a really good community arts practitioner. You have to understand the skills which other artists – not just in your own genre, but across the whole spectrum - and partners bring to whatever you’re doing. You have to be, quietly, really good yourself at what you’re hoping to engage others in also.

Challenge and aspiration
And, even more quietly, you have to be willing to challenge the people ‘in the community’ with whom you’re working; not in a know-it-all way, but in the sense that you are privileged to have seen in the wider world how well things can be done when real effort is made, and you would like that to be reflected in how those you are collaborating with approach their chosen tasks.

No genuine artist ever thinks (s)he couldn’t do even better. ‘The best’ is at the bottom of the rainbow. All any of us can do is aspire.

The Spider's legacy
I’m not at all sure The Spider achieved much in these lights. Its impacts will (I hope) be revealed later. But did it challenge and focus anyone? Did it leave a message for the people of Liverpool? Will it somehow still do so, if plans for its return to the city are confirmed? Only, I think, if there’s a lot more debate between then and now about how to encourage local people, in ‘the community’, to see that as yet we all have plenty of scope for delivering even better what is good about our city.

And in the meantime, small arts enterprises such as my own try to stagger on, largely sidelined and called to account in really silly ways, far more often (however much some of them might like to) than we are actively helped, supported and appreciated by the powers-that-be.

To be truthful, I suspect both that most of those in charge (not of course all – there are some very decent and reality-based people too) have no experience of struggling at the grassroots, and that people who do work on the ground are simply not a part of the high level strategic landscape.

Pre-packaged for 'the community'
The real decision makers often talk about ‘the community’, but this in their understanding is something to be done unto, to be delivered predetermined culture in predetermined ways.

Rarely is this ‘community’ seen as hugely complex and nuanced (infinitely more nuanced than the standard ‘community’ cultural stereotypes), encompassing many possible ways of contributing to, developing and appreciating arts and culture of all sorts. But it takes time, resources, effort, belief and courage on all sides to get there.

Engaging, or just entertaining?
How much easier – as those amongst cultural managers who are genuinely community-facing will confirm - to deliver a pre-packaged monster spider, than to work patiently for days, weeks or months with the people it has been decreed ultimately will pay for it, to produce something wondrous of their own. Too many of those at ‘the top’ would, if they gave it a thought, have no idea how they could actually help here, anyway.

For me personally that doesn’t matter. I have other quite different things to think about as well, and I didn’t go into this for the bouquets. But if recent experiences were my first or only way of engaging through culture with the city in which I have lived for many years, I would be thoroughly downhearted.

Imagination and vision
‘Real’ art and culture captures the imagination and, in so doing, enables people to see things which they didn’t perceive before. Maybe La Princesse fleetingly did the first; but I haven’t seen much evidence that it does the second. And for roughly the same amount of money as the cost of the European arachnid, we could undertake programmes the same size as my own charity’s single venture in every ward of the city, ‘engaging’ hundreds of people directly and truly meaningfully on each and every occasion.

To keep this member of the local ‘community’ happy, the hard-edged longer-term marketing outcomes for Liverpool from La Machine had better be pretty spectacular.


A version of this article first appeared in a-n magazine, December 2008.

Read more about Liverpool, European Capital Of Culture 2008 and see more of Hilary's Publications, Lectures And Talks.

08.10.03 Liverpool Biennial Spider, Web of Light, Ai Weiwei,  Exchange Flags This spider, set against the austere statue of Lord Nelson and a backdrop of Liverpool's historic Town Hall, has so much more to offer than the monster mechanical arachnid which scoured our streets a short while ago. La Princesse was piece of engineering; this spider is a work of art. It trusts us to see in it what we will - it's magical, creative and beautiful all at the same time, leaving the imagination to work its fancies.

08.10.03 Liverpool Biennial Spider, Web of Light,  Ai Weiwei, Exchange Flags & part of Lord Nelson & Britannia statue


More information: Liverpool Biennial 2008 plus The Observer Review of 'Web of Light' and the Liverpool Biennial.

See more of Hilary's photographs here: Camera & Calendar; and read more articles about Cultural Liverpool.

