Recently in Cultural Shifts Category

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.

Liverpool Capital of Culture 2008 Liverpool has made much of its community engagement programme during the city's European Capital of Culture year, in 2008. But when does engagement become genuine social inclusion? And does inclusion require empowerment as well as contact? Or is the underlying emphasis on increasing tourism to bolster the local economy enough? This is where opinion in the city divides.

Liverpool, European Capital Of Culture 2008 and The Future Of Liverpool

Great claims have been made for community inclusion during Liverpool’s European Capital of Culture year; indeed, it’s sometimes been hard to identify the ‘European’ element at all, in all the local leadership talk of community embedding and power to the people.

Not all of this is bluff. The Liverpool Culture Company has fielded a team of arts educators and animateurs who have worked hard to produce some imaginative and significant projects, and for that we must congratulate them. Likewise, another team has taken forward work on arts and health, for which substantial success is claimed.

Engagement, inclusion or empowerment?
But when does a degree of engagement become genuine social inclusion? Does inclusion require social empowerment as well as contact? This is where opinion diverges.

For our city leaders, the brightly coloured photographs of smiling children and milling crowds are enough. How much more evidence of ‘inclusion’ do you want?

Bottom up, or top down?
But for some of us, the evidence that real inclusion has been achieved remains patchy. No-one wants to decry some good work which Culture Company teams have delivered; but why wait for 2008 to develop a meaningful culture and health programme, in a city right at the bottom of the well-being league? And is ‘top down’ delivery, determined at high command, as inclusive as the more difficult ‘bottom up’ sort?

It is not Liverpool’s own community arts which received the biggest budgets in 2008. Vast ephemeral ‘events’ have scooped up massive sums, whilst many indigenous local artists outside the Culture Company have had to scramble between themselves, often to ridiculous and shifting deadlines, for a few thousand or even less here and there.

Tourism as the main rationale
Of course the Culture Company have their problems; but arts practitioners who were there before and must carry on afterwards arguably face greater challenges. Their work to be inclusive is geared to much more than large public ‘events’ which have – let us be honest – an increase in tourism as their main rationale.

It’s this which worries me. I’d like the city to treat me as a grown up. If they want to pursue hotel bed counts all out, could they please say so? Could they perhaps say, we know the public events we’re offering are not truly inclusive – you can come and have a bit of fun if you want, and that’s about it – but we need to do it this way, to improve Liverpool’s economic base for everyone’s future wellbeing....?

A focus on the bottom line
Spelling things out like this would emphasise how hard we must all work, to improve the local economy – more skills, no poor service, no attitude.

It would help community arts practitioners understand why their locally focused efforts currently feel less valued than the big event spectaculars.

Treating citizens as grown-ups
And it would say to local citizens, thanks for turning up, we hope you’ve enjoyed the big splashes, and, when all the tourist destination marketing has worked, we will indeed be able to support more genuinely embedded opportunities on your own terms for exciting, local, bottom-up creative and cultural activity.

Now, those messages really would demonstrate that the relationship between Liverpool’s decision-makers and its citizens has become adult and consciously inclusive.


A version of this article first appeared in New Start magazine, January 2009.


Read more articles about Liverpool, European Capital Of Culture 2008 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.

08.12.05 Architectural Association, Bedford Square, London The Architectural Association, London hosted a debate on Friday 5 December '08 about Liverpool. Consequent upon the issue of Architectural Review earlier in the year about that city, the speakers at this seminar were asked by architect Brian Hatton, a staff lecturer at the AA, to consider whether Liverpool has experienced a Cultural Turn. The article which follows is a version of my contribution to this debate.

Just hours after I’d started serious work on this piece, the following announcement appeared in Liverpool newspapers: ‘Like many local councils,’ it said,’... we face [in 2009] a budget gap despite making efficiency savings of over £44 million in the last 3 years alone. As a council, we are committed to empowering residents [so...] we are asking local residents and our partners where they think we should prioritise our spending...’

Coming at the end of the extraordinary European Capital of Culture year in Liverpool’s already very one-off history, here is a conundrum indeed. What are we to make of a situation in which the money has run out – and, Oh My, in Liverpool how has it run out! – and yet only now are we being ‘empowered’ to say how to spend the pittance available for next year?

