Liverpool's city of culture plans in tatters as boss quits

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The Independent Online

When Liverpool beat Newcastle for the coveted title of 2008 European Capital of Culture, the city anticipated 14,000 new jobs, 1.7 million extra visitors and £1bn in investment. Instead it increasingly seems that Merseyside may have a fiasco on its hands.

The problems that have beset the city's preparation for its year in the limelight deepened yesterday when the Australian who was hired on a six-figure salary as artistic director abruptly left her post.

Robyn Archer, the singer, actress and writer who had previously directed festivals in Canberra, Melbourne and Adelaide, cited personal reasons for her departure. But her contribution had come under increased scrutiny as Liverpool struggled to line up events and venues befitting the capital of culture year. A decision over her future was reached after a board meeting last week of the Liverpool Culture Company, which is co-ordinating the 2008 festivities.

Ms Archer's struggle to steer Liverpool towards its year in the spotlight was not helped by her decision to remain in Australia until April. Since then, she has been in and out of the country, an elusive figure to many.

There was also widespread resistance to the kind of artistic programme she was developing. Ms Archer is strong on performing arts, rather than conceptual art. But above all, according to her critics, she was simply too indecisive. "She won't release money and when she does she wants to decide exactly what institutions should do," one city source said.

Liverpool was awarded the title because of the "greater sense that the whole city is involved in the bid and behind it," according to Sir Jeremy Isaacs, chairman of the judges. The headline plan was for a futuristic Cloud building, designed by Will Alsop to be built on the banks of the Mersey. But that plan was dropped and matters got worse when a public row erupted between David Henshaw, the council chief executive, and Mike Storey, council leader, resulting in both men leaving their posts.

Mr Henshaw's successor, Jason Harborow, was only appointed in March. Amid the spats there have been few signs of progress besides a planned return from Berlin for Sir Simon Rattle, a former timpanist with the Merseyside Youth Orchestra, to conduct the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic in 2008; Liverpool securing the World Firefighter Games in 2008 and being named the host city for 2008 Holocaust Memorial Day.

The chief executive of the North West Development Agency, Steven Broomhead, warned that Capital of Culture was on his "risk radar". The city wants to hear of more grandiose plans: a blockbuster show from the theatre impresario Bill Kenwright, perhaps, a contribution by Sir Paul McCartney or a permanent exhibition of the city's John James Audubon art collection.

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