If anything epitomised this city’s rich DIY ethos, it’s Ian and Minako Jackson’s Art In Liverpool. Started as a way to document Ian’s responses to the 2004 Biennial (still our favourite Biennial. I mean, come on, the ABBA House!), the site grew into the listings, support and news behemoth so beloved of artists and art lovers across the city, and country. Its growth mirroring the city’s resurgent, and newly confident art scene itself, and its yearly Art Prize a lasting testament to their vision.
Wherever two or more people gathered together in the name of a new exhibition – from a blockbuster at the Tate, to a tree rubbing class at Royden Park – you could be sure of one thing. Minako would be there, snapping away, Ian quietly surveying the scene.
It’s easy to run a website (well, easy-ish). It’s a lot more difficult to go out, shake hands, spare the time to meet, support and inspire emerging local talent, day in day out. They did it all without fuss, favour or fanfare. They did it for art, not money. And we salute them.
In the wake of their announcement, last week, to rein back the site’s activities, we spoke to the site’s indefatigable owners, Ian and Minako Jackson in the Bluecoat.
Yes, very proud and happy to have done our bit to help promote Liverpool art and artists. We are really proud to have set up the Liverpool Art Prize which we will continue to support as it prospers in the capable hands of the people at Metal. Also the various iterations of the Liverpool Art Map, we have tried to combine good design with accurate information.
It must have taken up a lot of your time? What have you learned along the way?
It has taken up most of our time, nearly all day – every day in some way or other but that was not a problem as we enjoy it. We’ve learned that as well as online presence, attending events and meeting artists and gallerists is important to have face-to-face communication. Fortunately artists generally are really nice people and they are inspiring, we feel more at home in the artworld than anywhere else.
How much of the site’s development was planned, and how much was just organic evolution?
Mostly organic. As the open-source blogging and CMS software improved it was easier to add new functions. There are so many ideas but they’re not all possible to realise with limited resources. Some things we tried didn’t last, like the Forum – I’m not keen on forums, they encourage moaners and spammers so after a year or so we replaced with the classifieds section which we have more control over.
What have been your artistic highlights over the past seven years?
Ian – The non-stop 2008 culture party, we only got out of the city for two days (a weekend in Llandudno!) The first Liverpool Art Prize, they’ve all been great but the first is special and was the first event in the CUC.
Minako – Capital of Culture year 2008 and Liverpool Art Prize are also my highlights. Plus working behind the scenes with Jump Ship Rat for ‘Pop Up’ exhibitions featuring three Japanese artists in 2008 Biennial and Sachiko Abe at A Foundation during the 2010 Biennial are both memorable experiences.
Why have you decided to rein back the Art In Liverpool site?
Although we’ve enjoyed the past seven years and have no regrets at all, it leaves very little time available to do anything else and we do have lots of other interests. We feel that now is the best time to step back and enjoy other things or try new things too.
Seven years is a long time in the art world – how do you think the city has evolved in that time?
It hasn’t felt like a long time, there’s always so much going on – as soon as one Biennial ends we seem to be talking about the next one.
Compared with 2004, there seem to be more and more dialogue and collaboration between galleries and artists going on, that generates a sense of an ‘artistic community’ to build astronger Liverpool art scene all together. We believe that the city certainly has gained more recognition as a place for art in the past decade.
The city itself has changed a lot of course, I really like Liverpool ONE and the way it leads you down to the waterfront with the Albert dock sandwiched between the Arena and the rejuvenated Pier Head area. The new Museum of Liverpool is brilliant and is playing a key role in attracting people to the waterfront which should help Open Eye, the Maritime Museum and the Tate. I think since 2008 the city has become more comfortable in its role as a cultural destination. The Biennial is firmly established as one of the big events in the International art world and the council seem to be able to stage big events and festivals which are popular and free with minimal fuss.
It’s a longer time in the online world – I guess you’ve seen many changes since you set up Art In Liverpool? What have you noticed, particularly?
The internet has changed a lot over the seven years. When I started there were not many blogs and very few about art. Now it’s easier for artists and galleries to do their own websites and use facebook, twitter etc. to publicise their events.
There’s a lot of websites out there at the moment – a good thing? Do you think the city’s a better place for them – do they fulfil a valuable role?
The way my brain works I see everything as one massive database. Ideally every artist and organisation would have their own website which they keep up to date – that is the definitive source of current information. That can then be fed out to social media, blogs and portals such as Artinliverpool to make it easier for people to find the info in one place. Sadly, we’re not that organised. Maybe a tidy up is required, there have been too many half-hearted attempts at creating listings website – quite a few sprang up in 2008 (I wonder why) and are still hanging around.
This year has seen the closing of quite a few chapters in the city’s art story – do you sense a shifting of something? The turning over of a new leaf? Are you positive about the next chapter?
Yes, Yes and Yes (if the right choices are made – that’s a big if)
What concerns you?
We realise that our cutting back may leave a gap and make it more difficult for people to find and publicise art information and opportunities but we are hopeful that somebody will take over where we have left off before too long. After all, as art-lovers, we’ll need the up-to-date listings for ourselves!
What will happen to the Art Prize?
We hope to continue to work with Metal who are now the main driving force and they’re doing a brilliant job. We will still look after the art prize website and promote the prize as much as we can. We think that it will continue to grow even as we step further back.
What’s next for you?
We really have no big plans. We’ll relax, take more holidays, pursue other interests and see what happens. Of course art will continue to be our keen interest so we will be popping up in places too. Maybe artinliverpool will quickly disappear from the scene completely or we may come up with some new thing, you never know…
Pic: Sam Bytheway