‘Empowering residents’ is a great idea. But in the contexts of discussion of Liverpool’s Cultural Turn, exploration of this sort of empowerment probably raises many more questions than, at least initially, it resolves.

Cultural turn as re-orientation
My position – as an enthusiast for both urban renaissance and the arts and culture, and as a long-time Liverpool resident - is this:

The context of cultural turn suggests a re-orientation. ‘Culture’ can mean either things artistic, or things which concern shared social constructions or understanding.

Either way, cultural shift supposes that an idea, situation or strategy has changed in some fundamental way: that there is a shift in emphasis towards a greater insight about what’s happening, or a refocus of emphasis so we begin to see things in a different light.

Has this happened in Liverpool as we approach the end of our Great Year? As things stand, I’m not sure that it has.

At best, the jury is still out. The things which that jury should be considering – and why - will comprise most of the rest of this paper.

The Leunig - Robertson 'Future of Liverpool' debate
A few weeks ago I attended the well publicised regeneration debate in Liverpool Cathedral, between Dr Tim Leunig and Prof. David Robertson.

Dr Leunig’s thesis, versions of which have caused considerable consternation in my part of the world, is, if I may parody a little, that bright and enterprising people should move down South. The South – and especially that hitech Golden Triangle of opportunity around London, Oxbridge and the M4/5 corridor– will then become so overheated that brave capitalists will wish once more to develop Oop North, perhaps almost from scratch.

As a strategy for attracting investment ‘in the regions’ this analysis has its drawbacks – not least that in the Leunig proposals local politicians would be expected to plan for population dispersal in way which would almost certainly lead to their summary dismissal by the electorate.

'The market' is not a given
And that’s before we even get to the critique, ably delivered by Professor Robertson and shared by many of us, that Tim Leunig’s analysis takes the invisible hand of the market as a given.

It seemed to us – despite his entreaty to planners across the nation to revisit housing plans and much else – that the UK economy had in the Leunig perception no central steer from government.

Where was the acknowledgement that all parts of the economy receive vast investment from public and other external funds – not to mention much in the way of legal and enabling frameworks?

Where was the reference to John Maynard Keynes and all who’ve followed him?

The past, as was said loud and clear during the Liverpool Cathedral debate, is not a reliable guide in rapidly changing times to the future.

Interventions occur, and opportunities emerge, in ways which few of us can predict - a fact on which Liverpool should perhaps reflect very carefully as we move to 2009.

All this was not however, for me at least, the most challenging part of the Liverpool economy debate.

Unpallatable home truths?
For me, the most critical issues were these:

Firstly, the Cathedral debate showed little disagreement between the protagonists on data.

In specifics, its scope and / or relevance was mildly contested, but the hard information was not what generated the heat in dialogue between the speakers, or indeed amongst the panel members who responded later.

Second, having briskly disposed of the weaknesses in his opponent’s position around government economic strategy, David Robertson took the opportunity to deliver some home truths about his city of residence.

Liverpool would not, he said – once more reflecting the view of many who have sat around the table debating these things – succeed as it might, even now, unless the local economic community moves on.

Self-delusion and self-aggrandisement are no longer options. We are no longer a truly premier, let alone a world-class, city.

And we cannot genuinely aspire for the future to be so, unless we first recognise this uncomfortable truth.

But my third observation is perhaps the most difficult.

True Scousers
The audience for the debate included many people I know well, hard working and very able professionals and community activists who have given much to their city and really want our renaissance to happen.

Several said later that they had been disappointed by the event.

And this was especially true of those who were born and bred in Liverpool, as opposed to the ‘newcomers’, who have lived and worked there for perhaps a mere thirty years.

None of us had wanted blood, but the True Scousers had hoped more by way of apology and remorse than Dr Leunig was able to offer. He had said he was genuinely sorry – and I believe him – that his version of the Truth had hurt and offended people.

But what most of his critics wanted, was that he fundamentally revise his views. And what they had also expected was a robust rebuttal by other speakers, with no caveats about how we could do better.

Liverpool as myth
This is where the Architectural Review’s special edition on Liverpool of earlier this year [2008] comes to bear.

