Art in Liverpool Magazine, issue #14: April 2019 editorial

Arthur Jafa, Love is the Message, The Message is Death 2016. Courtesy the artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York/Rome.

Since 2008, Liverpool has been so palpably linked with Europe, leading by example for cities hoping to put the arts and culture at the top of their list of merits. I don’t think we reflected enough last year on the importance of that.

At the time of writing this, we’re four days from the date set for the UK to leave the EU. That date has been scrubbed from history, and the departure date appears to be moving ever further into the future, but the fact remains that, as it stands, we are leaving the European Union.

Forget for a moment what that will mean for the UK, and instead focus on what it will mean for Liverpool, and more specifically, our creative industry. We’re a region built on migration, and the representation of that migration, with boroughs that have utterly unique cultures in themselves. This month alone, there are three major new exhibitions featuring the work of internationally respected artists coming to Merseyside, with May showing off what the diverse residents of the city have to show when festival season gets well and truly under way.

My question then, if it holds up, is whether Liverpool has done enough to maintain its place in the continent of Europe to last as a cultural power, beyond its place in the political community.

An important part of understanding that is taking stock of everything we actually have to offer. Importantly, while it’s easy to sit back and feel hard done by that we’re losing our political neighbours, you must also think of the strength of migration more widely.

Liverpool has the largest festival of African arts in the UK, with Africa Oye; we host Milapfest, whose national Indian Arts Awards close for nominations later this month; Liverpool Arab Arts Festival fills the summer streets with a powerful pride; Pagoda is one of the most stable Chinese Arts centres in the UK, working on international projects with local people; and countless other incredible organisations representing the world on our doorstep.

In fact, April is probably going to be a pretty calming month in that respect, reassuring us that talent will still come to our shores, and the unique draw of the world class galleries in Liverpool will continue bringing the best artists in the world to this region.

This month, FACT open the first exhibition of their 2019 programme entirely made of women artists. Ericka Beckman and Mariana Sminett is a celebration of film from two ends of the artist filmmaker community, with Beckman’s work internationally recognisable and Simnett touted as an emerging talent in the same field. While down the road at Tate Liverpool, Arthur Jafa’s film Love is The Message, The Message is Death, ever growing in its reputation brings the story of modern African American history to Liverpool.

And Bluecoat launches Survey, a twelve year review of the Jerwood Visual Arts Prize, and an exhibition that shows predominantly UK based talent, later this month too, to kick off a summer of programming at the gallery that promises to show the sorts of talent Liverpool can attract.

So no, I don’t think Liverpool is going to fundamentally change after Brexit, when/if it happens, and I don’t think our lives will drastically suffer, because Liverpool will continue to fly the flag of international culture, and carry on leading the way as the UKs last European Capital of Culture, inspiring the UK Capital of Culture, and Boroughs of Culture, and towns and cities that don’t feel the need for titles, but welcome artistic endeavour from around the globe to add to the UKs own voice.

In short, whatever happens, Liverpool will still be a European Capital of Culture, eleven years past the use by date of that title, and we will continue to welcome and support voices from all over the world here. It’s who we are.