Liverpool fills empty shops

Liverpool is suffering the effects of the recession like any other Northern city, and although new developments may be encouraging people into the city, it has left it with too much retail space, and thus a large number of empty shops. This article reviews three different responses to this problem.

Dot-Art is a Liverpool based non-profit organisation that works with local artists to provide a means for them to display & sell their art. Dot-Art provides website space, office rental of art, advice for artists, & pop-up art gallery. The latest pop-up galleryis situated in the Met Quarter.

The home of All Saints and Armani, this is a high-end shopping centre. Focusing on paintings, there was a range of styles and mix of media. Some were more conventional representations, others completely abstract, and differing levels of skill and execution. The art on display varies in affordability from £250-2000, which felt a good range to appeal to a wide audience, and the variety of art could mean that both seasoned collectors and people who have never bought an original before might find something that appealed to them. There was no explanation or descriptions of the paintings or artists.

The shop felt very much like a non-intimidating art gallery, rather than a scruffy ex-shop; it was neat, smart & a good use of space, although hidden away in the upstairs corner of the centre. You couldn’t refer to this as a particularly exciting or innovative way to use an empty shop, but it is revenue generating and aims to provide exposure and sales for those who artists who may struggle to gain such public recognition normally. Dot- Art may be relatively straightforward in the way it displays art, but the organisation is unusual and if it can remain a success, is cause for celebration. Their next gallery is from 2-4th June 2011.

There are other exciting things going on in Liverpool empty shops currently. The giant department store Lewis was much mourned on its closure in 2010 after 150 years trading. With huge street windows, currently about 5 contain a photographic exhibition to commemorate the Blitz. Carried out in conjunction with Urban Strawberry Lunch (based at St Luke’s, the bombed out church - the city’s ultimate empty space), artist Tom Fairclough has taken photos of the dumped war ruins on Sefton beach as they are smoothed by the tide, and displayed these with sometimes strongly worded oral history quotes from eye-witnesses. The Liverpool opinion of the blitz, that you could laugh sometimes but it was ultimately terrifying, is evoked powerfully in this display.

Further contemporary photographs of the city centre flattened to piles of rubble, and fires raging in Lewis itself, helps to convey the sheer scale of the destruction. The most moving aspect is the description of night of the worst destruction when over 1000 people were killed. Some were obliterated, the bodies could not be identified, and 500 were buried in a mass grave. A photograph of a mass grave that few know exists as it stands in Anfield today is a shocking and powerful image, made more so by it’s ‘ordinary’ surroundings of a city street. It is a moving but not morbid exhibition, and its situation on a busy street full of shoppers means people who may not have ordinarily sought out local history have taken a real interest.

Liverpool1 is the giant new shopping street that is helping to rejuvenate the city centre. Although a successful development, even this is falling prey to the recession, and with the closure of Virgin, has a giant, prominent shop to fill. Currently, it is showing an exhibition called ‘The Real Meaning of Life: A Question of Evolution’ by Dave Webster, carried out with the support of Liverpool Council. A series of sculptures that represent the history and development of mankind, taking in DNA, migrations, myth, technology etc fill the shop. Some of them are pastiche, others rather delicate and beautiful.

Interaction and response is clearly intended. QR codes means you can download videos, and there are clay making workshops to join. Whilst there, a group of teen schoolchildren piled in with notepads and took a self-directed tour. The artwork was quite disjointed and varied in quality, but it was an exciting use of space, and Liverpool Council should be congratulated in supporting the venture. It's open until 21 May 2011.

Liverpool's empty shops were reviewed by Alexandra Boyle.

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