Is Liverpool wasting its 2008 legacy?

I originally wrote this for Arts Professional and it’s since been published on Liverpool Confidential.

I worry occasionally my own rose-tinted spectacles could do with a polish when I look back at 2008. It was an incredible year filled, for the most part, with a huge sense of promise and anticipation.

It was never just about Liverpool’s cultural life, 2008, more so for many of us who had elected to stay here rather than see if the streets really were paved with gold in London, like many of our contemporaries, it was about changing how the city was seen. It felt like a privilege to be able to have a hand in that and you were filled with a sense of pride each time a journalist or visitor came to the city and commented on how different it was from what they were expecting.

It doesn’t feel like that now. I’ll never be overly critical of the the city of my birth but constant vigilance is the only way we can stop sliding back into the bad old days. Have a voice, by all means, just be careful what you say.

Is Liverpool wasting the chance of a 2008 legacy?

Sitting at my desk this week I had two really rubbish pieces of news in less than half an hour.
First, I was told AFoundation was closing. An ambitious contemporary arts venue, AFoundation was initially setup with funding from James Moores. It was home of the Bloomberg New Contemporaries strand during the Liverpool Biennial and had an incredible warehouse space that seemed totally unrecognisable from one exhibition to the next. It also hosted some amazing parties, which I barely remember so good were they.
Most importantly, possibly, AFoundation was based by Jamaica Street. Not far from the current home of the Liverpool Biennial and the Novas CUC building, AFoundation moved to this commercial, dockside district less than five years after it had been populated after dark by curb crawlers and dodgy dealings. To me, it marked a courage unlikely to be found in any industry other than arts and culture, the ability of a cultural organisation to lead the way in regeneration and reclaiming a dark, dank neighbourhood. The Arts Council says the organisation is no longer viable.
Reeling from that shock I got a second piece of news. The inaugural Liverpool Boat Show, due to launch in a matter of weeks, is being cancelled. Fewer people are buying yachts, apparently, and sponsors have pulled out. The Tall Ships and various Waterfront Festivals have shown if you host an event on Liverpool’s docks, thousands will come. The city has estimated over 400,000 people would have visited the city over the course of the festival, which would have brought in some much needed cash.
It’s not as though Liverpool’s cultural life has come to an abrupt halt. The city just hosted a mixed arts event Threshold Festival. FACT and Tate’s Liverpool hugely successful Nam June Paik exhibition is entering its final week, Liverpool Sound City begins in a couple of weeks and Africa Oye, a celebration of African Culture and Music enters its twentieth year this summer after securing funding. This summer, the city’s first International Photography Festival, Look11, will launch.
But it is a time for reflection.
It’s only three years since Liverpool was all bells and whistles, yelling about its European Capital of Culture status with an ambitious programme. Revitalising and rejuvenating the title and making a year never to be forgotten one of the continuing messages was legacy, legacy, legacy.
Well, how’s the legacy looking? Spending hundreds of thousands on one day in Shanghai to promote the city might have reaped dividends, but no-one’s been told about them. Similarly a Liverpool Embassy in London, for many, seems to be doing little more than generating a big fat cuttings book.
Liverpool’s arts community never expected to be protected while jobs were lost in other sectors, far from it. But there seems to be a lot of anger and frustration, stemming, as it usually does, from a lack of communication. Liverpool in the 80s was marked by poverty, hardship and an ongoing battle with a Labour Council and a Conservative Prime Minister. I don’t think anyone expected post-2008 the city’s arts would flourish while funding was slashed countrywide, but they did expect a sea-change; an agreement never to return to the “bad old days” and a desire to see Liverpool in the papers for something other than kicking off, as we say up here. If a legacy is truly to be realised, the city needs to recognise the arts community has built a wonderful foundation, don’t knock it all down yet.


  1. A very interesting post. Firstly, an arts community should not be seen as separate from the city in which it is based.Secondly, as a citizen who has art-related interests you have to take a side. The central fiction of New Labour was that there was a Third Way, that you did not have to choose between social justice and prosperity. Sadly perhaps, we are all finding out that this has never been true. If Liverpool has an ‘arts community,’ members of it have to pick which side they are on. Are they with ordinary people against cuts and privatisation? Do they care about the destructive reforms of the NHS? Or are they going to forget their roots and hawk their consciences for a miserable subsidy here or there which they might not get any how. True art is not marketing, nor is it commodified tat. It is relevant, original and powerful. 2008 should be remembered as the year of the onset of the Great Recession by outward looking artists, as much as the year of the Capital of Culture. For many ordinary people, the bad old days of poverty have never gone away, and both art and politics should reflect this grim reality.

  2. What legacy ? I gave up reading this after a few lines.

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