Liverpool Sefton Park 'Sage' - tree trunk sculpted Is it Merlin, or is it some other mystical creature, whose likeness arose silent and unannounced from the lone long-topped tree trunk in the heart of Sefton Park? One August morning, in the midst of the more expected park renovations of 2008, there 'he' was, the beautifully sculpted Sage of Sefton Park, the beginning, we can only hope, of a serendipitous array of creations in the park, for us to enjoy and create further in our imaginations as we wish.

08.08.23 Sefton Park 'Sage' - sculpture from a tree trunk

08.04.06  Sefton Park tree trunk in snow

It's heartening that, even so long after it was first suggested, a tree sculpture has now appeared in our park, a place subject, for many months now, to less engaging and sometimes jarring disruption.

Who sculpted our 'Sage' and why or how, we don't at present know [later: or at least we didn't then]; but perhaps that mystery can be resolved [please see Comments below]? Is 'he' Merlin the wizard or some other mystical creature? Does he have a message, or is he simply there to lift our imaginations and to add some fun as we stroll by, or as we pop into the cafe with the kids for a little treat?

May this be the start of much more creativity and friendly magic for the imagination, in this special urban green space right by the centre of our city.

08.08.15 Sefton Park 'Sage' wood sculpture by Hanna Jelinek


Read more about Sefton Park, and see more photographs at Camera & Calendar.

HOTFOOT 2008 flyer ~ Cafe Europe, Richard Gordon-Smith (world premiere commissioned by HOPES:The Hope Street Association) plus music by Saint-Saens, Coleridge-Taylor, Engleman, Rossini, Bizet & Mozart HOTFOOT 2008, in Liverpool's Philharmonic Hall on Sunday 7 September [NB: 7 pm], is the twelfth such annual concert. Promoted as ever by HOPES: The Hope Street Association, the theme for the city's 2008 European Capital of Culture year is 'Cafe Europe', with music devised by local children working alongside professional musicians from HOPES.

The HOTFOOT annual events in Liverpool, devised and promoted by HOPES: The Hope Street Association, are never less than exciting...

Here we explain what the HOTFOOT concert is about, how it came to be, and why HOPES continues to do it.

Come and join us!
Intended to be welcoming to everyone, whether used to such concerts or not, the HOTFOOT shows are musical performances tailor-made by - rather than just for - their participants and audience; and they seek always also to bring into focus the many aspects of life in Liverpool, a cosmopolitan and richly diverse city.

Tickets (£7 -11, children £5) are available on the Philharmonic website (here) or from the Phil Box Office (0151-709 3789).

The address of the Philharmonic Hall is Hope Street, Liverpool L1 9BP (location map here), and the performance begins at 7 pm [NB not 7.30pm] as it is a family show.
The concert will finish by around 9.15 pm, and the Philharmonic Hall Foyer Bar will be open afterwards, for performers and audience to meet and mingle.

The HOTFOOT 2008 concert programme
This year's (2008) programme for the HOTFOOT even illustrates the point, with a wide variety of musical formats and inspiration, not to mention, in keeping with our theme, geographically spread, with musical visits to 'cafes' in a number of different parts of Europe, including Austria, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain.

The concert begins with excerpts from two lively 'chamber music' or small group pieces, performed by the professional musicians of Ensemble Liverpool (also known as Live-A-Music), most of them also members of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra:

*** Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921, France) ~ Septet for string quartet (two violins, viola, cello), double bass, piano and trumpet and

*** Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) ~ Quintet for string quartet and piano.

[HOPES has consistently promoted Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, who remains Britain's greatest black classical composer, known especially for his work Hiawatha's Wedding Feast. He was a friend of John Archer, son of Liverpool and the UK's first black Mayor, appointed to the post in 1913 in Battersea, London.]

After Ensemble Liverpool comes a popular dance music piece by the mid-twentieth century British composer, owner of the Harry Engleman Tango Orchestra

*** Harry Engleman ~ Fingerprints

performed by John Peace and the HOPES Festival Orchestra.

And the first half ends with the Orchestra's performance of

*** Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868, Italy) ~ The Thieving Magpie.

[Interval]

Next is the World Premiere of a work commissioned by HOPES: The Hope Street Association, one of several musical works HOPES has commissioned from Richard Gordon-Smith over the years. In keeping with Liverpool's status on 2008 as European Capital of Culture, the work is

*** Richard Gordon-Smith ~ Cafe Europe.

The piece involves children from Liverpool's Greenbank, Kingsley, Rudston and St. Sebastian's Primary Schools, who, encouraged by their teachers, have been working from April with HOPES musicians (and Philharmonic colleagues) Richard Gordon-Smith and Martin Anthony (Tony) Burrage, to devise the words and music, which are then composed in full score as an integral work by Richard Gordon-Smith.

