Article – Liverpool Wins the Capital of Culture

Another Capital of Culture Article

(originally published 1/7/03 in Inform Magazine)

Tessa Jowell looked as surprised as anyone when she announced that Liverpool had won the City of Culture. So is it good news or bad? it’s going to be far from perfect, but perhaps this may be a truly great thing.

Liverpool has often reminded me of a run down stately home occupied by an incompetent family. A once glorious past subsumed by decay and its idiotic occupiers, forever trying to come up with some easy scheme to improve their fortunes – selling the silver, garden fetes, snagging the tourists – when the problems often run much deeper.

Like the servants of stately homes, the population of Liverpool have been deserting their posts. There just isn’t the money to keep them here and any kind of loyalty can only stretch so far before practicalities win out. The population of Liverpool has been steadily shrinking and the only people willing to fill these gaps are immigrants and students, both of whom are unwilling to move away from the increasingly crowded city centre. In a city with 16,000 empty houses slowly falling to ruin, it seems bizarre that so many new – and expensive – apartments are being built in the centre of the city. Odder still that people want to live near noisy nightclubs with people urinating on their doorways.

So are we a City of Culture? Undoubtedly. Oh I’m not talking about our ugly/beautiful buildings or the gravedigging reliance on past glories such as the Beatles. I’m not even talking about the usual media crowd who were celebrating down at the Pier Head when Liverpool was made Capital of Culture; your Dodds, Tomlinsons and Blacks. They’re all of the past, just like the drink-addled Lord of the Manor who doesn’t understand that his stately home is falling about his ears.

I’m glad we won, even if it did come as much as a surprise to me as most people – Tessa Jowell included. If nothing else, it’s a relief that we didn’t spend all that money on the bid for nothing. And it can’t be denied that Liverpool has enjoyed a huge cultural rennaisance in anticipation of the Capital of Culture year. But has this actually regenerated the city? No city can possibly be a city if people don’t actually want to live here, but maybe all this culture is helping in this regard. Perhaps it will do the job of regeneration.

Resent the ever-increasing student population if you will but it’s mostly down to them that our culture is so vibrant at the moment. It is they that are organising and going to the gigs and comedy clubs, it is they that go to the FACT Centre and it is they who fill up the cafés and bars, both as punters and as staff. And they have recently showed a reluctance to return to their homes when term is finished. Many clubs are considerably surprised that they are still doing decent business over the normally lean summer months.

And resent the immigration population even more (as people unfortunately tend to do), but they too are injecting a terrific cultural vibrancy to the city, as this month’s huge Liverpool Arabic Arts Festival attests. But even something like the Biennial has encouraged many Europeans that Liverpool really is something they want to get involved in. A lot of arts organisations have benefited from foreign involvement lately.

So maybe 2008 will not just be a year-long garden fete. It may be the time when we stretch out from the city centre and reclaim those empty houses. Us servants of the city will have money in our pockets and a new sense of pride, not in a city of Beatles and rubbish comedians, but of somewhere we want to be.


About klausjoynson
I'm a writer, editor, musician, DJ and cartoonist. Contact me at: klausjoynson(at) or follow me on Twitter: @KlausJoynson

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