In his contribution to this fascinating publication, Prof. David Dunster chose to consider ‘Liverpool’s powerful urban mythology and civic pride'. He argues, as here we do also, that Liverpool seems unable to get productively real.

As a collective, Liverpudlians cling desperately to a ‘reality’ which we readily acknowledge is actually no such thing. We vest our heritage in a couple of Liver Birds.

Of course we recognise the error of our ornithological analysis, just as we know there are no pots of gold at the bottom of the rainbow. But on the other hand, we protest, too defensively, that Oh Yes There Are.

And some of us also protest, too defensively, that it’s only other people – on the right and on the left, anyone who offers a critique - who are wrong, that there’s nothing needs to change about Liverpool: it’s just such a shame, in this narrative, that the city has been so poorly perceived elsewhere.

But even if this defensiveness rings true, where does it get us?

Why should architects, or analysts of culture, intent on regeneration, worry about the Liver Birds? What does it have to do with the Cultural Turn?

My answer, reluctantly, is, all too much.

Turning to tourism
Liverpool’s current cultural strategy, and to an extent its whole economic rationale, is, and has for some long time been, directed at tourism.

The city has invested much strategic energy in hotels and talk of ‘destinations’, and in budgetary terms during 2008 it has emphasised above almost all else the importance of large-scale outside events.

This summary analysis is of course too simple; far more has come to pass than that; but the claim contains a germ of truth.

We can all understand why this has happened.

Liverpool, as Professors Dunster and Robertson, and indeed many others, have said, cannot rely for the future on industry – which, Dr Leunig's longer-term analysis notwithstanding, is likely to stay largely elsewhere – or even on the sub-regional knowledge economy, should we actually manage to secure and develop this.

Nor can we rely any more than we already do on the public sector.

It may not, despite the commentary of many, be very much ‘too large’ for our demography; but we certainly won’t secure a sustainable future by developing it further.

So it follows that the economic activity which will most hold things together for Liverpool in the shorter term is the service sector.

And from that it also follows - because our own city region population has amongst the lowest per capita incomes in Britain - that we need tourists, preferably with quite a lot of money to spend.

Visitor attractions
So first we need to bang the drum, to light the fireworks, to deliver the spectaculars which catch the eye of those who have never before wanted to come and see us, let alone shower their hard-earned cash in our direction.

Hence, the position in which we now find ourselves.

There has been farce, there have been fantasticals, but somehow we’ve managed – and I speak as one in part on the inside looking out – largely to pull the Liverpool European Capital of Culture Year off.

Other cities are keen to learn what we have done. Promising Olympic opportunities seem likely for some of those at the centre of our current activities.

Degrees of success
Why then the hesitation? Why not just heave a collective sigh of relief, enjoy, and move on?

Well, to some extent we can do exactly that.

There are arts practitioners at all levels of engagement across the city who have discovered hitherto hidden inner strengths – some in the face of adversity, some because they were nurtured and supported. We have important buildings and facilities which were not there a year or two ago.

We have engaged, if not captured, the attention of a lot of people outside Liverpool.

'Empowering' residents?
But have we cracked it?

I fear that recent little ad in the local newspapers does not bode well.

We as residents weren’t much asked how we wanted 2008 to pan out, but now the money’s spent, our views are invited.

The current recession obviously doesn’t help, but I guess that post-2008 was always going to be difficult for Liverpool. Cultural strategies alone were never going to be a magic cure.

We’ve now been asked to become ‘partners’ in what will probably be a very challenging year ahead.

I suspect that it’s what we can now do without, not what we’d really like, which forms at base the forthcoming agenda.

If this is ‘empowering residents’, it leaves me rather cold.

Cultural change
Which takes me back again to the prognostications of the Liverpool Architectural Review, to the recent Cathedral debate, and to the issue which started all this – our discussion about whether Liverpool is experiencing a Cultural Turn.

The analytical framework developed by Charles Landry shows there are many places large and small which, by whatever criteria, and howsoever termed, have experienced cultural turn.

