The A Foundation, one of the city’s cultural cornerstones, has closed down. SevenStreets was unable to contact the organisation today, but understands that lack of funding has meant that this Baltic Triangle art gallery/performance space and cultural catalyst has wound up its board of directors, and led to the permanent closure of its Liverpool operation.

The Foundation, set up with funding from James Moores (who also seeded the Biennial) ran its huge spaces (The Coachshed, Blade Factory, Furnace) with a programme that was dynamic, challenging and exciting,  bringing New Contemporaries, Biennial exhibitions, Art book fairs, debates and conferences through its doors. It was, without doubt, one of the city’s most exciting cultural zones.

Its loss is a major blow for the area, the city, and the cultural ‘legacy’ we were promised in the wake of 2008.

With Walk the Plank gone, the National Conservation Centre closing, John Moores University cancelling its Fine Art courses, Turning the Place Over closed and now the closure of the A Foundation, is it time to ask the inevitable question: Legacy? What legacy?

We have pavilions in Shanghai that, apparently, people queued around the block to see (not that they were, in any way, shipped in by the Chinese government. They don’t do things like that), and we have an embassy in London. But, we wonder, what of the drive to build a lasting cultural economy? Surely the suits can’t be left in charge of this, too? At least we have our Culture Company…re-branded Culture Liverpool to keep the flame alive after 2008. So, maybe we should call them first to ask how our legacy is shaping up….

SevenStreets makes a phone call. We check the Culture Liverpool number. Oh, that’s easy to remember, it’s 233 2008…

“Hello, can we speak to Culture Liverpool, please?”

“Sorry, they kind of disbanded…”

Oh. Seems it’s not just the telephone number that seems out of time…

We know that the world’s a different place since 2008. But, according to Phil Redmond, at least some of the Culture Company’s £105 million budget was ring-fenced for the years ahead: “We’re looking to the future now. We always wanted 2008 to be the springboard to more,” he said at the closing party.

Well, Phil, the future is now…

Over the next few days, we’re asking a cross section of cultural organisations to give their state of the nation address. Do they believe the city is stronger, culturally, post 2008? Two years down the line, what lasting impression has it had? And, because of its effects, are we in a stronger position to survive the inevitable cuts that are headed our way when the Council announces its budget this Thursday? Because, presumably, that was the point, wasn’t it? It wasn’t just a party and PR exercise, was it?

We’d like to hear from you, too. Please get in touch at info@sevenstreets.com, or leave a comment below. Liverpool’s bullish cultural community has always survived in spite of everything. But we get the feeling now’s the time to step up the fight.

The View From The Biennial

First in our series, Biennial Director Lewis Biggs gives his verdict on Liverpool’s Cultural Legacy:

“Yes, to my mind, Liverpool is hugely stronger in its culture post 08 than before.

Of course, that is not just about 2008, it’s about all the work that has gone into cultural activity since the low point of the mid 1980s: the Tate, VideoPositive, VisionFest, New Contemporaries showing biennially in Liverpool since 1997, Brouhaha, Africa Oye and Liverpool Biennial since 1999…

All of these happened in the 1990s and quite a few of them were supported by James Moores. Without all this work in the 1990s, undertaken in a city that did not prioritise culture, Liverpool would not have been able to think about bidding for the title of European Capital of Culture. It was Mike Storey and David Henshaw’s insight that Liverpool could run on the culture ticket, to make it more of a priority, and that did help the culture sector to grow in the last decade – FACT building, new Bluecoat, and now eventually new Museum and new Everyman.

Sir Bob Scott’s mantra (that the title was ‘not a prize but a scholarship’) was important to galvanise the city into facing up to the reality of the situation: that few people in Liverpool, and almost no-one outside Liverpool, were aware of the cultural riches on offer.

So – the difference made by 2008 (and the physical change in the city resulting from Grosvenor in Liverpool One and from 20 years of investment by Objective One) was that it was a turning point as regards the perception of Liverpool, inside and out. That perception – as a city worth visiting, with a quality of life worth staying for – has survived the end of 2008, and will continue to survive despite the current very real difficulties (such as organisations like Afoundation disappearing). That perception is as much of an asset to small organisations as to large ones. It marks the end of the talent drain away from Liverpool.

I believe Liverpool Council do actually believe that culture is in the blood stream of the city and can’t be discounted if anything worthwhile is to be got done. While up until 2008 many of the senior Council Officers did not actually live in Liverpool (so what kind of commitment did they have to making the city a better place?), my guess is that it will now become more normal for these postholders to live in the city for which they are responsible. The way that the PCT is involved with the city, the way the Universities have become more involved with the city, the way City Council officers have become ‘open’ to discussion with other employers in the city, all this is frankly new – it wasn’t there before 2008. All these things matter. And they are a part of the city’s ‘culture’ for which 2008 was a turning point.”