The children will themselves perform in the piece, with the HOPES Orchestra and soloist Sarah Helsby Hughes (Soprano). Included in this brand new work, which employs the multi-lingual skills of the performers, are 'Song of New Friends', 'Conversation in Paris', 'Urban Castaways', 'Postcards from Germany', 'Flamenco Girl' and 'When the World Comes Knocking'.

To follow this World Premiere we have Sarah Helsby Hughes with the HOPES Orchestra in two of the most dramatic and well-loved Soprano arias, Bizet's Habanera from Carmen and The Queen of the Night from Mozart's Magic Flute.

08.05.13 Synaesthetic 'Jewels' 124x120 031a.jpg The Balanchine ballet Jewels, premiered in 1967, was this genre's first three-act abstract work. Connecting the parts only through the artifice of contrasting gem colours - emeralds and the music of Faure, rubies with Stravinsky and finally diamonds, set in gold and white and silver to the rich tones of Tchaikovsky. This great performance art is synaesthesia in action, a gorgeous blending of colour, sound and movement which sometimes overwhelmed my own senses and occasionally did not.

Seeing Jewels performed this week by the Kirov Ballet at The Lowry, I was struck by how particular are the individual perceptions of synaesthetes.

Comparing performances
Having had the extraordinary good fortune also to have seen the Kirov Ballet, again with the Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre, in the New York City Center just a month ago, I could compare my response to their performance then of shorter pieces and narrative ballet - Fokine's Le Spectre de la Rose, the exquisitely danced Dying Swan and Chopiniana - with that of the Lowry 'abstract' Jewels ballet programme.

These previous pieces had a logic and formulation quite independent of my own. Only when I was presented in The Lowry with the overt conjunction of colour, sound and movement for its own sake did I become aware yet again of my life-long synaesthetic tendency.

One-off perceptions
Put simply, I can immerse myself in a ballet story according to someone else's prescription. The creator of the dance has the floor.

But when confronted with another's interpretation of what sounds 'look like' and how music 'moves', I'm at a bit of a loss to understand how the colours and jemstones were selected. Faure is not emerald, he's citrine and alexandrite; Stravinsky is indeed quite ruby, but with deep-toned garnet, and his undertone is a fierce andesine-labradorite, not creamy gold; and whilst I can cope with Tschaikovsky as diamond, gold and silver, I'd rather he were the bluest sapphire and Brazilian tourmaline.

Synaesthesia
All of which tells us nothing, except this: synaethesia is an individual thing, and it's quite involuntary.

For me, this aesthetic confusion is just quite an interesting aspect of my perception, when I have occasion to notice it (most of the time, it's just too much part of my daily experience to be aware of). But for some few very gifted people it's obviously a central and compelling force in their lives.

... and creativity
I dare say Balanchine was a synaesthete; how else could he have dreamt up Jewels?

The multi-sensory neural wiring of synaesthesia, though probably less unusual than was first thought, can be challenging on occasion. Nonetheless it's surely a blessing for us all, not least when it results in the creation of performances which exist solely to celebrate art forms for their own sake.

Sometimes it's good - in our various and individual ways - to see art just as art.

08.2.4 Monday Women El Rincon nameboard 164x91 030.jpg 2008 sees a new location for Monday Women in Liverpool. For a few months we'll be meeting in El Rincon Latino, by Roscoe Street and Oldham Street in the new City Gate development at the top of Renshaw Street. It's free to come; all women most welcome, first Monday of every month, from about 5.45 to 7.30-ish p.m.

El Rincon Latino is located on the corner of Roscoe Street and Oldham Street just one block up the hill from Renshaw Street. It's immediately across from the multi-storey car park behind Leece Street Post Office, on the town side of Leece Street but still near St Luke's, the 'Bombed Church'. You can also get there via a very short walk up the hill opposite the main entrance to Rapid Hardware on Renshaw Street.
The address and postcode are Roscoe Street, L1 2SU (map); tel: 0151- 324 0454.