These range from the solid grandeur of Vienna and its Hundertwasserhaus, through the second-hand bookselling mecca of Hay-on-Wye, to the less dramatic but nonetheless locally very significant reinvention, as a cultural and knowledge quarter, of Liverpool’s Hope Street – a matter in which I myself have had a hand, and which continues to challenge me and various colleagues even now.

I mention Hope Street – which is the thoroughfare linking our city’s two cathedrals - specifically because it is a critically important part of Liverpool.

As the main cultural and knowledge quarter, it probably has the greatest potential for economic development of any part of the Merseyside Liverpool sub-region.

Yet somehow it remains a side-show. Of course everyone agrees our theatres and orchestra are important; of course our universities are critical; but.... In the discourse of the city, there’s always a ‘but’.

What sort of cultural turn?
So it all depends what ‘sort’ of cultural turn we’re looking for.

Landry takes ‘cultural turn’ to mean a situation -

‘where culture is moving centre-stage for another reason when even economics and politics are culturally driven in manifold ways’.

Another writer in Wikipedia refers to the cultural turn as major element of the discipline of Cultural Studies -

developments in the humanities and social sciences brought about by various developments across the disciplines... it describes a shift in emphasis towards meaning and on culture rather than politics or economics... With the shift towards meaning, the importance of high arts and mass culture in cultural studies has declined. If culture was about things (a piece of art, a TV series), it is now more about processes and practices of meaning

and a different observer in Geocities links Market Society and the Cultural Turn

.. contemporary social theory has been increasingly concerned with the central role of cultural processes and institutions in organising and controlling the economic. This has been labelled by some the ‘cultural turn’ in social thought. The claim is that the economy itself, and the ‘things; which follow through it, is now largely constituted through informational and symbolic processes.... The very fact that markets are not natural events, but social ones implies that they are the results of meaningful human action, and employ cultural beliefs about human nature, social action and relationships. In this sense we need to think about economics and economic theory as culture....

And we can also find references which see it in different types of context, if we look to cultural turn in respect of the historical emergence of environmental issues and other matters.

It can be the ‘culture’ of a specific discipline or action set, as well as the ‘culture of culture’.

Economics, sustainability, knowledge, arts or people?
So are we thinking here about economics, about sustainability, about knowledge, about the arts, or about people?

To my mind the cultural turn which Liverpool now ‘needs’ must include all these dimensions.

What’s required of us as citizens of Liverpool is a deeply rooted change in our mindset about how things are going to work in the 21st century.

Culture as 'culture'
We need to take on the ‘cultural’ meaning of cultural turn – to value arts and culture of themselves as well as for what they can bring.

This cultural turn would help to refocus in a way which liberates the imagination and helps us move from a fixation on sad football rivalries; and indeed which would help us also to review the fixation with our maritime history.

Football, like the ports and also The Beatles, has been hugely formative for Liverpool, but they’re not collectively the whole of our future.

Culture as economic context
So we also need to move beyond the cultural sense of cultural turn, to a change in our understanding of Liverpool’s economic situation and contexts.

Like it or not, Manchester is as important for our future as the Mersey.

Skills – and knowing how to use them – are as important as spectaculars; but a lot less easy to deliver.

This sort of change and reorientation, as we all know, requires firm, insightful and inspired civic leadership – a feature not much noted in the local politic of my city.

Consensus and leadership
Evidence of consensus about how to move ourselves off the ‘bottom of the list’ in so many ways is difficult to find.

Local debate still rages over a number of physical features and plans for Liverpool. We need look only to the issues around the Liverpool port terminals and the ‘rights’ which some local people continue to claim, in defiance of economic progress, to walk as they wish along the riverbank.

The same applies to the reconstruction of that major highway approach to the city, Edge Lane and to those who continue to oppose it; or to the future location of Liverpool's two football clubs, or to many aspects of building conservation across Liverpool, that once-second city of the empire.

Sometimes justice, or at least logic, lies with one interest, sometimes with another.

Choices and consequences
But who is up there, spelling out choices and consequences in a voice which actually respects the concerns and commitment of local people, whilst also offering a wider view?

In other words, who is working to bring about the really essential sort of cultural turn?

Who is, to return to our little ad in the newspaper, ‘empowering residents’ in the true sense of providing a cultural climate in which the real options for our future can be debated constructively?

