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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.

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Mount Street river vista (small) 06.10.1 078.jpg Sefton Council says Antony Gormley's Iron Men may soon leave Crosby Beach. The national Theatre Museum, which it has been mooted should come to Liverpool, has yet even to be considered by the City Council. Where's the cultural leadership and vision which could mark Merseyside as a fascinating place to visit?

Here we go again. The cultural drag, if I may call it that, which afflicts so many places is once more theatening to relegate our sub-region to the 'might have beens', a place which could have been braver and better.

In just one evening last week (on Wednesday 18th October '06) Liverpool City Council took the extraordinary decision not even to discuss a motion about how the city might acquire the national Theatre Museum, whilst on the same evening Sefton Council voted not to keep Antony Gormley's one hundred Iron Men on Crosby Beach.

There is a real danger that we on Merseyside will end up looking as though the last thing we want is to support culture, just at the time when the mantle of European Capital of Culture is about to be ours.

Time is short
The Daily Post and others have already started a campaign to reverse the Gormley statues decision, with some success already. It is now necessary for others to ensure that Liverpool Council does the same, and makes a real effort to bring the national Theatre Museum to Merseyside .... of, if they can't, for someone esle to do so The benefits of doing this are clear and have already been discussed on this website.

The reputation of Liverpool and Merseyside in 2007/8 rests on imaginative and forward-looking leadership and real vision in culture and the arts. It's time everyone in Merseyside pulled together on this.

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Theatre Museum (small) CIMG0748.JPG Sometimes things move quickly. The proposal to bring the national Theatre Museum to Liverpool when it closes in London seems to be one of these times. Just ten days after being mooted on this website, a proposal to take action will be debated tonight by City Councillors in Liverpool Town Hall.

The idea of the national Theatre Museum (the National Museum of the Performing Arts) coming to Liverpool took a step forward this morning, when the proposal first posted here ten days ago appeared as an article in today's Daily Post.

TownHallCIMG0770.JPG Liverpool City Councillors Joe Anderson, Paul Brant and Steve Munby (Labour) will this evening put a motion entitled NATIONAL THEATRE MUSEUM to full Council, proposing that:

Council notes that the national collection of performing arts memorabilia, at the Theatre Museum in London, part of the Victoria and Albert Museum, is to be dispersed when the Theatre is closed in January 2007.

Council calls on the Leader to explore the possibility of bringing it to Liverpool to develop as a special national element of our celebrations in 2007 and 2008? Liverpool has a great tradition of theatre, opera and the performing arts in this city, and the V&A could open the revived exhibition as a 'V&A in the North', as the Tate has done with Tate Liverpool.

To the national exhibition we could explore adding the archives of our own theatres, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Society's archive and the history of Hope Street, Liverpool's performing arts quarter.

Progress indeed
I am very hopeful that the motion will be carried with cross-party agreement, since Cllr Mike Storey (Liberal Democrat), Liverpool's executive member for special initiatives, has told the Daily Post that he would support examining such a move for the Theatre Museum collection, and Cllr Steve Radford (Liberal Party) has also indicated his general support to me.

This is how we in Liverpool should all be working when it comes to the arts and culture. HOPES has produced, and the politicians have made progress with, a potentially good idea which would enhance parts of our civic 'cultural offer' in a very positive way. Just as with the development of the Hope Street Public Realm works, I hope we can deliver here something which involves both public and community voices in a virtuous circle, and so secures added value locally, regionally and even nationally.

We await the outcome of this evening's Council Meeting with interest....

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Theatre Museum London banners (small).jpg The national collection of performing arts memorabilia, at the Theatre Museum in London, is to be dispersed when the Museum is closed in January 2007. So why not send it instead to Liverpool, as a 'V&A Liverpool', and let us up here have it as a very special part of our 2008 European Capital of Culture celebrations?

The sad news this week is that London's Theatre Museum is to close. Its home in Covent Garden near the Royal Opera House is to be no more, and its exhibits will be dispersed by its parent body, the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum.

A loss for the arts world, and everyone else
Theatre Museum London Unleashing Britain (Beatles) poster.jpg I'm sure there will be knowledgable people who will conclude that the merits or otherwise of the Theatre's exhibits justify this decision, but to me it seems shocking. I visited it quite recently for the 'Unleashing Britain - Ten years that shaped the nation: 1955-1964' exhibition and, as I reported on this weblog, I found the whole place fascinating.

Perhaps the Theatre could be said to have been its own worst enemy, insofar as it always look closed even when it's actually open - the doors seem blank and much of the exhibiiton is 'below stairs', in a wonderful but not-visible-from-the street warren of tunnels and small rooms; but the external visibility problems could easily have been resolved.

A bright idea?
Theatre Museum London 06.10.12.jpg However, if people in London don't want the Theatre Museum collection as an identity, I have an idea.... Why not bring it to Liverpool for us to enjoy, and to develop as a very special national element of our celebrations in 2007 and 2008? We have a great tradition of theatre (and opera) in this city, and the V&A could open the revived exhibition as a 'V&A in the North', as the Tate has done with Tate Liverpool.

And to the national exhibition we could of course add the archives of our own theatres, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic's archive and the history of Hope Street, Liverpool's performing arts quarter.

