PANEL DISCUSSION: Culture Forum North in Conversation 22 June 2017
Chaired by Sarah Fisher, Director, Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool
Professor Glenn Burgess, Acting Vice-Chancellor, University of Hull
Claire McColgan, Director of Culture, Liverpool City Council
Dominic Gibbons, Managing Director, Wykeland Group
Katy Fuller, Executive Producer, Hull2017
This short summary provides brief insights into the discussion.
Our panellists obviously understand how culture can work, and all of you have been involved in that mixture of cultural partners and universities. I thought it was interesting when our panellists were talking about the next generation of creative thinkers – not just cultural practitioners but creative thinkers, and about the long-term understanding developed through the partnerships created through a major event.
Ian Tabbron, Arts Council senior manager in the north west, is a major supporter of partnerships with universities and the cultural sector, from the Arts Council: -.
Arts Council is supporting CFN because we believe that such partnerships are the way forward in terms of society and our cultural life. You talked about how you should have objectives and the associated challenge. I’m interested in how those partnerships can become longer term – looking to establish a vision or longer-term objectives – a shared approach to evaluation and advocacy – about governance. As Professor Burgess said, it’s not just about quantity, it’s about quality and legacy. In doing that there is a danger that the relationship solidifies and becomes less open to change and risk-taking. I was thinking about that when you mentioned the Sergeant Pepper programme, 20 Storeys High. It’s extraordinary work. We need compelling narrative about all of this, not just the numbers, if we want that longevity.
Liverpool, like most places in the country, is going through huge changes, along with devolution. Culture’s a part of our devolution deal. We’ve got a city mayor and a regional mayor, and because the city’s changed so much and our budgets are tight, I’m conscious it’s time to have more multi-sector shared ownership of cultural agenda. Liverpool John Moores and the University of Liverpool are now setting up a cultural partnership across the city region, which will provide strong strategic leadership in the cultural sector – stronger because the responsibility is shared. On the topic of Sergeant Pepper at 50, we did work with some of the most incredible international artists but we also have great organisations in the city – 20 Storeys High for example. They do incredible work with young people. They took She’s Leaving Home, which is the most beautiful song on the album, and worked with members of the community to create turned it into a moving show performed in peoples’ sitting rooms in Liverpool 8. That was one of 13 activities – including a contemporary dance piece. It worked for us as a partnership with the cultural sector, and it worked very well with health and wellbeing. I do think times are changing now and you need to have confidence – in my world the political environment’s changing daily, as is the local authority environment. There does need to be much more partnership across city governance and the public and private sectors.
Glenn, I’m very aware you were talking about legacy and the university’s cultural strategy being part of that. I’d like to hear your thinking on how the strategy works, because a lot of these partnerships do need support and leadership. I work for a very small organisation and for us to develop partnerships with universities we need the support of leaders within that can enable us to shape the ways in which our partnership might go forward in the long-term.
The first thing to say is we’re still thinking and learning – engaging with cultural organisations and wanting to learn from their experience. I think the short answer is that we’re very keen to build a cultural strategy that builds upon the objectives of both the university and the cultural sector around the City of Culture. It isn’t just about the obvious areas of the university – e.g. creative arts and humanities, it’s a strategy for how the whole university engages with communities and business, and is one of the leading ways in which the university will build a profile. The university shares City of Culture’s objectives around place-making and broader partnerships and how you perpetuate the benefits.
With reference to one other point that Ian made. One of the strong factors for success of Hull2017 so far is that the City of Culture company is independent, with the support of the city council to be creative – they help direct, but release rather than smother creative energy. How can you perpetuate that on an ongoing basis? A second point is the importance of narrative. One of the things the university is thinking about in the presentation of the evaluation is how we can be more creative in the way we present the numbers – how we can engage with the wider community in the construction and presentation of narratives.
It’s rare for our sectors to have somebody from business in our arena, and I was completely mesmerised by Dominic’s talk…
Sharon Gill (CEO, Rotherham ROAR):
Rotherham is not a large city, we don’t have much infrastructure. With reference to your points about how art could engage with business, one of them being be organised and ready – not words that I would often apply to artists or small organisations. There has been a lot of change in Rotherham recently and the buzz word is co-creation. How does a small cultural organisation approach a business with potential to invest in culture and then co-create something, rather than coming to you with a finished plan?
