A quick selection of Liverpool cultural bits and pieces I’m planning to do over the next few months.
Oedipus, Liverpool Playhouse, until 12 March 2011
This has almost come to the end of its run; I’m off to see the penultimate night on Friday. A new production by Steven Berkoff, it’s had excellent reviews from the local press, and less wonderful ones from the nationals.
Nam June Paik, FACT and Tate Liverpool, until 13 March
Also the last few days for FACT and Tate Liverpool’s joint exhibition of work by pioneering video artists. I must confess to being underwhelmed by the work on display – the claims of him as an inventor of media art founder for me with a look at the dates of his works, and a mental comparison of them to mainstream film and television of the time – but perhaps a final wander round will change my mind?
Mark Anstee: Removed and Destroyed Without Warning, until 27 March 2011
Airports for the Lights, Shadows and Particles – A survey exhibition by Jyll Bradley, until 1 May 2011
Two exhibitions I’ve not managed to see yet: Mark Anstee’s “3-D Drawing” of a submarine, which fills the Vide space at the Bluecoat, and Jyll Bradley’s combination of photography and sound.
A Collector’s Eye: Cranach to Pissarro, Walker Art Gallery, until 15 May 2011
Drawing on a single, private collection, this exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery provides an interesting look at a group of paintings linked primarily by the taste of their collector, rather than by a curator or theme.
‘Storyville’ : Rachael Howard and Melanie Tomlinson, 12 March to 7 May 2011
Showing at the Bluecoat Display Centre, this two person exhibition of textiles and metalwork looks to be worth a visit.
Old Master Drawings: Guercino, Rubens, Tintoretto, Lady Lever Art Gallery, until 2 May 2011
By all accounts a fine follow up to the Dürer exhibition which showed last year, this exhibition draws together a variety of drawings from the Lady Lever and Walker galleries.
Macbeth, Liverpool Everyman, 6 May to 4 June 2011
Move quickly if you want tickets to this – they’re selling quickly, due, no doubt, to the draw of the show’s stars, David Morrissey and Jemma Redgrave.
Opening of the Museum of Liverpool, 19 July 2011
The new Museum of Liverpool opens on the 100th anniversary of the Royal Liver Building – probably the city’s most iconic building. It’s five years since the old Museum of Liverpool Life closed to make way for the new building, and at a cost of £72m there’s a lot for National Museums Liverpool to prove. A successful launch will reinvigorate the Pier Head, and provide a boost to the redevelopment of the city centre.
What’s in your diary for the next few months?
Two posts in two days on arts funding…
News that Arts Council England is to require the organisations it funds to periodically reapply for their grants is most surprising for the fact that it should be news at all: the idea that such funding was simply rolled on, from one year to the other, without any formal process of re-application is bizarre.
ACE’s Chief Executive, interviewed on Today this morning, appeared to admit that there was previously no clear process for new organisations joining the funding roster. If this is accurate, then it is beyond bizarre, and raises serious questions about the manner in which his predecessors, and the board of ACE, have previously managed the public funds they disburse.
The introduction of a specified and transparent process for periodically reapplying for funding comes as Art Council England’s budget is cut. In this first year, reserves will be used to soft the blow, restricting the reduction to 0.5% for all but two of the funded organisations. Even this small reduction amounts to a larger real terms cut in funding (once inflation is factored in) and subsequent years will have no such cushion.
Against this backdrop, the distribution of grants given by Arts Council England is…interesting:
|Region||Budget before cut, £||% of total
|| E Midlands
|| North East
|| North West
|| South East
|| South West
|| West Midlands
|| Yorks & Humb
Frankly, “interesting” isn’t the right word. The specific adjective surely depends upon your political persuasion.
In the language of the
ConDemNation Coalition, this distribution is not “fair”.
In the language of the Labour Party and those of the left, it is not “progressive”.
In the language of anyone with half a modicum of economic sense, it is “moronic”.
