An endless hangover Sunday: living in a city without arts

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FACT, Liverpool in Lockdown: Warren Millar

Visual art columnist Getintothis’ Laura Brown reflects on the experience of a city with its arts provision on pause. 

What’s a city for?

Let me rephrase that.

How is your relationship with your city changing?

We are pressing pause instead of stop, but it is a moment to consider where we find ourselves.

A month ago, my daily routine was blended with the comings and goings of Liverpool.

I walk into my desk at Static, across the Mystery and down Lawrence Road, through Crowne Street Park, past what was Myrtle Parade, cut through Hope Street so I can swing down Hope Place, wave hello to the Anglican Cathedral, shimmy past the plants outside the Grapes.

On almost every step of that walk there’s a reminder of the gigs, festivals, performances; the comings and goings that make up the cultural ritual of Liverpool. Posters, flyers, a billboard.

What’s happening and what’s on is part of our visual clutter on a daily basis.

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Sat at my desk, cup of coffee in hand, I open my inbox. There’s emails from artists, a note from a client, news about arts festival, an invitation to an exhibition opening, a reminder about a closing party.

My paper diary, and my digital one, are filled with reminders for work connected to more events. An announcement that would have gone out this Thursday, a catchup with that artists here, a deadline for that artwork there.

So much of my relationship with Liverpool is tied to what is happening, who is doing what.

Some of those reminders I’m crossing out because there’s too much of a pang when I remember them. Others I’m leaving, pencilled in in a brief but hurried flourish “don’t forget to call B to remind her you need that copy for now”. Me, four weeks ago, a lockdown ago.

What’s my relationship with Liverpool now? Without all that art, music, culture, is my city still my city?

This year, and I know how hokey this is going to sound, I made a resolution. I wanted to see and do more art that wasn’t mainly things I was working on.

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One of the things most wonderful when you work in the arts is that you see a lot of it. Spoken word, music, visual art, dance – I work with people who programme, commission and curate these things year in and year out.

Of course this is glorious. Of course it is. And what a gorgeous privilege it is as well. It is never one I take for granted.

But, I also have a hankering for art I haven’t been involved in. You need to see art and be surprised by it. Walking across the threshold and not knowing what to expect.

One of the true beauties of art is that it makes you see the ordinary and the everyday in a way you never expected.

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Discovery is a huge part of Liverpool for me.

I am endlessly fascinated by how artists see things. Whether artists who live down the road or on the other side of the world.

I love it when I see something and it makes me realise you could have left me in a room for a month and I never would have thought of it in that way.

Art is like the language of our brains, reminding us how differently we’re all wired.

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People are weird and alien to all of us, and the art they create reflects that. But there’s also the bits that tie us all together. The flashes of recognition.

All the late nights, the stress (artists are wonderful but they’re not immune to a little drama), the funding applications, it is all worth it when you see that moment, that rush of the familiar unexpected.

Art is a roadmap that punctures my every day, week to week, month to month.

And now it’s stopped. Or slowed to a trickle at least.

The thing I’m finding hardest is having nothing to discover. I’m not really that interested in only having my own voice to listen to and my own list of references to reflect on. I’m not only bored of my own brain I’m actually not that interested in it. I need to see things through different eyes.

After 14 years working in the arts this is how I’m used to medicating myself. I know when I want to be in with a music crowd, or with an exhibition crowd. I know when I’ve got an opening where I’ll see familiar places, and when I’ll be somewhere where I don’t know anyone.

I miss that, that rhythm of the city that helps me to deal with the other bits. It’s the language I speak and the one I understand best. And the local. Gosh, I miss the Liverpool voice.

The national institutions are all well and good, and it’s marvellous to see shows being put online which should have been free online the minute their runs ended. But God, doesn’t it feel like it’s the establishment feeding you crumbs from the top table?

And of course my home is here. My family is here. But my world feels so much smaller, and not merely physically.

Liverpool always prides itself on being a city that’s tuned into the world, but it doesn’t feel it right now. It feels like the party’s retreated indoors.

The hangover Sunday to match all hangover Sundays, but over days, weeks, months.

Art is still there, it isn’t going anywhere.

The hope left in the box is that it will come back.

And after this initial shock has receded, we’ll see more of it from more local spaces, places and voices.

And make sure you drop us an invite, yeah?

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