A Response from A Foundation’s Mark Waugh

Dear All

Thanks for the support. A Foundation will miss Liverpool.

  1. Here is the press release which confirms the closure of A Foundation on 10th February 2011.

    A Foundation is “not sustainable in either the long or the short term.” This was the judgement made by Arts Council England rejecting an application towards 33% of our costs in Liverpool for 2010 – 2011. Therefore A Foundation is closing.

    Some highlights since 2006 have been: Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2010, Liverpool Biennial 2010 Touched – Sachiko Abe and Antti Laitinen, Live in Translation – Tatsumi Orimoto, Following Bauhaus – Artur Zmijewski Hearts and Minds – Jon Fawcett, The Economy of the Gift – Eric Bainbridge, Brass Art, Geta Bratescu, Elodie Pong, Jacob Dahlgren, Mark Harasimowicz, Rebecca Lennon and Shaun O’ Dell, A Curriculum – Florian Bielefeldt, Noel Cluit, Przemek Dzienis, Myles Painter, Hannah Perry, Philip Root, Elizabeth Skadden, Emily Speed, A World Rattled of Habit – Ben Rivers, Haroon Mirza, Daniel Pasteiner, Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2008, Communication and Association – Artists Anonymous, Far West Metro, Fantasty Studio – Project, Kyungwoo Chun, Yeondoo Jung, Young In Hong, Yongbaek Lee, Junebum Park, Sookyung Yee and Hyun-Mi Yoo, Encounters – Manuel Vason, Port City – Yto Barrada, Ursula Biemann, Mary Evans, Meschac Gaba, Melanie Jackson, Erik Van Lieshout, William Pope.L, Zineb Sedira, The Only Living (or Your Lonely Saucer Eyes) – Brian Griffiths, Triangle of Need – Catherine Sullivan, Cennet Bahcesi – Mustafa Hulusi, drum n’ basin – SIMPARCH, Sleep of Ulro – Goshka Macuga, Silent Sound – Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, Virtual Grizedale – Grizedale Arts and Office for Subversive Architecture

    We’d like to thank our staff, audiences and funders for their support of this extraordinary achievement.

  • http://www.artinliverpool.com Ian Jackson

    I’ve just got back from the launch of Liverpool Discovers which is great and a sort of lagacy of 08 as its created by the same people who did go-superlambananas and go-penguins and supported by the council. But now you can add cancellation of the Liverpool Boat Show to the list which is a major blow – people just aren’t buying enough yachts these days apparently.
    It’s a real shame about a foundation – I hadn’t mentioned the closure on artinliverpool as there has been no official anouncement which is typical of them, although they had great shows, communication with the rest of the local arts community was not a strong point in my opinion. Though I don’t suppose that would have made much difference – sadly the days of big expensive art events are gone at least for a while. But agree with Lewis, there’s still far more going on here than before and its more co-ordinated and the rest of the country is now more aware of it.

  • James

    Places close all the time. Some things like this just aren’t meant to last. There’s still masses going on around the city (including a whole new museum opening this year, plus ancillary buildings that will ensure the whole area is full to bursting).
    While the cuts will obviously put pressure on things, why do you have to be so dismissive and negative about everything?
    Audience bussed in stooges at Expo?! Liverpool’s was one of the most popular exhibits there too. Also I think the London Embassy is a good idea. Without business money there’ll be no arts you know!

  • kt

    Sad. They had some great and radical programming there, though they could have done more to market the place to people outside the art circle. Here’s an idea imporatnt/powerful people, how about giving the space over as cheap local artist-led studio/gallery space on peppercorn rents? Minimal overheads and sustainable cultural legacy. Get the artists moving here cos it’s cheap. Too much like a good simple idea or would people rather leave it lying empty?

    So, legacy? Good question. I think we all expected, and the Council taught us to expect, too much in the begining. Liverpool has proved it’s very hard to develop the economy of a city based on arts and culture. That said, it’s easy to be cynical and miserable about the whole thing, which is the default seeting ot too many people in this city.

    You can bleat about the whys and wherefores of 2008 till the cows come home but, ask yourself, do you think this town would be any better off if we hadn’t won the title? Would you have rather Newcastle won it? All the crappy flats people moan about would have been built anyway like they were in Manc, Leeds etc. ‘A Capital of Culture’ is a silly idea really, but if they’re gonna have it we might as well have gone for it and I think we made the best of it.

    Also, coupla facts. I’m told the by people in the school the JMU Fine Art course will restart next year after it’s been re-organised and I thought Walk the Plank was still going, they just thought the boat was a bit irrelevant since they don’t tour anymore? Also we have a new Everyman, new Open Eye and new Museum of Liverpool on the way, refurbished Neptune and Royal Court which is a lot better than we had twenty years ago. Cheer up!