Public sector funding is contracting, causing serious concern about the future prospects for those regions which are reliant upon public sector employment. At such a time, the idea that more than half of such funding should be directed to the capital is absurd.
Look beneath the headline numbers, and the situation actually gets worse.
The Royal Opera House currently receives £28,436,991 per year from Arts Council England. One single venue, delivering one art form, based in Central London receives 7.9% of all ACE funding:
- more than the sum of all the ACE grants to organisations in the North West.
- twice as much as ACE gives to the North East.
- significantly more than ACE gives to the East and East Midlands regions put together.
According to the Royal Opera House’s own figures, it issues slightly less than 800,000 tickets a year, about half of which cost in excess of £50 – and the tax payer is currently subsiding every ticket by about £36.
Just to really ram home the point, lets compare and contrast Arts Council England funding to the North West region (population c. 6.8 million; aggregate ACE grant £24,834,681.45).
The North West’s per capita grant is just £3.65.
I could make arguments about the demographics of the audience of the Royal Opera House, or about its outreach (or relative lack thereof) but when every ticket to the Royal Opera House receives a subsidy ten times the per capita grant to the North West region, I don’t think those arguments can add anything.
(Current Arts Council grant: £599,500; 2008 visitors: c.1,000,000; per visitor grant £0.60).
Arts funding will need to be fought for over the coming fiscal contraction. This will need cold, numerical facts, together with individual passion. It must be done in the full knowledge that the current distribution of Arts Council funding is not “fair”, or “progressive”, or even sensible. The kind of vague, politically naïve waffling against “the Cuts” which was offered on the Biennial’s blog earlier this week is the surest way to see funding for the arts cut further, and the current massive London-centric bias in distribution maintained.
Anyone worried about cuts to arts funding, or what they’ll mean for the future of the Liverpool Biennial, should read this post on The Biennial Blog, attributed to its Artistic Director, Lewis Biggs.
Rambling, confused, factually unsupported, lacking any connection to the Biennial itself, or even arts or culture in general, it is at best a badly constructed attack on “capitalism” in general, and at worst a poorly veiled attack on the current government in particular – that last only aggravated by a pretentious opening statement that
The charitable status of Liverpool Biennial does not allow lobbying for any political party, so I restrict my comments to non-party-political arguments.
This is apparently the first time that Lewis Biggs has contributed to the Biennial’s blog. It isn’t an auspicious start. It is my fervent hope that nobody at the Biennial office yesterday had the authority to prevent the Artistic Director commandeering the blog to publish this piece. If it reflects the way in which the rest of the Biennial’s management proposes to go about responding to the issue of public sector cuts, we may as well kiss the Biennal goodbye now.
It is too easy for those “on the right”, who favour cutting arts funding, to write off much of arts and culture as being “of the left”. Doing so allows them to treat cuts in arts funding as being a political act on par with removing the trade union modernisation fund. Handing those people a gift like Biggs’ piece is idiotic.
More broadly, with all public funding for the arts under threat, the last thing we need is this kind of counterproductive mess being published in the name of a major festival. The work being done by Save The Arts is how to build a coalition for arts funding, and the economic case is now being widely communicated – this piece from David Bye is a well put together jumping off point for exploring this side of the issue.
[And I don't discount impassioned personal pleas when they actually make a case - this personal piece from Alan Lane of Slung Low is an excellent example.]
I left a comment on The Biennial Blog shortly after it was posted yesterday, saying much of what’s above; at time of writing it is still “awaiting moderation” (which is odd – given the very low level of engagement with the Biennial blog – most articles attract no comments at all – you’d have thought they welcomed responses…).
If you care about the arts, and about the future of the Biennial, I’d encourage you to comment on Biggs’ piece. Use your comment to say what cuts in arts funding would mean to you. Talk about the benefits you think public funding of the arts has generated for you, or your local area. As a community, let’s try and turn one man’s own-goal around.
