Spilling from the second floor lift in The Museum of Liverpool, we are confronted with guys in hardhats still working away, easily outnumbering the wind-swept assorted members of the media.While still catching our breath, our hearts sink at the stark emptiness (once that is, you get over the magnificent, swirling atrium), in what feels a huge vacuum of a space. Oh no, we think, they haven’t pulled this off. And our minds turn to a fear in the form of one word: Urbis.
For those (blissfully) unaware, Urbis was an ambitious project in Manchester, which became something of a white elephant (due to re-open later this year as The National Football Museum).
Happily, on entering The People’s Republic gallery, our fear is clearly premature; little space is left redundant, in what is part urban history, part celebration of the city and its people. A wonderfully imposing scale Liver Bird gazes out through the window at its ancestors atop the Liver Building, and opposite, an architect’s model mirrors the view. A little further away, a six-panel glass ‘map’ of Liverpool (by Inge Paneels and Jeffrey Sarmiento) depicts the city utilising culture and history rather than geography – would we want it any other way?
Moving onto the Wondrous Place gallery, we’re struck by the feast for the senses it represents. This gallery, focussing on pop-culture, could easily have relied on the twin pulling power of The Beatles and of the city’s footballing powers, and in doing so, would have fallen short. Of course they feature, how could they not?
But as impressive as the large statement pieces are, it is in the minutiae and honesty that the museum really comes into its own; vox-pops from residents, quotes through the ages (often, painfully honest ones) and ephemera such as the original copy of EFC fanzine When Skies Are Grey.
Speaking to Paul Gallagher, gallery coordinator, we are given a hint of where this honesty originates; a son of Bootle, Paul explained how they wanted the gallery to convey not just the city’s many high-points, but to reflect “the warmth, humour and integrity of the place, we wanted it to reveal the soul and personality of Liverpool.”
The sentiment is prominent in a strong, immersive film (we take our seats in a screening room decked out like a stadium) entitled Kicking and Screaming: Are you Red or are you Blue? A poignant docu-drama of sorts, told through the eyes of lads on opposite sides of the red and blue divide, it traces the inception of the two clubs, and brings us up to the present day. Footage of fans, players and key figures like Dixie Dean, Shankley, Kendall and Dalglish are used successfully in combination. The piece deals with the Heysel and Hillsborough disasters sensitively, though more time might have been given over to the catharsis of an FA Cup Final shared by the clubs in the aftermath of that fateful afternoon in Sheffield.
But we’re being churlish here; this unveiling comes not only as a relief, but is a great success. As such, it should be regarded with pride, capable of delivering to visitors a sense of the region beyond the usual perceptions and cliché. Above all, what the museum does so well is remind us that we inhabit a rich, varied and forgive me, a wondrous place.