Sadly, almost no-one.

Supporting change for the better
True leadership is not passing the buck, or simply shouting from the front.

It is moving beyond defensiveness, and taking people with you on the basis of open discussion, after they have been helped to understand all the issues.

Getting people to see the bigger picture, and the options which arise from this, is probably the most important thing which Liverpool’s local leaders could do, if they truly want to secure Liverpool’s future for her citizens.

Looking at the detail
Specifics are however also important.

We have during 2008 moved a little way towards the ‘cultural’ ‘cultural turn’, in the sense described by Charles Landry.

The Liverpool Biennial and other events have sparked a greater interest in public space and what we should be doing in it.

The developments along Edge Lane, despite many delays, have encompassed a real physical base for information technology and other creative industries:

Liverpool is becoming a genuinely global hub for developing computer games.

To whatever extent, these developments as such (if not always their locations) are generally perceived as benign, or sometimes as really positive.

Dissenting as residents
But as Landry himself notes, there are other aspects of our city’s development which have been judged more harshly by its residents.

Liverpool's Albert Dock renewal has at times been amongst these.

This facility, which includes museums and Tate Liverpool, has brought the historic docks back into use as a venue for tourists and cultural visitors.

It has more recently been connected to the city centre by the new and vastly ambitious Liverpool 1 retail, commercial and mixed use development, and it also now connects to the challenged ‘donut’ around the southern inner city, via the new Liverpool BT Conference Centre and the Liverpool Echo Arena.

But still it stands aside from the experience of many hardened locals, who may enjoy the odd spectacular in the Arena or on the waterside, but deep-down still see the area as ‘for tourists’, rather than as an opportunity for more local jobs.

The knowledge quarter
Similar considerations, in a different way, apply to Hope Street.

Liverpudlians one and all agree that Hope Street’s cultural offer is important, just as they agree the universities to each side of that street are critical.

But for the most part they also think that what goes on in these august institutions has little to do with them.

Perhaps there’s a touch less defensivenesss now, but still we hear murmurs in places which matter about ‘elitism’, when really we should be hearing about achievement and excellence.

Regenerational drivers
The Albert Dock and Hope Street are major regenerational drivers for the future, but they remain – both physically and metaphorically - at the margins of Liverpool’s ambitions to be reborn.

So at best, to date, there’s only mixed evidence of the sort of fundamental change in the city’s psyche which would empower Liverpool to face the twenty-first century with confidence.

Real plans and futures
In the recent Architectural Review of Liverpool, editor Paul Finch discusses the fiascos which arose from the genesis of what some now call the ‘fourth grace’, the museum currently being built, after fierce infighting and an abandoned architectural competition, on the water front.

Finch reminds us that competitions are [often] used as substitutes for real decision-making, which in turn derives from the absence of a coherent long-term proposition about Liverpool’s urban future.

Focussing likewise on developments during Liverpool’s tenure as European Capital of Culture, Brian Hatton reminds us in the Architectural Review that the EU surely invented as a way of enrolling provincial or failing cities [to the title]... by regeneration, which seems to mean making them conducive to ‘creative industries’ and attractive to the supposed tastes of top executives.

But as Hatton also remarks, this assumes that regional and sub-regional development can be a force for genuine progress - whilst the reality seems to be increasing concentration of power and resources at the centre.

Whatever, a city which over some forty years can’t even convince its residents of the need to fix its main access route to the centre, will have difficulty persuading others of its long-term focus and resolute determination to move forward.

Clarifying the issues
So where does this all take us?

A few things are, I believe, becoming clear.

First, Liverpool’s 2008 Capital of Culture year may claim some successes, but that alone will not take us far.

There is sparse evidence that real opportunities to empower and engage people at the genuinely local level have had much impact as yet; already, for instance, there is fear that 2009 will find local arts and cultural activities sorely tested.

The window for action is short; it will need to happen very quickly if we are to retain the claimed advantages of 2008.

But this follow-through from 2008 is only now being seriously considered, and impetus is almost certain to be lost.

Where has the leadership been, to embed and prepare for the next stage of Liverpool’s re-emergence as a force to be reckoned with?