I’ve long believed National Museums Liverpool to be a Good Thing, having spent a childhood in and out of them, and last Saturday showing a visiting friend around the Walker Art Gallery.
I’d be concerned if NML said it might have to close some of its museums and galleries. Oh, wait, NML’s telling me that it might have to close some of its museums and galleries:
Your museums are under threat because of central government cuts. We are being forced to consider closure of some of your museums.
Please show your support by signing this petition to help prevent closure of your museums. We will present the petition and signatures to central government in October.
Does this mean the end of the Walker’s excellent children’s programme, the closure of parts of the Merseyside Maritime Museum, or reduced opening hours at Sudley House? What fiendish reductions in service have the evil bureaucrats in Whitehall forced through?
Wish I knew; NML certainly aren’t telling.
The above quote is the sum total of the explanation for their petition. On the petition page itself, you appear to be signing the following
We value National Museums Liverpool and urge government to do all in its power to maintain adequate funding for our museums.
which is one of those wonderful phrases that most people will agree with.
My innate scepticism may be showing here, but I’m driven to wonder if NML is simply trying to avoid doing anything. As a centrally funded body, it may well have found itself considering changes in what it does, which could, at one extreme, include closure of some of its “museums” (let’s pause to note that the International Slavery Museum and the Customs and Excise Museum are really grandly titled galleries within the Maritime Museum). It could also mean cutting some outreach programmes, increasing charges in its cafés and gift shops, or reducing the benefits NML members receive.
Personally, I’d happily see my discount on exhibition catalogues cut in a good cause.
It’s always easier to build opposition to a non-specific threat (think Bush and Blair speechifying about the evil doers), but it’s also intellectually dishonest, and risks undermining your ability to fight real threats when they come.
NML should be communicating facts, not creating panic.
Lewis’s doesn’t need any introduction if you’re from Merseyside. Not John Lewis (that was always “Lee’s”, short for George Henry Lee – the John Lewis store in Liverpool, until JLP took the silly decision to supress the historic brands), but an older department store, more prestigious in its day.
That day was over in the 1970s, but it was a still an impressive experience when I went there as a child in the 1980s. Since then, as the chain it belonged to dwindled and lurched from insolvency to insolvency, it’s slowly faded away, till, on May 29th, Lewis’s closed for ever.
I wish I’d been back in the city then, as I’d like to have visited one last time. Lewis’s was a Liverpool institution in the most fundamental sense – a fixture of the city centre since 1856 – and a little piece of the city’s identity dies with it. Even as a pale shadow of it’s past, Lewis’s was a counterpoint to the soulless and placeless shopping terraces of Liverpool One, which – barring a few notes about the old dock beneath the development – could be in any city in the UK.
It’s encouraging to see that the BNP’s having trouble finding local council candidates in Liverpool. Lancaster Unity and Liverpool Antifascists both note that the eight candidates standing are four less than at the last local election:
The BNP today revealed it would be standing only eight candidates in the local elections in Liverpool on May 6th. This is eight too many, but it is one third less than the twelve it put up in 2008 and represents the effects of a determined anti-fascist campaign against them and of the internal divisions within this racist party.
BNP candidates in Liverpool down by a third
Of those two factors, I think the latter – internal divisions – is far more important. I’ve always been sceptical of the idea that a “determined anti-fascist campaign” has much impact on support for the BNP generally, and I’d be concerned that the more vigorous aspects of that campaign actually serve to bolster it.
On balance, I believe more time spent talking about the BNP’s woeful record when they achieve office – which Lancaster Unity do – would pay dividends. As the expenses scandal proved, people are far more likely to viscerally take against politicians for their behaviour.
And lets not forget the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s decision to sue the BNP, which has caused them serious problems. It may yet prove to have done what no amount of placard waving and no-platforming ever could: pushed the BNP towards collapse.
The real test comes when the votes are counted – each of the BNP candidates managed to get ten people to sign their nomination papers; can they get many more to vote for them?
You can see the full list of Liverpool council candidates here (PDF).
