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How cities can make the most of culture

Headlines from Impacts 18

Last week, we attended the Impacts 18 conference. This two-day event presented the results of a decade-long study into the impact of cultural interventions upon Liverpool.

Liverpool’s commitment to culture is deep. It is a decade since Liverpool was European Capital of Culture, two decades since Liverpool Biennial began, and three decades since Tate Liverpool opened. From our evaluation of Liverpool Biennial to our development of a strategy to make the most of Liverpool’s UNESCO City of Music status, we are proud to be part of this journey.

Liverpool’s achievements are substantial. Dr Beatriz Garcia, Director at the Institute of Cultural Capital, presented research indicating that 90% of Liverpool residents agree that “over the last decade, Liverpool has become a more creative city”.

Experienced voices debated how culture could do more to deliver upon the ambitions of cities.

Our takeaways included:

  • Cities should have the courage to challenge negative perceptions, whether these are held by residents or external to the city. “Capital of Culture, you are having a laugh,” opposition fans used to chant at Everton and Liverpool matches. The city has, however, as Beatriz’s research shows, succeeded in shifting perceptions away from social problems and towards cultural vibrancy
  • This transformation has been assisted by Liverpool’s architectural heritage. Five buildings on the Albert Dock comprise the largest single collection of Grade I listed buildings anywhere in England. “Everywhere has a wonderful history of some kind or another”, Jude Kelly told the conference. Re-connecting with this heritage, including its more difficult parts, helps to sustain contemporary senses of place
  • Partnerships are important. Between artists and technologists (we heard about a dress made of graphene featuring at the Great Exhibition of the North – showcasing northern innovation in fashion and manufacture), between cultural organisations and sports clubs (we learnt about football-themed events, as part of Liverpool’s European Capital of Culture, attracting new audiences), and between a myriad of partners within successful creative placemaking (as Ann Markusen described in an illuminating presentation)
  • While Brexit was described as the conference’s elephant in the room, Maria Balshaw, noting that Liverpool is twinned with Shanghai, insisted that cultural exchange will be vital to the UK’s future, irrespective of our political arrangements. As austerity continues in the UK, another elephant, though less commented upon at the conference, is how the culture of our cities will be financed. We look forward to the Cultural Cities Enquiry proposing new solutions to this.

- Jonathan Todd, Chief Economist