A cultural experience shared is a cultural experience made exponentially richer. We feel sure they’ve done studies on this sort of thing. But it’s blindingly obvious, really, isn’t it? Catch a soul stirring production – a great play at the Playhouse, a strident concert at the Phil – with a group of fellow cultural travellers (or, if you’re really desperate, your friends) and you’re not merely spectators, but semiconductors, transmitting that elusive charge of electricity you only get when you witness something truly special. Together.

See it alone and, well, who’s gonna believe you went, anyway?

For culturepool devotees though, the experience is richer even than a jump from DVD to Blu-ray. For them, it’s the equivalent of getting a director’s commentary and a secret bunch of additional extras too.

Set up five years ago by Vinny and Luan Lawrenson-Woods, culturepool’s mission was – and remains – a simple one: to enable us all to engage, and explore, the city’s dizzying cultural landscape. And, by doing so within a shared, mutually inquisitive network, supercharge our experience, and – in the words of high priestess Kate Bush herself – strive towards a deeper understanding.

…Oh, and as they usually hold debriefs, artists’ talks and discussions in the pub afterwards, have a bloody good time in the process.

This weekend, for their fifth birthday celebrations, culturepool will be rolling up their plaid sleeves, zipping up their boots and going back to their (grass) roots at the Above The Beaten Track goes Honky Tonk festival at the Bluecoat.

They’ll be introducing the ‘Honky in the Hay’ game, with prizes donated by local businesses and arts organisations. And they’ll be hosting the garden stage from 1pm to 4pm: Singer/songwriter/poet and culturepool birthday troubadour Tom George kicks us off the set, followed by Andy Steele, then Kaya and a preview of new band The Science of the Lamps, finishing with The Trestles.

Ahead of their big day, we spoke to culturepool’s Vinny (Honky Tonk handle Murphy ‘The Keys’ Louisville, and Luan (Seymour ‘The Whistle’ Louisinna).

You must be proud of what you’ve achieved with culturepool – has it developed the way you’d always planned?

The aim of culturepool has always been to try and engage people in art and cultural events that they might not usually go to, and we’ve been hugely successful in getting people to try new things and introducing them to new venues, artists or performers. Over the last five years we’ve organised nearly 90 events and created an environment that people feel comfortable to come to along to on their own, and one where they feel that their opinion is valid. So, yeah, I guess there are things to be proud about , especially as we run culturepool on a part-time voluntary basis.

Are we doing enough to support ground-up projects like this? Have you been encouraged by the response?

Many people are massively supportive of our work and our ethos which has enabled us to develop culturepool into what it is today, in particular Metal and LCVS. We aim to host around two events a month which, taking into consideration the number of venues and events hosted in the city, means that we can’t do every venue every year.

Events also need to fit in with the rest of our schedule so that we’re not purely hosting contemporary art events, for example. We see ourselves as introducers: we introduce culturepool members to venues, artists, performers or organisations who then need to pick up the mantle and create and maintain a relationship with this new potential audience outside of culturepool.

With regards to support via funding, this can be difficult for an organisation like ourselves. Many funders will provide money for “stuff” but not “staff”. We, of course, need resources like a website and leaflets but the type of engagement work that’s needed to truly engage those who wouldn’t ordinarily choose to do something cultural is labour intensive. It needs people talking to people, and we plan to do something more personal with culturepool @ Metal.

How important do you think initiatives like yours are to the cultural life/wider engagement of the city?

What culturepool does is important in the wider cultural engagement in the city. Our personal approach means the people who come along know that there’s a familiar face to greet them and are confident that the event has been chosen on merit. Organisations may have an education or marketing department but we think that we offer something that can compliment these other approaches.

What events stand out over the past five years?

Seymour: Building on What We’ve Got at the Walker Gallery with local artist Robyn Woolston stands out as it epitomised culturepool’s belief that there’s lots on offer in the city already. Some of the group had never been to the gallery before whilst some hadn’t been to there for more than 30 years! We were introduced (or re-introduced) to the permanent exhibition and creatively responded to what we’d seen: we both experienced and created art. It was very special.

Murphy: Korean theatre company Cho In visited Metal in 2008 and culturepool attended a performance of The Angel and the Woodcutter in the station’s theatre space. Cho In usually perform to crowds of thousands but due to the capacity of the theatre we were an audience of 30. I’ve never had another theatre experience like it, it was just magical. Beating Berlusconi at St Georges and Vasily Petrenko at The Philharmonic are also up there too. I could go on and on.

What are your plans for the next half decade?

We’ll be launching our autumn schedule of events at the birthday party as well as our new initiative, culturepool @ Metal, which we’re very excited about, and which will see us commit to hosting events at the majority of exhibitions at Edge Hill. We’d also like to get the volunteer programme off the ground but we do keep talking about it but never seem to get the chance to do it, so we’ll see – we might need a volunteer to help us get together the volunteers!

culturepool
*See the website, facebook and twitter for details how to create your own Honky Tonk Mon-iker