There's just about time to get the ball rolling, if we all started to work on this now. It would be a superb asset for Liverpool, and would keep the national exhibition in the public eye, when all our vitiors arrive for Liverpool's 2008 European Capital of Culture Year. We have plenty of large buildings which could be put to good use in this way, and surely the maintenance costs could be found from somewhere, just as they will have to be if the artifacts stay in London anyway?

Benefits all round
If London really doesn't want to keep the Theatre Museum as an identity, here's an opportunity for them to do something really good as partners to help us 'up North' to gain even more value from our special years in 2007 and 2008, and beyond.

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Theatre Museum London (small).jpg Covent Garden's Theatre Museum is the National Museum of the Performing Arts, a unique and special place. But it is currently under threat of closure. An urgent rescue bid is being considered by the Museum's nearby neighbour, the Royal Opera House. Success in this venture is not only essential for the greater good of both parties, but also offers encouragement to those who see that to survive the arts must work together.

Royal Opera House Covent Garden.jpg The national Theatre Museum in Covent Garden has been under serious threat for a while now. If anything, my conviction - shared, of course, by many others - that this would be a disaster, grows by the day.

But it seems that a way may now be found to put things right. The Museum Theatre's nearest neighbour, the Royal Opera House, is looking to see if it can take over the running of the Museum, before it is closed and its contents get mothballed in the V & A in South Kensington.

Performing arts working together
Covent Garden.jpg We must hope this 'rescue bid' between close neighbours, and in a fantastic setting, is successful. Not only does it make huge sense in terms of synergy in a given locality - with perhaps the greater push towards full use of this unique set of resources which could follow - but it is also a story which needs to be shared, with a big message... Together the arts, and especially the performing arts, can flourish. Set apart, this isn't so easy.

It's a lesson we almost learnt the hard way in Liverpool's Hope Street a decade ago, when we had to lauch the CAMPAM slogan - Once lost, we will not get it back! CAMPAM was the Campaign to Promote the Arts on Merseyside. In the early 1990s we fought and won a long and weary battle to make sure that Liverpool didn't lose its Everyman and Playhouse Theatres, or indeed the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.

ROH shield.jpg History doesn't need to repeat itself. The Theatre Museum and the Royal Opera House, side by side in Covent Garden, were surely made for each other. I really hope the matchmaking drama we now see before us has a happy ending, soon.

The Theatre Museum, London

Covent Garden: The Untold Story - Dispatches from the English Culture War, 1945-2000

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Look Back With.... Relief

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Theatre Museum (small) CIMG0748.JPG There is a nostalgia in the cultural calendar at present. Memories of the 50s and 60s are to be found in both drama (The Liverpool Playhouse) and museums (the national Theatre Museum). Interesting to look at, without doubt. But perhaps much less fun to have had to live in.

We've been to two very striking performing arts events in the past week or so. The first was the national Theatre Museum's Unleashing Britain: 10 Years that Shaped the Nation 1955-1964 and the other one was the Liverpool Playhouse's Billy Liar.

Both these cultural offerings remind us of how very much things have changed over the past fifty years.

Cultural change as well as economic
Theatre Museum Unleashing Britain CIMG0744.JPG The period which followed World War II (and yes, my recollections before the swinging sixties are hazy) was stultifying for most people. There were many painful adaptations to be made in peacetime, alongside the relief that it was all over. Most people were simply intent on establishing a 'proper' homelife and on getting a civilian job. There was little scope for imagination and flair in the daily struggle to earn a crust and keep a roof over one's head.

And of course there were all those children - the 'bulge' - who arrived as the soldiers came back home. The Welfare State could not have been more timely, but it was also pretty thinly spread.

So how did the shift to the so-called Swinging Sixties happen? Whilst for most of us this era was nowhere near as exciting as it's now made out to be (living in Birmingham probably didn't help...) it was certainly a time when great cultural shifts occurred.

More money, more young people, more education
By the mid-fifties rationing had finished, and schools and health systems were fully in place, as the peace-time economy settled down; and this meant that a decade later, by the mid-sixties, there were quite significant numbers of young people (though only a few percent of them all - maybe 5% maximum) who were relishing the freedom of student life.

For first generation grammar school children going to university was a huge breakthrough (just as, we must always remember, not going to grammar school and univesity was for some of their siblings and friends a huge heartbreak). I doubt many young people now could understand how important it was to save up for the big striped university scarf which denoted you a Proper Student.

Along with this came a new freedom - to do one's own thing, to find new ways to be artistic, literary, creative. It isn't surprising therefore that the 'new reality', the kitchen sink drama, came into being. For the first time there were significant numbers of young people with higher education who knew for themselves what working class life was like... and who produced, through theatre and writing and film, a record of realities which is now a legacy for us all.

A legacy we remember but didn't enjoy
It's salutory to look back, through the cultural events on offer now, and remember just how constraining and difficult those years were. Given the freedoms of today, or the restrictions of then, I don't think many would turn the clock back.

Life isn't easy for everyone even now, but the numbers of families where the frost has to be scraped off the inside of the bedroom window every chilly Winter morning is without doubt lower - and could indeed with proper organisation of support be reduced to none.

There's not much nostalgia in my mind for the good old days... they are a fascinating time to examine and learn about, but they weren't I suspect that much fun for most folk to live in.

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