Local perceptions
Second, where there is in fact now real focus, it remains effectively outside the perceptions of many local citizens.

Tourism and students, not local jobs and the knowledge economy, are for most city residents the defining elements of the Albert Dock and Hope Street.

Except during festivals, these two regenerationally critical locations are of little interest to many Liverpudlians; and even then the festivals are not devised to raise local aspirations.

Increasingly, even these festivals are purely commercial activities which (in the case of Hope Street at least) do not build on prevoius community engagement work.

This lack of overt coherence, the segmentation of approaches to regeneration, and the lack of embeddedness, will not help Liverpool’s progress.

The Cultural Turn as mythology?
And finally, the Cultural Turn in Liverpool is perhaps in part a new mythology, for us to put alongside the Liver Birds.

Look, we say, we’ve pulled off 2008, and now we have Tourists!

But all that says, if we are brutally honest, is that we have Cultural Tourism.

Genuine Cultural Turn, of the sort which I believe would enable Liverpool to construct a new, more sustainable and prosperous future, continues to elude us.

Perhaps we now have a greater emphasis on arts and culture, but we have yet to demonstrate how that can go forward to shape a new future.

Progress or pastiche?
Maybe this can be done where a city has great leadership and vision.

But in Liverpool I must conclude that, for now, the pastiche of Cultural Tourism has eclipsed any fundamental sense of Cultural Turn.


Read more about Liverpool, European Capital Of Culture 2008 and Cities in Transition; and see more of Hilary's Publications.

Leading by umbrella How do people come to be leaders in their communities? Are they anointed or appointed? Do they take or earn the authority to represent their peers? What are the rationales behind their belief that they should lead? Do others agree? And what are their objectives, and why? It all depends on where you're coming from, and what sort of 'community' it is. So how should those who work in regeneration with communities and their leaders approach this complex and delicate issue?

The answer to these questions is, of course, that there is in fact No One Answer.

People come to be leaders through many different routes. For some authority and legitimacy is always a struggle. For others it just comes with who you are.

Different 'communities' for different purposes
This is a tale of different 'communities' in different places and at different times. Some communities are geographically based, some interest based, some economic, some cultural.

'Communities' can comprise locations defined by their mono-cultural base (whether Protestant, Punjabi or Presbyterian), whilst at the other end of the spectrum some exist only as loosely connected groups of people who enjoy Politics, Portsmouth City or Painting. Leadership in these different communities will obviously not be of just one kind.

Intentions and expected outcomes
The intended outcomes of the leadership role vary. Some people believe they're there to uphold tradition and (in their mind) maintain stability in an unstable world. Others seek to be leaders precisely so they can change things.

Traditional leaders and those (at the opposite end of the spectrum) who are of the 'change the world' tendency often to see their remit as wide. Others have more piece-meal and modest expectations, perhaps to improve things in a specific and direct way.

Authority to lead
The really interesting thing is that traditionalists and revolutionaries alike usually derive their authority from (what they perceive as) universal social values or mores. But those who seek more modest and specific changes tend to legitimise their positions in reasoned ways, perhaps in terms of the avoidance of harm or similar logically justifiable and rational objectives.

There is a chasm between those who exert overall authority as such - whether to maintain the status quo or radically to alter it - and those who seek to manage specific change, which they believe can be demonstrated to be for the better.

And these forms of influence are not randomly distributed. They tend to be associated with differences in community / cultural experience, age, gender and class. One person's assumption of power and influence may well become, without any such overt intention, another person's disempowerment.

Competing beliefs and challenges
Community leadership and wider social interests are sometimes hard to bring together in a world where there are competing beliefs about what legitimate authority in a community might be; and indeed about what constitutes a 'community'.

Here lies one of the biggest challenges for those of us who seek to work with people in their (and our) own localities. Delivering stability and change together is hard to handle well.

In diversity lies strength?
Where the bottom line is overt - in for instance FTSE 100 Board Rooms - the evidence is incontrovertible, that diversity of gender (e.g. The McKinsey Report: Women Matter) and culture enhances good decision-making.

But how can (or 'should') we apply that knowledge in communities where at present the bottom line is not overt (what exactly is being 'lead'?) and is certainly not up for discussion?