A good question. We work with many organisations – and some people approach us in the wrong way. Two or three years ago we agreed to support a very large organisation and we never received any feedback – we haven’t supported them since. I think one of the important things is that people make sure they understand what the business is – what it seeks to achieve – to consider potential common ground. For example when we’re developing a site we have a record of wanting to connect with local through the arts – we consider it an important part of the plan. In some cases we’re responding to encouragement from councils to support artists by providing space, and benefit from a reduction in corporation tax.
Re social responsibility and social justice, I’ve got to question the assumption that partnerships between business, culture and the university sector are of themselves virtuous. There are protests in London about communities and artists being pushed out as part of regeneration. I think we need to reflect on how we build social justice and social resilience into partnerships and conversations so that one partner is not dominant.
It may very well be a point about power. Some large arts organisations are not actually allowed proper co-production because they have money and they have status. some small organisations with brilliant ideas are not actually able to realise them. But things are changing. For example, London is protecting spaces for artists and empowering them to become more sustainable businesses within that difficult environment. In Manchester and Salford, the university and the city council have got a joint master-planning framework around the use of land and are making sure that culture is at the heart of the development master plan. There are also some artist-led projects in Salford and the development of land trusts to allow artists to have control of their futures rather than being at the mercy of property developers.
Re gentrification, Liverpool is an interesting example. Ten years ago Liverpool was on its knees. Now it’s one of the most respected quarters in the UK, and we’ve achieved this through social interest organisations. There are still challenges – areas improve, residents move in and then want the bars to shut down – the tensions that happen when you create a new community. When I worked in areas like Dingle in Liverpool, it was called regeneration. Now it’s called gentrification. It isn’t different, it’s just local people coming in and deciding how they want to live their life and what they want to do. Liverpool isn’t London, we’re not awash with developers wanting to run into the city. I think comparing anywhere to London is actually quite dangerous, especially for cities and places in the north that are desperate to have investment in regeneration.
My question comes back to legacy. I know that Hull received Creative People and Places funding due to a high level of deprivation/low engagement. Now the Capital of Culture has happened and engagement has increased, where would you put that money now? What’s the need? Where does it need to be best placed?
We spoke earlier about that catalyst moment, the City of Culture and the massive saturation of activity that’s happening this year which makes it difficult for people not to engage. In doing the first part of the Land of Green Ginger project, we literally took activity to people’s doorsteps. We had a horse and carriage going up the Preston Road area, delivering messages in bottles to people’s doorsteps that they’d been individually nominated to receive. So it made it incredibly easy for people to access. That doesn’t mean that they are immediately well engaged – it is a long journey. I think in many cases we have only scratched the surface. It is a big and not particularly well geographically connected city. One ambition is to get people moving around the city more, and seeing different places. There are a quarter of a million residents and we’re a long way to making sure that everybody’s having some cultural experiences. There is a lot of room for that money to still be invested, to build on existing work.
Hull is not as bad as the statistics on deprivation suggest – they are mostly referring to the inner city. Tis can be useful for fundraising, but unhelpful in other ways. In terms of where to spend the money I think
How important was profiling the local artists in the City of Culture bid compared with international collaborations?
Every element of the City of Culture is important because it’s the layers build to create a vibrant cultural offer. We always try to embed an external artist in the city in some way. They are required to tell us not only what they were going to do in terms of performance, but also what they were going to do in terms of residency, in terms of engaging with students or emerging and established local artists. We need to do a better job of telling those stories. I think that the balance between local and external is important. As Glenn said, some of the grass roots activity was completely oversubscribed. We would like to invest more in that area – involving communities and local artists. Relating back to the very first question about the broader longer-term vision, City of Culture is a small step in Hull’s plan for the future – the vision for the city and the bigger city plan – and it’s important to realise that within that is a whole host of initiatives for the next 10 or 20 years. We’re making a splash now, but embedded within that is thinking about how we make sure that that cultural infrastructure is sustainable over a long term. That’s all about local artists, about artists that want to come to the city and make this their home, the artists that are coming out of the university and want to stay and continue to work. It is an affordable and beautiful and inspiring place to live and work, which is now becoming more apparent.