Art has a new Home: £25m Manchester centre closes the culture gap with London
'Home' will boast a 500-seat theatre, five cinemas, art galleries, bars, restaurants and a piazza
Around the corner from the loft apartments that were once Manchester's fabled Hacienda club, hemmed in by railway arches on the site of an old gas and dye works, Britain's cultural economy is being rebalanced. Next spring, Home will open as the largest multi-arts complex to be built since the Brutalist concrete ramparts of the Barbican in London were breached by the public more than three decades ago.
Amid political talk of narrowing the economic divide between the rest of the country and London with promises of £15bn fleets of high speed trains, motorways and digital highways, Home has come to symbolise the determination of Britain's northern cities to close the artistic gap.
It is a large task. Arts Council England's £77m funding for the Royal Opera House, Southbank Centre, Royal National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company is more than will be shared among all the organisations in the North of England. Last year an independent report estimated that government arts spending was £69 per London resident in 2012-13, compared with £4.60 elsewhere in England.
But Home, with its 500-seat theatre, five cinemas, art galleries, bars, restaurants, and piazza hopes to represent a turning of the tide. Dave Moutrey, its chief executive, said the arts in Britain owed a debt to the London dynamo: "You can't grow the regions by robbing London." Manchester, however, is now stepping out of the capital's shadow. The aim is for the city to become an international cultural destination as famous for its arts as its football.
Inspectors walk through the site "It's a project that's happening because Manchester has a vision in which, economically, arts and culture have a part to play in economic regeneration," Mr Moutrey said. "They are backing that, and the fact there is potential for growth – you can't just chuck money at an area and say have some great art."
Home, which combines the relocating Cornerhouse and Library Theatre, was conceived in July 2010 at a cost of £25m – £19m from the city council, £5m from the Arts Council and the rest from private sources. It hopes to welcome a million visitors a year. "In these straitened times for the thing to be happening at all is a miracle," Mr Moutrey said.
Sir Peter Bazalgette, chairman of Arts Council England, has made a commitment to reduce the traditional pro-London bias. Funding for major organisations outside London will from next year exceed that of the capital for the first time, although fewer bodies will share the cash.
In the North of England, 185 organisations and five museums will be given a total of £70.5m in 2015/16 compared with £65.5m this year. London's grant will rise from £158.8 to £160.6m. There is also a new £15m fund to nurture regional talent, as well as a further £25m to boost creativity in overlooked places. The share of Lottery Arts Council money which goes to areas outside London will grow to 70 per cent.
"The latest funding round was only a small part of the measures we expect to take," said Alison Clark-Jenkins, North director of Arts Council England. "What we want to see is critical mass. We concentrate our investment around a place like Home so that the money starts to create its own growth. It's partly to do with a change in zeitgeist but also there's a whole political change. You see the difference in London which has never stopped growing compared to the rest of the UK as a whole. It has to be about backing the arts and backing the best arts," she added.
Manchester's success can be traced back to its hosting of the 2002 Commonwealth Games, and later the creation of the Manchester International Festival, which has commissioned celebrated artists such as Damon Albarn, Marina Abramovic and Adam Curtis.
A passerby inspects the new Home site Elsewhere in the North, Liverpool has its own biennale, and last month 100,000 people turned out to watch a return of the Giants – vast marionettes which told the story of the city in the First World War. Across the Pennines, the Lumiere light festival in Durham drew an audience of 175,000 in 2013.
Meanwhile, Hull is preparing to be the 2017 UK City of Culture. Last month it appointed London 2012 Olympic ceremonies chief Martin Green to run the project. Overturning perceptions of cities such as Hull and giving people a sense of pride will be central to the success of the £18m extravaganza, he said. But there was an intangible element too.
"Bricks and mortar are important, figures are important but what I always want to keep on the agenda is this incredibly powerful thing about culture which is the legacy of memory and about those three magic words 'I was there'," he added.
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