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All you pay for is your supper and drinks, ordered as you wish from the bar, if / when you'd like some - but no obligation. (There's a photograph of a sample menu below, right...) Our Chilean host, Francisco Carrasco, is also Director of All Things Latin (ATL) and tell us the cafe aims to serve food from across Southern and Central America, as the head chef is from Ecuador. The venue has many cultural links with Latin America.

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If you have ideas about anything you'd really like to discuss or do when everyone meets, you can of course join the Monday Women e-group (absolutely free, quite voluntary) and suggest things beforehand. Other than that, the format of each Monday Women event is decided by those who are there - drinks and chat, debate, even this year perhaps post-meeting salsa classes... It's your choice! Dates for 2008 are below.

08.2.4 Monday Women El Rincon Costa Rica 215x386 coffee 027a.jpg 08.2.4 Monday Women El Rincon  Maybe salsa dancing lessons?  275x386 026aa.jpg










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Monday Women meeting dates for 2008 (all first Mondays of the month, 5.45-ish to approx. 7.30, please just come and go as you wish) are:

February 4th
March 3rd
April 7th
May 5th
June 2nd
July 7th
August 4th
September 1st
October 6th
November 3rd
December 1st (special event, the annual Christmas Do!!)

To check any particular date please call the venue on 0151-324 0454.

Do join us. No need to book, just turn up whatever time you can; and bring your women friends as well...
We'd love to see you there.

Find out more here or visit the Monday Women message board.

Liverpool At Christmas

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Liverpool Nativity 220x125 07.12.16 009a.jpg The few weeks as 2007 ended and became 2008 saw much festive activity in Liverpool. Here, the set for the BBC's special production of the 'Liverpool Nativity' was surrounded by excited onlookers well before the performance started, but alongside all the high technology Saint George's Hall stood serene, just as it has for the past 150 years.

St George's Hall Liverpool, Christmas 2007 495x467 017a.jpg

The Liverpool Nativity was a live performance commissioned by the BBC to celebrate the Christmas story in a contemporary context, as Liverpool prepared to become European Capital of Culture 2008. The set for the performance was in the open, at the bottom of William Brown Street.

Liverpool's St George's Hall, constructed between 1838 and 1854 (original architect Harvey Lonsdale Elmes), is regarded as one of the finest examples of civic neoclassical architecture. Details of Hall opening times, features and events are available here.

For more photographs please see also Camera & Calendar

Liverpool Radio City & 08 Tower 616  93x96.jpg Abrupt curtailment of the 2007 Mathew Street Festival, silly ideas about removing fish so the docks become a concert arena, questions about preparations for the Big Year.... Liverpool 2008 is a drama unto itself. The leading arts venues have devised a pretty good cultural programme for European Capital of Culture Year, but concerns about what else needs to be done remain.

There’s a jolly good row going on in Liverpool just now.

The minority Labour Group on the City Council wants an independent review of the 2007 Mathew Street Festival – not to mention an explanation for the recent Sir Paul and the Fish fiasco - whilst the ruling LibDem Group so far appears content to receive a previewed Mathew Street report from their own officers.

Costs and concerns
This furious debate concerns the abrupt cancellation of the international Mathew Street Festival as an outdoor event, and questions about hundreds of thousands of pounds apparently expended on a now-abandoned plan to stun (and remove to claimed safety) the piscine inhabitants of one of Liverpool’s splendid docks, before draining it to create an arena for Paul McCartney’s much trumpeted appearance in the city during the 2008 European Capital of Culture year.

Given such corporate Who Dunnit dramatics, one might well ask whether professional entertainers are required at all.

Liverpool life as theatre
But of course there’s more than this to add into the ever-changing theatre which constitutes the City of Liverpool. In less than one hundred days (as I write) the momentous 2008 will be upon us.

And, to be fair, some excellent cultural events have now been announced for the year. We are to have Klimt at the Tate, Simon Rattle with the Berliner Philharmoniker (and later with the RLPO, as a member of which he began his career), adventurous programming from the Everyman and Playhouse, the Turner Prize, the Anne Frank Exhibition and much else.

It’s a huge relief that these events have been secured; many were afraid we were about to have a ‘cultureless’ European Year of Culture, with all the embarrassment that would bring.

