Last night's Capital of Culture Preview event. We even tried Scouse! I'm not so sure that this eevnt engaged the interest of the national press (neither am I sure that it needed to or should have), but it was probably a necessary event to establish 2008 as a tangible prospect for the city's inhabitants. The event itself was all about representations, but not particularly obvious narratives - eg. the Beatles behind jail bars and a lone busker in what felt like a subway tunnel. The proceedings did not establish any kind of hierarchy, there were none of the typically dull speeches from VIPs. Instead, the main speeches consisted of two Liverpudlians speaking about their place in the city and, importantly, the place for newcomers. Actress Sunetra Sarker talked about her experience of the city as an asian woman working in the entertainment business and a poet whose name I do not yet know spoke clearly about Liverpool's hard and soft edges.
I wonder what those critics of the CoC will say about this event. It seems all too easy to moan about what more cities should be doing, but there's got to be a space somewhere for celebration. I try to think of all the people who were at this event who have an interest to see Liverpool prosper and appreciated for what it already has. Events like last night are a necessary part of that overcoming of history, but it would be sociologically naive to describe them as lacking in integrity. For me, such events are suitably analogised with Olympic opening ceremonies where great expectations must be tempered by a recognition that doing anything at all is already hard work.
In September, we happened to pass the opening of this exhibit in the Biennial, just as the artist was finishing up. This was the exhibit, which I saw in the next day newspaper:
He didn't introduce himself as the artist at first, suggesting he was the security guard for the venue, but he later availed himself. I found myself immediately warming to the exhibit and pleased to see this kind of work presented here. It helped me believe that the city is innovating with artistic and creative enterprise. And the Biennial is not alone here. FACT is doing a great job and I spent most of my first 3 months in the city around the FACT cafe.
However, later that week, I was walking passed the same venue and overheard a middle-aged Liverpudlian walk out of the venue and say 'I thought we had more important things to spend our money on'. After a brief smirk, I thought a little more deeply about this problem of divisions that emerges around any form of aesthetic moment. I'm not sure I can work through a solution here, but it struck me that the city's biggest challenge is in aspiring to world class status while accommodating the very local expectations which struggle to give value to aspiring such a status until they see Liverpool's 'culture' mentioned on Richard and Judy [who, of course, also used to hang around these parts!]. I don't mean to stratify taste - I know the most wealthy and learned of people who don't see the value of conceptual, abstract or contemporary art - which is why the solution lies not in something class based - not in something sociological - but in cultivating non-instrumental sensitivities.