Read also
Social Diversity & Inclusion
and
'Workable' Regeneration: Acknowledging Difference To Achieve Social Equity ('Regeneration Rethink')

Merseyside County Council (logo) shield Incredibly, it was twenty two years ago that the Conservative government closed down the Metropolitan County Councils , thereby ensuring control from the national centre of power. The impact on local decision-making was huge, as was the effort subsequently required to rebuild the regional administrative decision-making process.

The Metropolitan County Councils, like the Greater London Council and the Inner London Educational Authority, were powerful bodies representing local and regional interests, and were seen as irritants on the national body politic. So Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher decided they 'had to go'.

But as Dr Richard Beeching also demonstrated, when years earlier he closed many local and regional railway lines, it takes little time to destroy something which holds together the physical or political regional infrastructure - and an enormous amount of money and effort to reinstate it.


Merseyside County Council closure reception invitation 20th March 1986 'For workers in the Merseyside arts community'

This is the invitation I received to the Merseyside County Council closure reception for 'Workers in the Merseyside Arts Community', on 20 March 1986, at Metropolitan House, Old Hall Street, Liverpool. The evening was hosted by Cllr Keva Coombes, a local lawyer and Leader of the Merseyside County Council.

See more photographs at Locations & Events and read more about Regions, Sub-Regions & City Regions.

The New Harvest Festival

| 0 Comments | 0 TrackBacks
Seasonal vegetables harvest festival pumpkins 2520 (88x103).jpg This is the time of year when churches urban and rural across the nation urge us to attend their services for Harvest Festival. For many of us however this annual celebration is now marked more secularly, observed at one remove, via our newspapers, rather than physically in our communities. Media celebration of seasonal food is the order of the day.

The Guardian, like other similar publications, is hot on seasonal food. A story in that newspaper today gives a flavour of that theme: 'Green' shopping possible on a budget, watchdog says.

What then follows is that irresistible combination of knocking the supermarkets (fair enough if they're not up to scratch), going rustic with references to in-season fruit and veg. (why not, it really is good for you), and angst about affordability and carbon footprint (fair enough again).

Contemporary perspectives
So here is the contemporary version of We plough the fields and scatter...

Way back over the centuries people have known about crop rotation and storage and the seasons, and have celebrated all this with Harvest Festivals of one sort or another. Now we know about food miles, sustainability and ethical buying.

Appreciating our sustenance
This is the better informed (or at least more techno) version of the wisdom of the ages, translated for those of us who hope for the future but have no bedrock of faith on which to base an annual thanksgiving.

Perhaps it doesn't matter how we demarcate the changing seasons and the beneficence they offer. What does matter is that at least we notice.

Pianos For Peace

| 0 Comments | 0 TrackBacks
Piano keyboard (small) 70x83.jpg Rarely are artistic installations truly inspirational, but the use by George Michael and Kenny Goss of John Lennon's piano, on which Lennon composed the song Imagine, is one such example. This travelling piano scenario is art, goodwill and common humanity all rolled into one.

George Michael is taking John Lennon's piano on a roller coaster ride of emotions. Or that, at least to my eyes, seems to be what's happening.

Singer-songwriter Michael acquired Lennon's piano, on which the song Imagine was written, at the turn of the Millennium, and he and his partner Dallas art gallery owner Kenny Goss have now resolved the question of what special use to put it to: It has been given the central role in the world-tour Imagine Piano Peace Project.

Genuinely inspired art
It is a stroke of genius to take that humble piano to troubled places - sites of gruesome events such as assassinations, state-sanctioned executions, bombings, multiple murders and the like. The piano and its associations bring to these grimly horrible and almost unthinkable acts a sort of dignity and calm.

The piano itself cannot and need not speak. It shows and incites no fear. All it has to do is occupy these sites as physical spaces. We can, each of us, work out the rest for ourselves.

John Lennon started life an unremarked child, attending our local school in Liverpool. He ended it a tragic victim of sudden very public violence in New York. As he himself might also have said of his travelling piano, just "Let it be."



Lips talking (small) 65x79.jpg Today is International Mother Language Day. Celebrated for the first time in the Millennium Year, it is a programme promoted by UNESCO, the 2007 theme being multilingualism.
But why is it important?