Culture and leadership
But, perhaps as at this stage in other cities who have been through the Year of Culture experience, there remains continuing concern about how it all fits, and who’s in charge.

There seems little convincing evidence those being paid the most (who some say are departing in droves) have brought the most to the cultural agenda. That was very largely done by the individual arts organisations.

And this brings us to the big question: What’s it for? And which of our white, male hegemony of leaders is going (or able) to tell us?

Bringing in the real world
One place where we can begin to find answers is the Grosvenor (Liverpool One) development. This 17 ha mixed use site in the heart of the city centre has an investment value of £920m and will be completed in 2008. It is almost entirely privately funded and has a huge emphasis on retail and leisure.

Leading this venture is the sharply focused Rodney Holmes, a man who knows a challenge when he sees one. Unflappable and consistently approachable, Holmes is nonetheless ready when events so demand to articulate his requirements.

Recently, these demands included specific actions for the preparation of Liverpool for its year of glory (and, as it happens, the opening of the Grosvenor venture) – demands also supported by Jim Gill, the respected CEO of city-centre regeneration company Liverpool Vision, who now chairs the Countdown Group to deliver what is required.

Past or future?
Slowly, then, the cultural and commercial components of Liverpool’s future are falling into place. But it would be hard to give full credit to city leaders in all this. Rather, it feels that individual elements of the visible fabric of the city have taken things into their own hands and, in the end, just got on with it.

And this is perhaps the problem. Whilst those with vision look to the future, the official powers-that-be continue to hark on about the Beatles and Scouse (a traditional hotpot meal or a dialect, depending on context). Scouse and the Beatles are both in their different ways attractive elements of our heritage for visitors and residents alike, but can they take us forward?

Leadership and local understandings
Whilst the heritage elements of Liverpool life still resonate with many Liverpudlians, fewer feel any warmth towards the great cultural events and enterprise opportunities which 2008 presents.

There is a failure of leadership, an unwillingness to articulate ambition and opportunity, which it seems cannot be shaken off. Frequent cries by the local citizenry that ‘all this is fine, but it’s not for me’, meet only with reassurance that there will ‘also’ be things for ‘the community’ (as there surely will).

Missing is head-on challenge to the notion that excellent formal culture and serious enterprise are somehow not for ‘ordinary people’.

Involving the people
Grosvenor’s Liverpool One has a significant community engagement programme. All the flagship cultural organisations have their versions of the same. How do these fit into the greater scheme of things? Where are the cultural and entrepreneurial horizons and ambition? The missing link is our civic leaders.

There’s no longer any civic mileage in The Beatles’ When I’m Sixty Four. Paul McCartney is now older than that. And Scouse is a matter of minor gastronomic / historical interest but hardly the whole story in a city which aims through Liverpool One shortly to offer the full five stars for its more affluent cultural and business visitors.

Exclusion zones?
Whilst some in Liverpool 8 (Toxteth) still believe, or feel comfortable declaring, that the city centre is a ‘no-go’ area for people of colour, whilst those in the outer zones continue to claim total invisibility, whilst the roles of education and enterprise are seen as so irrelevant by so many, Liverpool’s resurgence remains painfully fragile.

Tempting as for some it may be to lay blame here or there for this state of affairs, blame takes us nowhere. It’s action which will do the trick.

Courage to change
We need leaders who seek out and actively nurture Liverpool’s diversity in talent and persona;
leaders who proudly proclaim they personally attend and enjoy the best of our cultural offerings formal and informal, and they want everyone else to as well;
leaders who have the courage to explain that heritage is precious but also that sometimes things need to change;
leaders who see the fit between culture and knowledge, who value Biotech and Beethoven as much as the Beatles;
and leaders, most importantly of all, who understand the fundamental difference between ‘disloyalty’ to a city and serious citizen engagement in the on-going debate.

Change of this sort cannot be achieved by default or vague sentimental aspiration. It requires deep focus, a core shift in the culture of our city. And it requires absolutely no more silliness involving, say, festival financial fiascos or stunned fish and Macca.

The cabbie is correct
One takes the views of cab drivers with a pinch of salt. But my driver yesterday was spot on. Liverpool’s buzzing at the moment, he opined. But what will it be like in 2009?

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