LIVERPOOL’S year as European Capital of Culture in 2008 for many marked the apogee of the city’s cultural standing.
It was a summit which museums and galleries may struggle to climb again.
As Dr David Fleming, director of National Museums Liverpool, told The Post: “Who knows if the city will ever again be as popular to European and foreign visitors as it was in 2008.”
But there is every indication that since 2008 the city’s museums and galleries have not rested on their laurels.
Since relaunching just over a year ago at Mann Island, the Open Eye photography gallery has increased its footfall by 600%. More than 60,000 people visited the gallery in that time.
NML, the city’s cultural bulwark which encompasses eight sites, has never been doing better.
From March 2008 to March 2009, it had nearly 2.7m visitors. For the equivalent period in
2011/12, there were nearly 3.2m, an increase of almost 20%.
The three-day Sea Odyssey giants spectacular earlier this year emulated and exceeded the ambition of La Machine's Spider, La Princesse, which epitomized the scale of 2008.
The Museum of Liverpool, which opened in July 2011, presents a kaleidoscopic social history of the city and has received generally rave reviews.
But the organisation’s director warned: “It is much less likely Liverpool will be as popular again if public expenditure is falling. As a nationally funded museum suffering quite swingeing cuts, we predict that the time will come when we’re doing so much less and we have so much less activity on offer that audiences will fall back again.
“I am not weeping about it; it’s the reality of the situation.”
And he is not alone in his bleak prediction of what the future may hold.
Open Eye’s director Patrick Henry told The Post: “If we can’t get increases in funding we will not be able to invest in the opportunities around us.
“Undoubtedly, over time that will start to cut our offer in all sorts of ways.
“Because of the funding situation at present we are not going to be able to get close to realising our potential as a gallery.”
He cites a reduction in international exhibitions and opening hours as potential consequences. Dr Fleming adds that socially the city will suffer, as NML simply lacks the resources to continue to do as much educational and outreach work.
FACT’s director Mike Stubbs said: “It would be fair to say that if there are further significant funding cuts, of course that could be very damaging to the city’s cultural offer.”
NML has already seen £3m cut from its budget and has been forced to shed around 15 to 20% of its 588 staff. They now nervously await the Chancellor George Osborne’s autumn statement on December 5.
“We had a 3% cut followed by a 15% cut and we’ve been warned that there will be more cuts to come in the December chancellor’s announcement”, Dr Fleming said.
Open Eye managed to secure a small real terms increase of 5% last year, but Mr Henry points out that because their costs have ballooned since moving, they are operating “at standstill.”
He added: “We’re working at capacity, without a safety net, so if we were to lose members of staff to stress or illness, it will start to be very visible to visitors.”
While different organisations employ different funding models – for example Tate Liverpool is part of Tate’s national structure and routinely charges for exhibitions – the situation is precarious across the board.
Jemima Pyne, head of media and audiences at Tate Liverpool, said that in spite of a 25% cut over three years across the whole organisation, they have been able to adapt.
“Ultimately less money means some things have had to be rearranged, but we’ve been reviewing how we operate and are looking for ways to be more efficient. By rearranging some of our staffing we were able to go from being open six days a week to seven days.”
The Tate had 42% fewer people through its doors in 2011 than three years previously when it broke the 1m mark for the first time, and its annual attendance has settled back to the 600,000 mark it occupied in the years preceding 2008.