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Measuring cultural impact of Northern cities

Picture: Looking North from The Museum of Liverpool (Ant Clausen) to Liverpool Waters

At RIBA North last week we looked at how Brexit might affect the future of culture and tourism in the wider North. Our panel of cultural leaders was asked how cultural impact can be measured - for cities, communities and individuals.- and also how museums are embracing digital strategies to widen audiences in Liverpool and beyond.

Director of Culture Liverpool, Claire McColgan, who organised the successful 2008 European Capital of Culture bid, described the energy and determination in Liverpool behind the ongoing cultural offer:

'We invest more in our cultural organisations than any other city in the country, because if we don't have a creative city, we are just managing decline - in the face of austerity. Dr Beatriz Garcia's 'Impacts 18 European Capital of Culture Legacies 10 years on' research around the economic and social impact on Liverpool, found that community participation in Everton had gone up by 500%. Confidence is much harder to assess, but you can feel the generational change.'

Shelagh McNerney, who is on the board of trustees at The Lowry in Salford then asked about the link with the private sector: how do you garner the cultural story to attract private money in, or does that present problems?

Helen Legg, Director of Tate Liverpool replied: 'It's critical that we allocate space to culture for the long term. Development can squeeze artists out of cities, as it has done, partly, in Bristol.'

Claire added: 'In Liverpool, the city has gone on a huge journey, before 2008 confidence was low. Winning the Bid brought the city together. We engaged communities from the start. It gave the city confidence - Capital of Culture was a real moment, but these awards are not prizes but scholarships, Liverpool has huge ambition but the challenge for UK cities is creating a united front to the world...with the cruise liners coming in people talk about Liverpool differently now, and we attract all sorts of people, students, businesses and tourists. There is a buzz on the streets now.'

Claire was also asked 'Can you overdose on festivals?

' No', she said 'because tourists are changing. But the key challenge for cities bidding for cultural prizes, is how do you continue to stand out with your story when every other city is fighting for attention? Culture is only a silver bullet if you have the infrastructure, the political will, the talent and the organisation. Otherwise you only have fizz and that does not last.'

Picture: The Royal Albert Dock (housing Tate Liverpool) looking North to RIBA North HQ, the Three Graces and the new Museum of Liverpool

Sue Grindrod, Chief Executive of the Royal Albert Dock, furthered the debate by saying that you can never take any cultural project for granted, but in this day as in the past, you need to keep evolving:

'When the Dock was regenerated in the 1980's it was the only show in town, as there was no Liverpool One, no Arena and conference centre, and no Museum of Liverpool on the waterfront. In 2016 the new owners, Aberdeen Asset Management and the Royal Albert Dock Company, commissioned a report by the Heseltine Institute to get some 360 degree feedback on how we were viewed. This was a bit of a wake-up call. We were relying in 2016 on the Tate etc to drive audiences. We have a complex stakeholder group but we used the 175th Anniversary as a hook and to reflect heritage and develop a vision on how we could be part of the economic future of the city. We have got more competition but it's not just about one place, the connectivity and spatial strategies are very important. It's fantastic what is happening with Peel Group and Everton FC further along the waterfront but If we don't know how we will connect up in future, we may all end up being silo'd.'

Helen Legg of Tate Liverpool commented:

'I am really fascinated by the idea of 'withdrawing', what are our connections with the rest of the world now, how do we think that through with works of art? We have to stand partly on our own two feet, so we have to think about audiences differently from Tate in London. We have to more entrepreneurial which is crucial in regeneration, as culture can be a catalyst in this. People use museums for much more social uses, to drink coffee, to meet friends. We need to think about this in how we evolve Tate Liverpool.'

Janet Dugdale, Director of National Museums Liverpool then talked about the growth of digital as a tool and the reach worldwide:

'We welcome 3.3 million visitors a year to our eight museums. We are funded directly by central government, unusually for a regional city. From the first enclosed wet dock in the world...we can now extend our reach with digital...our slavery museum has had more than 4 million visitors and many digital visitors are American and of school age. Our Terracotta Warriors exhibition had a impact on the wider region of £78 million.

We are continuing to discuss these important themes as our April 'Art and Cities' forum at the Goldsmiths' Hall, in the City of London.

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