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Liverpool Biennial time

Larry Neild on why this huge arts happening needs our support more than ever

Published on September 20th 2010.


Liverpool Biennial time

WITH passports and mosquito nets at the ready, the cream of London’s arts and culture media will be venturing  north of Watford this week on an expedition to the sticks.

It’s as important to Liverpool as two football clubs and a once-famous foursome.

In their sights will be the Liverpool Biennial, probably the most important event in the city’s every-other-year cultural calendar.

When it was last held in the city’s 08 year, Biennial events attracted just under a million visitors. This year’s programme could well smash through the million mark to set a new record.

Spanning 10 weeks, starting this weekend, the Biennial transforms the whole of Liverpool into a canvas, showcasing exciting contemporary arts from around the world.

The small team pulling the whole event together, the UK's largest event of its kind, are surviving on a diet of caffeine and enthusiasm; their mission – to deliver the best ever festival.

There will be features on all the high-brow radio and television shows, watched by people in socio-economic groups A and B, and maybe the odd C and possibly even an occasional wayward D or E types.

There will be pieces in the broadsheets, written by those intrepid art correspondents, eager to find out if meaningful art really does exist beyond the capital.

The thing I adore about the Biennial is its widespread appeal. Remember the glittering spider in Exchange Flags, the hotel around Victoria Monument, the controversial work by Yoko Ono?

London couldn’t organise such a festival, even if it wanted to. It makes me wonder whether, with better funding, it would become an annual event – the Liverpool Ennial. Hope the organisers don’t read that – it might give them a corporate breakdown.

More likely than becoming an annual event is my fear of the Biennial surviving the onslaught of cuts about to be unleashed on the art world.

There is already a growing debate about continuing funding for cultural happenings, and even murmurings of charges being re-introduced by Britain’s museums and galleries.

A recent report revealed the abolition of charges some years ago to enable more of us to be bathed with culture had, indeed, led to bigger attendances. But the freebie element had attracted more ‘posh’ people – the group most likely and willing to pay to get in. Attendances by the rest of the hoi polloi had not sky-rocketed.

Yet when I visit museums and galleries in Liverpool it’s clear they are great family attractions, the masses coming from everywhere, Calderstones, Croxteth, Woolton and Walton.

Having events organised and galleries staffed by volunteers (aka Cameron’s Big Society) is not the answer.

Events such as the Liverpool Biennial go well beyond that, and are desperately needed for a multitude of reasons – bringing quality and thought-provoking art to the masses, and also acting as a calling card to show this city can deliver an exciting world-class show.

So why am I concerned about the future? Look at the financial supporters of Biennial and your heart starts to sink: the doomed NWDA, the almost extinct European Regional Development Fund, Arts Council England, Liverpool City Council. Nuff said.

Yet Liverpool cannot begin to think the unthinkable. This week’s opening events must be a showcase for the 2012 Biennial, and not a swansong. It’s as important to Liverpool as two football clubs and a once-famous foursome. Good luck to the 2010 Biennial, and even better luck to the2012 Biennial.

Meanwhile check out what’s going on this year through this link here.

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7 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

AnonymousSeptember 13th 2010.

Did you hear Peter Price last night on Radio City asking his 'cultural' audience whether the Biennial was good value for money. Pleaseeeee Mr P, some of your listeners idea of Fiddler on the Roof involves lead flashing.

Culture Queen Legs 11September 13th 2010.

Odds on the new-look, undynamic Labour leadership at Liverpool will struggle to convince the backbenchers that Bingo is a Cultural Happening, so God help the Biennial. Put it this way, none of them look like staunch Opera fans.

CounselSeptember 13th 2010.

Mr. Price is a music-hall turn, M'lud.

HamSeptember 13th 2010.

Radio City? Is that still going? Is it still repeating the same handful of records between inane jabbering and very frequent earache jingles?

2012September 13th 2010.

Liverpool Biennial is one of the best things in, and to come out of Liverpool. It's brilliant and must survive the cuts. We should start working now to make sure 2012 happens.

KelSeptember 17th 2010.

Liverpool Biennial is on of the best things to come out of Liverpool.

Real LiverpudlianSeptember 21st 2010.

Unfortunately it is only for those privileged enough to live and work in the city centre. The rest of us can struggle to cope with broken parking ticket machines or just not bother going.

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