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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Wednesday, May 30, 2007
    Witting, unwitting and willing
     


    I confess that during the last lecture of this stimulating lunchtime series I found myself a bit sleepy, so if I say that I'm unsure whether Prof Harris achieved all he was advertised to do in this hour, that's more a reflection on my inattentiveness than his presentation. I certainly heard him do the first bit well: a stimulating description of the origins of Tate Liverpool in the political context of its birth in the 1980s, embracing the post-1981 riots Hestletine agenda (which released an arts grant of £7million, more or less guaranteeing that Liverpool would get The Tate of The North over its main competitors Manchester or Leeds), counterbalanced by a series of critical local voices from artist Frank Hendry to Militant leader Derek Hatton concerned about issues of external agenda-setting and control.

    In this context Harris used the term 'colony' as a way of exploring how The ('national', ie, London) Tate viewed The North, back then. It's a term he uses quite a bit, I've just noticed in a brief web trawl of his lecture work, and it's a term rich in suggestion. In the world of the arts (as in many other worlds) it's a familiar scenario, our being distanced by the self-serving London elite. But when the conversation opened up at the end of the lecture there was quite a bit of middle-class angst about, around whether Tate Liverpool 'reached the working classes' of the city - or whether it was its own internal elite. Hearing staff speak about the very full and lively education programme I don't think it does that badly at all.

    I liked the way Harris chose to playfully list the various names proposed for the gallery, which has caused The Tate great angst over the years: Tate of The North; Tate in The North; Tate-in-The-North; Northern Tate; Tate Gallery, Liverpool; Liverpool Tate; Tate Liverpool... there's a lot in a name. And as in previous lectures I was prompted once again to reflect on my own story in the context of Liverpool's recent arts history. Has Tate Liverpool been a good thing for the city? Hard to be objective about that, as it's certainly been good for me. It's been a stimulating part of my life over the past twenty years. Overall it's difficult to disagree with Jonathan Harris when he says that the people of Liverpool have been 'witting, unwitting and willing beneficiaries' of The Tate's presence in the city.