There are two words that make me reach for my prescription drugs. One is ‘bump’ (when used as a cutesy name for a foetus), and the other is parochial (when used as a knee jerk criticism against anyone outside Islington).

It was used against me the other day. I’d rounded up 12 years of Biennial reviews from Adrian Searle and, through the years a pattern emerged: that Searle hasn’t been a fan of our Biennial’s themes. So I rounded up seven stupid themes for his perusal.

It wasn’t much of a piece, but it did offer up evidence that Searle’s had his own theme for over a decade too. To be honest, Searle’s disappointment with much of the Biennial is a position many will share – me too.

But that’s the beauty of our Biennial. It demands debate. It encourages discourse. It divides and occasionally conquers. That’s the point of sites like SevenStreets too.

My Surly Searle necklace of negativity received a smattering of comments that challenged me. Which is ace. I love a challenge. But one simply said I had a ‘small town mindset’ and that I was being ‘parochial’.

I’m assuming that it wasn’t meant as a compliment. But I’m spinning it around to make it one.

The implication is that should a ‘small town’ (Liverpool’s one of the UK’s biggest cities, but ok) disagree with metropolitan thinking there is no other motive than toys-out-of-pram provinciality. That cultural localists don’t have a mandate to disagree with those from a city with more money, more media and more Twitter followers.

I would willingly, passionately defend the claims of parochialism against the disproportionate demands of cosmopolitanism any day. I’d say it was our duty – especially as Jeremey Hunt’s already mooted a two yearly Biennial possibly in London, as a legacy for the Olympics.

The idea that local attachments and a territorial sense of belonging leads to cultural atrophy flies in the face of every cultural flowering since cave painters slapped ochre on the walls.

Parochialism gave us the Blues. Gave us Jazz. Gave us Bauhaus and Grunge. The virtues of parochialism are the soup out of which great art emerges and, inevitably, flows towards the big city. Follow Searle upstream and you always get to the source.

And there is, ironically, no more parochial place than London. That our ‘national’ papers’ art coverage is 9/10th based within the inner ring road (I’m sure it has a name, but I’m small-town enough not to know it), speaks more about the lazy nature of London-centric journalists than the true map of creativity in the UK.

Look up parochial in the dictionary: its meaning is, broadly ‘narrowly restricted in scope or outlook. Provincial.’

That’s the opposite of what you’d want from a national paper. But, I’d argue, it’s exactly what you’d expect from an independent local culture website. Parochiality defines us. Our cultural background is our context. A homogenised identity of a global cultural consumer can only ever lead to Final Destination 5 and, for that matter, Maroon 5.

To impose some implanted set of universal values can only lead to a deplorable loss of cultural diversity.

In other words, let us argue. But not against a backdrop of geographical hierarchy. If you agree or disagree about a Guardian art critic, let’s hear it. Don’t build a brick wall of belligerence and automatically shout ‘small town’.

Humans have evolved to care for things closest to them. SevenStreets will proudly continue the cultural localist tradition with honest and passionate reflection. And, hey, if you’ve read us, you’ll know that some of our features make Searle look like he’s working for Joe Anderson.

So thanks for calling us parochial. It’s the best compliment we’ve ever had. Good things come out of very small spaces.

7 Responses to “Proud to be Parochial”

  1. I’m afraid you couldn’t be further from the truth. Jazz and Blues, for example, are clearly cosmopolitan products, arising from a cross-fertilisation of cultures. Liverpool is arguably a cosmopolitan city, whose culture has been influenced throughout history by a myriad of ethnicities, and the Liverpool Biennial is not solely made up of artists from Liverpool anyway.

  2. Anyone who has watched bbc 2’s Culture Show knows that there’s a belief in London that no relevant or insightful art can be produced outside inner London. The subtext being that anyone who is serious about art should based in London so lazy asthetes don’t have to travel. We should stop worrying about what metropolitan reviewers think and embrace our own destiny.

  3. The Liverpool Biennial has established itself as one of the most anticipated and interesting festivals of its kind. I was talking to a pal only yesterday who works at one of London’s best galleries (South London Gallery – really is an interesting space if you ever find yourself in Peckham) and she was saying how keen she was to get up to Liverpool to see this year’s offering. There are plenty more like her believe me, professional and non professional. I’m already on the case organising an excursion for a group of mates who want to spend a weekend in Liverpool enjoying what the Biennial has to offer as well as the city. Ok I admit, I am an exiled Liverpudlian and I love coming home, but the point I’m making here is that I do think Liverpool is recognised as a serious cultural destination and the Biennial has contributed to that. Not everyone is like Mr Searle.

  4. No, JD, I think you’re totally missing my point. I’m not arguing about cultures, my argument is about place. The blues is a product of movement and flow – of Hebridean gospels, and American/African worksongs. It is not a product of a big city, but of the parishes and fields. Hence the very definition of parochial.

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