The promotion of multilingualism lies at the heart of International Mother Language Day. Introduced in 2000 by UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, 21 February is the day in the year when we are asked to recognise the uniqueness and significance of the 6,000 languages known to humankind.

In doing this however UNESCO has not set itself against the grain of 'progress', for the other emphasis on this date is acknowledgement of the value of shared language, of the ability to communicate in more than simply one's own mother tongue.

Powerful instruments
UNESCO offers a strong rationale for its promotion of mother languages and multilingualism.

These are, it says, 'the most powerful instruments of preserving and developing our tangible and intangible heritage.... [helping us to develop a] fuller awareness of linguistic traditions across the world and to inspire solidarity based on understanding, tolerance and dialogue.'

Linguapax
A corollary of this approach is the on-going (since 1986) UNESCO Lingupax project, which aims to promote a 'culture of peace' through the promotion of multilingual education and respect for linguistic diversity.

In that respect it seems sensible that people resident in a country learn to speak its main, official language/s, that they are also encouraged to respect and use the language of their immediate culture, and that schools offer those who wish it the opportunity to learn languages which may be culturally and geographically far removed from immediate experience.

Idealistic but important
Idealistic and architypically platitudinous these notions may be..... but who could deny the truths behind them?

The need to talk meaningfully and insightfully with one another has surely never been more pressing.



HOTFOOT(small) orange 2005 027.jpgThe National Museum of the Performing Arts closed 'for good' yesterday. This is a disaster for London (where it has had its home, in Covent Garden) and for the whole of the U.K. If the Trustees of the Victoria and Albert Museum - in whose 'care' the Theatre Museum resides - cannot maintain the collection as an entity, perhaps the Theatre Museum should pass to those who can do better? The Chair of the V & A has close Merseyside connections; why not re-open the Theatre Museum in Liverpool?

No-one believed it could happen, but the announcement has been made - the National Museum of the Performing Arts in Covent Garden, London, closed yesterday (Sunday 7 January 2007) because the Trustees decided they couldn't commit further resources to the venue. This is despite the description of the Museum by its own Trustees, the Victoria and Albert Museum Board, as a 'world-class collection'.

The protests of people as diverse as Alan Ackbourne, Judi Dench (Guardians of the Theatre Museum) and Ken Livingstone have, it seems, had no effect. Somehow, the performing arts are not compelling to the Museum Trustees. Apparently there is to be a website and some collections are to be shown at the V & A in Kensington in 2009, but basically that's it. Just at the time when London is preparing to host the 2012 Olympics, and when Covent Garden can never have been a more popular visitor attraction, the doors have closed. Firmly.

Nonetheless, after the experience we as CAMPAM had in the late 1980s / 1990s of 'resurrecting' the Liverpool Everyman - which actually went dark - and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra (which just about clung on) I don't think anyone should give up all hope yet.

So come to Liverpool
I have already suggested that, if Londoners really don't want their Theatre Museum, it should come to Liverpool. Here, up North, we're preparing for an event even more imminent than the Olympics. 2007 is Liverpool's 800th Anniversary, and 2008, as everyone knows, will be our year as European Capital of Culture. The arguments for Liverpool taking this venture on have already been rehearsed; and I have been assured (though I await the evidence) that the City Council is considering things, as, one gathers from recent Minutes of the V & A Board, are the NWDA and Blackpool Council.

In the meantime, though, there is one other interesting aspect of this strange situation: The Chair of the V & A is Paula Ridley, a person with strong connections on Merseyside. It would be fascinating to know her view of the proposition that the Theatre Museum come to Liverpool.



Read more articles on the National Theatre Museum.

Recent Entries

Monday Women '06: Liverpool's No-Cost Mutual Support Group Relocates
Please see also the Monday Women section of this website for up-to-date inormation on meetings etc. Monday Women meetings for…
Where's The Soul In Regeneration, Renewal And Renaissance?
How can regeneration work so that it is in the end more than just developing markets for investors, important though…
Will Merseyside Miss Out? The Gormley Statues And The Theatre Museum Are Must-Haves.
Here we go again. The cultural drag, if I may call it that, which afflicts so many places is once…