Don't Let Red Tape Ruin 2008 Dreams; ROBYN ARCHER SPEAKS OUT Former Culture Company Artistic Director Robyn Archer on Liverpool, 2008 and Why She Quit
Byline: Kate Mansey reports
LIVERPOOL'S Culture Company was suffering "structural problems" and the city council was becoming "impatient" with its plans for 08, former artistic director Robyn Archer claimed yesterday.
Speaking at the British Arts Festival Association's annual conference, Ms Archer gave a 45-minute talk entitled Putting The Arts In Their Place.
Upon her departure from Liverpool, the artist cited personal reasons, namely her elderly mother who was in ill health, for her decision to leave the job.
But yesterday she outlined "structural problems" with the Culture Company, complained about early morning meetings, and spoke of what she perceived as the council's "growing impatience" with her.
She said, however, that she was sad to leave the "fantastic" city and wished Merseysiders the best for their special year.
During a question-and-answer session which followed her speech yesterday, a delegate asked: "Ms Archer, could you please put us out of our misery and tell us what went wrong in Liver pool?"
She replied: "What I told the papers at the time was true. I am an only child and my 82-year-old mother was sick. I needed to spend more time with Mum.
"But Liverpool also had some structural problems which I hope they have now sorted out.
"The people who appointed me were no longer there by April, and there was a feeling of growing impatience in the council.
"Only four out of 60 such events (large-scale festivals such as Capital of Culture) have been delivered directly out of a council and there are problems with that because there's no arm's length distance which means the council can become less efficient.
"Also, the bureaucracy of a council does not necessarily provide the right structure by which to deliver a festival of that scale.
The Culture Company was set up to counter that, but all that basically is is another part of the council, so the CEO of the Culture Company is the CEO of nothing. There were bureaucratic problems such as automated out-of-office email replies that were only sent back to emails that were received from internal addresses. That meant that, if an arts group from Thailand needed an urgent response, they just assumed you had the email rather than being told you were out of the office.
"There was also a management style that required meetings to be held at 7am and for a diva like me that takes a bit of getting used to - but, saying that, I am a people person and I do work well at that time in the morning."
While in the prestigious Liverpool job she came under fire for booking high-art performances and dance troupes that failed to garner public interest.
But Ms Archer, who last year published a pamphlet called The Myth of the Mainstream, stressed that successful festivals needed a balance between high art and popular events which are more likely to draw in the crowds.
Addressing delegates at the conference hosted by Cardiff 's multi-million pound Wales Millennium Centre, Ms Archer said: "In Glasgow during the Capital of Culture celebrations, audiences were inclined to stay away from many of the arts events but flocked to those that had a community hook.
"However, it is possible to reach the people without dumbing down.
"I like all sorts of art and I was back to my room for 9pm last night to watch Ladette to Lady, I love it.
"I was raised in popular culture rather than high art, my father was a stand-up comic and singer.
"And I was on television contests as a child, some of which I won.
"But when it comes to the arts, I never played Harry to my Falstaff.
I believe very much in bridges between popular culture and high art but the bridge will be stronger if the metal of the arch is not weakened."
During the main speech at yesterday's conference, attended by representatives from arts festivals around the UK, Ms Archer defended some of her decisions to book certain acts for Liverpool Performs 2006 which was used as a trial run for the big festival in two years' time. …