A quick rant about Manchester City Council’s anti-arts agenda.
When I returned to Manchester, after two years living abroad, it was in the midst of the Manchester International Festival ’13 and I stayed at my parent’s house in Altrincham. I experienced a number of hiccups in trying to get to various MIF events on time down to everyone’s favourite transport provider and I wondered how the City Council could allow Metrolink to undertake engineering works during every weekend of a major international festival. Later on that summer I managed to get some temporary bar work at The Ashes at Old Trafford. I was dreading the daily commute – I expected a lot of waiting, a lot of squashing and at least one replacement bus service along the lines (or rather off). To my surprise the trams were coping fine, it seemed strange how the city’s transport system could all of a sudden function well during a major, expensive sporting event when it can’t seem to provide for daily commuters or families wishing to enjoy more affordable or free arts events. (Then again I may have just been one of the lucky ones.) It seems to me that Manchester just doesn’t really want to be a cultural city (or wants to keep that confined to the Northern Quarter) and I’m totally fathomed as to why. A cultural city is a tourist-friendly city, and a tourist-friendly city brings in a hell of a lot of money. The thing is, that you can’t just create a cultural city overnight either – for it to be genuine, cultural history plays a massive part. So, if your city has already been blessed with a hell of a lot of historical architectural, political, artistic, musical and sporting culture, then you should probably preserve and embrace it.
I’ve always held a special place in my heart for the Oxford Road area but returning there was a little bit heartbreaking, the old BBC, now a car park being the most upsetting sight not to mention the two new Tesco express’ and the Holiday Inn. As a student I have fond memories of BBQs in All Saints park, hearing the Manchester School of Samba practice at The Dancehouse from afar, watching some questionable amateur performances at The Green Room, serving BBC types at the pub where I worked, getting a little bit drunk at Eurocultured festival and err actually at a number of venues around – Temple, The Pevril of the Peak, Briton’s Protection, Fab Cafe, Odder, Thirsty Scholar, Jilly’s Rockworld, Grand Central, The Salisbury, Font, Sand Bar, Deaf Institute, Joshua Brooks, The Lass O’Gowrie, The Salutation to name but a few. The Northern Quarter was a bit too try-hard and the city centre and Castlefield a bit too suity, Oxford Road just seemed like the city’s genuine, not-trying-to-be-anything-special-but-therefore-becoming-really-special-by-accident zone (note the mix of frankly excellent and slightly dodgy in the list of pubs and bars above.)
The Cornerhouse an iconic part of Oxford Road. It means a lot to both residents and tourists – I can think of more than one time someone has mentioned Manchester and said “what’s that area with the cinema on the corner, yeah it was cool round there.” And even if you’re not into contemporary art or art-house cinema, Mancunians will know exactly where it is and many will have used it as a meeting place or reference point over the years. Just because Cornerhouse won’t be there in a year’s time, that does not mean the social history of the building won’t remain. The MEN announced yesterday that there are plans for the building to be demolished to make way for new offices, a hotel and ‘leisure complex,’ which I think is redevelopment jargon for an expensive, private gym, shops that small business owners can’t afford to rent and some bad fast food chains. There’s a petition to prevent it from demolition just here, so please sign away.
Dave Haslam agrees with me anyway:
“‘The site is one of the last pieces of the jigsaw in moves to regenerate that part of the city centre’ Have you ever seen that site? It’s one of the busiest, most productive part of the city centre! Culture crowd in and out of Cornerhouse all day, a busy Sainsbury’s, the wonderful Gorilla which has transformed the old Green Room building into a hive of good activity. A hotel is not an asset to regeneration. Nor are apartments or corporate office space. ‘Gateway’, ‘Strategic location’. This is bland commercial nonsense speak from the mouths of people who are killing our city.”