  • kt

    Also ‘Turning the Place Over’ was only ever meant to be temporary, and had it’s run extended several times.

  • http://www.sevenstreets.com David

    Thanks for responses – and you’re right, Capital of Culture was great here. And it was a success. And we silenced all those eager naysayers. So you’ll get no complaints from us. I just thought, on the back of the sad closure of A Foundation, now was a good time to stop and take stock. Hence the open question, really. We’re not actively involved in the arts, just innocent (unfunded) bystanders, but curious and passionate too. So we’re really interested in seeing whether this is just an isolated incident or indicative of anything more significant. Looking forward to hearing from smaller arts orgs over the coming days.

  • ChrisCoals

    Just a quick note, I think it was always the intention that Culture Liverpool be wound up; the responsibilities simply passed to some other body. The council still funds cultural partners to the tune of £2m (for now… but we’ll get to that…)

  • john knight

    sad to see A Foundation has gone-I did a stint there as a volunteer at the Biennial last year and really liked the place. I hope the workers get sorted for new jobs.

  • SP

    Very very sad loss in the closure of A Foundation. But as someone living and working in the ‘cultural sector’ in the North East, or ‘NewcastleGateshead’… all I can say is think yourself lucky, I agree with others here that Liverpool certainly DOES have a legacy from 2008 and earlier (1990’s) which is substantially lacking pretty much everywhere else in England, outside of London. Silly article really. very silly.

  • http://www.sevenstreets.com David

    What? The article is silly? Because? The article poses the question. And, with the loss of the biggest gallery space in the city, we think it’s a question worth raising. Irrespective of what people’s personal takes on it are. That’s the point – debate. When raising debate starts to become silly, time to leave the country. Silly comment really. very silly.

  • SP

    Because…

    the discussion isnt silly. but the short sightedness and ignorance which comes through in the article, is a widespread problem within this country and its ‘regions’

    as people above have pointed out, certain ventures you mention were always intended to be temporary. as Lewis Biggs points out from within in the article itself, Liverpool has a lot to offer, from way before 2008, and that hasnt, and doesnt change. And as other people have pointed out in response, places and organisations come, and they also go. why should they last forever? whose to say something new wont pop up. you have a new museum opening, you have the bluecoat, you have tate, a large scale biennial, FACT, etc. etc. etc. and not to mention independent spaces and organisations, etc.

    time to leave the country? – more like time to leave your own back yard and take a look around.

    I completely understand what your getting at. but it’s ridiculous – Liverpool is not at much of a loss because of the closure of A Foundation – infact, its in a much better and stronger position than most cities in this country would be if they lost something like A Foundation. Just think yourself lucky you have so much choice that the one place to close down doesnt even need to put out a press release. Most cities only have one programmed venue for contmeporary arts.

  • Percy Street

    Whilst it’s always good to take stock, I wonder if it might be possible to avoid the self-dramatising fatalism that prefers clouds to silver linings? If the A Foundation is no more is it really a major blow. FACT or the Bluecoat closing shop would be a major blow so a sense of proportion would be helpful. It will be a loss but like a good friend who has moved on, we’re left with many happy memories. Besides, does anyone really know what’s going on at the A Foundation even now? Let’s wait for the official statement and if it’s curtains then hopefully the owners of the building will let us use the space for something else, something better, something different.

    In addition to what has already been mentioned – what about CUC? It has just hosted this event: http://thresholdfestival.co.uk/ I don’t remember anything like this pre 2008. We have just added another performance space in the Capstone theatre: http://www.thecapstonetheatre.com/. The Corke Gallery recently opened on Aigburth Road. There is a string of events from Writing on the Wall to Homotopia. Liverpool has never been more culturally alive! And for those who like their diet scouse – there’s the Royal Court and the Liverpool Actors Studio on Seel Street delivering the goods.

    Maybe your question raises issues about how cultural events across the board are disseminated in the city. The art in Liverpool website is excellent for covering events occurring within local art scene (again compare the number of galleries we have now with pre 2008) but obviously it can’t be expected to cover theatre and music in depth.

    It looks like we need a website that can do justice to the full range of ‘cultural’ events on offer within the Liverpool city region.

  • Mark Waugh

    Dear All

    Tanks for the support. A Foundation will miss Liverpool.

    Here is the press release which confirms the closure of A Foundation on 10th February 2011.

    A Foundation is “not sustainable in either the long or the short term.” This was the judgement made by Arts Council England rejecting an application towards 33% of our costs in Liverpool for 2010 – 2011. Therefore A Foundation is closing.