The Digital Economy Bill went through last night. All I’d say about the Conservative decision to support it is that Jeremy Hunt better live up to expectations.
If you want a recap of why this Bill is an affront to civil liberties – never mind democratic procedure, the rule of law, and truth in law making – you should read Mo McRobert’s open letter to Siôn Simon, Pete Wishart, David Lammy, Peter Luff, John Robertson, and Stephen Timms (which I’m also a signatory to).
On a less serious level, David Schneider joked:
Government denies rushed legislation as bill passed to punish illegal downloaders by cutting off their mephedrone
Bring back the Friday Night Armistice!
In an earlier post, I highlighted the horribly illiberal voting records of some of Scouseland’s sitting Labour MPs. Here’s how they voted last night:
|Constituency||MP||Authoritarian %||DE Bill|
|Garston and Halewood||Maria Eagle||100%||In favour|
|Liverpool Riverside||Louise Ellman||90%||In favour|
|Liverpool Walton||Peter Kilfoyle||56%||Against|
|Liverpool Wavertree||Jane Kennedy||83%||Absent|
|Liverpool West Derby||Bob Wareing||13%||Absent|
Do you want to know just how authoritarian Eagle and Ellman are? Ian Paisley voted against.
Yes, that’s right: The Rev. Dr. Ian “Save Ulster From Sodomy” Paisley.
Personally, I’d prefer my MP to be a little more liberal that the good Doctor, but maybe that’s just me.
If you get these people on your doorstep, you know what to do. Once every five years, we live in a democracy: let’s act like it.
Having spent a fair bit of time delivering Conservative election leaflets in the past few weeks, I’m always interested to see what other parties are pushing through letterboxes.
Previously, the only way to find out was to see what came through your front door, or those of your party’s supporters in other areas – or, interestingly often, finding other party’s leaflets discarded on the pavement!
But in line with the increased use of online techniques in the upcoming General Election, and the Local Elections planned for May 6th, you can now have a nose at what other parties are doing from your desk.
The Straight Choice is a website which hosts uploaded scans of election materials. Sorted by constituency and party, and often with detailed tags, you can browse a wide selection of leaflets and letters from around the country.
(Currently, only Liverpool Riverside and Liverpool Wavertree have coverage.)
Have a look around – you might find out something interesting about your local campaigns.
Earlier I was writing about the relative liberalism – or lack thereof – of Liverpool’s Labour MPs.
Given their pretty woeful track record on standing up for their constituents’ civil liberties, would anyone care to guess how they might to vote on proposals to expand HMRC’s ability to conduct warrant-less searches?
Henry Porter wrote an excellent piece this morning about the Government’s plans, comparing them to the powers of the Stasi in the GDR.
Ahead of a General Election is one of the few times that a parliamentary democracy is particularly democratic. It’s time to start asking our MPs – and those people vying to be our MPs after May 6 – how they’ll vote on these proposals.
For Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, opposing these plans is wholly in keeping with our platforms. The Conservatives have already committed to rolling back the “surveillance state” and reforming RIPA so as to prevent the widespread use – and frankly, abuse – for petty issues. I see opposing these latest plans are a logical development. If HMRC have evidence, they should be able to go before a judge and get a warrant. If they haven’t, then why are they wanting to open post in the first place?
But what about Labour? The party that brought you a DNA database that breaches your human rights, the party that wanted to lock people up for 42 days without trial, the party that says it’s proud of having done these things and built a surveillance state besides?
Try asking your local MPs. If you’re in Liverpool Riverside, you can contact Louise Ellman here. If you’re in Garston and Halewood, you can’t contact Maria Eagle here – as her website seems to be down, so try this instead.
Anywhere else, try writetothem.com, which makes finding and contacting your local representatives simple and straight forward.
Ask your PPCs when they come to hustings, or turn up on your doorsteps. Don’t let them avoid the question, either – make them tell you what they’d do.
Once every five years we live in a democracy. It’s time we started behaving like it.