    Some highlights since 2006 have been: Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2010, Liverpool Biennial 2010 Touched – Sachiko Abe and Antti Laitinen, Live in Translation – Tatsumi Orimoto, Following Bauhaus – Artur Zmijewski Hearts and Minds – Jon Fawcett, The Economy of the Gift – Eric Bainbridge, Brass Art, Geta Bratescu, Elodie Pong, Jacob Dahlgren, Mark Harasimowicz, Rebecca Lennon and Shaun O’ Dell, A Curriculum – Florian Bielefeldt, Noel Cluit, Przemek Dzienis, Myles Painter, Hannah Perry, Philip Root, Elizabeth Skadden, Emily Speed, A World Rattled of Habit – Ben Rivers, Haroon Mirza, Daniel Pasteiner, Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2008, Communication and Association – Artists Anonymous, Far West Metro, Fantasty Studio – Project, Kyungwoo Chun, Yeondoo Jung, Young In Hong, Yongbaek Lee, Junebum Park, Sookyung Yee and Hyun-Mi Yoo, Encounters – Manuel Vason, Port City – Yto Barrada, Ursula Biemann, Mary Evans, Meschac Gaba, Melanie Jackson, Erik Van Lieshout, William Pope.L, Zineb Sedira, The Only Living (or Your Lonely Saucer Eyes) – Brian Griffiths, Triangle of Need – Catherine Sullivan, Cennet Bahcesi – Mustafa Hulusi, drum n’ basin – SIMPARCH, Sleep of Ulro – Goshka Macuga, Silent Sound – Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, Virtual Grizedale – Grizedale Arts and Office for Subversive Architecture

    We’d like to thank our staff, audiences and funders for their support of this extraordinary achievement.

  • http://www.sevenstreets.com David

    SP, this is how our website works. We leave our back yards, every day, because we love Liverpool. And its creative community. That’s why we set it up. We don’t take any funding or grants, or sponsorship so we don’t have any axe to grind against anyone. It’s not too controversial a point to wonder whether the city’s famous forest of development agencies, enterprise boards, Vision This, 20:20 That, Culture the other gets in the way of the grass roots. Is it?

    And here’s another way websites like this work: they agitate. They provoke response, they don’t exist as simply a free news wire service. The websites we love try to spark a healthy, passionate conversation. And if, in poking for response, we get the occasional reply that’s a little salty, rude even, we take it. Because we know people usually mean well, even if, online, they can come across as awfully impolite.

  • .

    Good debate, a sad loss but not the be-all and end all. KT’s idea of cheap studio space is a good one, we’re well catered for with FACT, The Bluecoat et al but more council funded sustainable space would be obviously greatly appreciated. That said with the likes of Don’t Drop the Dumbells and the Wolstenholme Creative Space it seems that Liverpool’s doing just fine without council input or otherwise (a bit of recognition would be nice though).

  • http://www.sevenstreets.com David

    Don’t Drop The Dumbells is ace, yeah. More of that DIY ethos is needed (which we’ve never been in short supply of, tbh) Of course, these places exist outside of the cultural ‘economy’ (or in parallel to it) so they find it hard to get coverage, or even support, outside those who know and use them. We’re trying to remedy that. But we need more help. More contributors. Together we can do it!

  • http://www.artinliverpool.com Ian Jackson

    Thanks to Mark for the Press Release. At last something I can post on artinliverpool, I always try to avoid posting rumours.
    I have a few places to remove from the listings now which is sad but as others have said, new things come along and change is good, I love change, I was even disappointed that Gormley’s men are still there, stuck in the mud.
    I don’t suppose Mark can answer this but the question now is what happens to the a foundation buildings? If James Moores can’t sustain it who can? Hope it doesn’t become derelict.

  • http://www.sevenstreets.com David

    Me too. It’s a fab space. I only posted this when I got it confirmed by Biennial people. Ian, this is, surely, time for the Art in Liverpool Gallery to open?!

  • http://www.artinliverpool.com Ian Jackson

    Ah yes, the plan has always been to eventually open an Art in Liverpool gallery… just as soon as I win the lottery.

  • http://www.abscraft.com Alison Bailey Smith

    I did not know that was the plan, Ian, that sounds like a very good plan! Who can fix the lottery for Ian to win, that is what I want to know!

  • Peter

    i don’t see anything silly in this. When the arts council don’t think the A foundation is viable, it sends totally the wrong signals, and it’s obviously a warning shot acrpss the bows. Yes we have Tate and FACT but I know for a fact that Bluecoat is seriously struggling. Yes these institutions are important, and they won’t be allowed to fail, but it’s rocky times for the city. Just because we have a good collection of galleries doesn’t mean we can be complacent. It can all change so quickly. This city’s been here before remember. We thought we were the second city of empire! Well done to Seven Streets for raising the issues.

  • DDTDB CREW

    Were doing fine thanks.
    p.s can we have that massive amazing empty warehouse on the corner of Jamaica St please :p
    DDTDB crew x