Anyone else feel like we’ve been here before? As Sonny and Cher’s I Got You Babe lilts in the Baltic air and Bill Murray is spotted wandering, bemused, along Jamaica Street asking for directions to Punxsutawney, I’m hit with a potent, heady sense of déjà vu. A nasty, bad-batch, ‘For fucks sake, again, really?’ sense of déjà vu.
Yes, we’re here again, as much loved Baltic Triangle venue and cultural hub Constellations is to close to make way for residential development. Cue the customary online rabble-rousing, cries of how this is further evidence of capital riding shotgun over culture, a collective mourning.
We hear you. We feel the pain. But, surely, it doesn’t have to be like this?
Much has been made of the article in The Times last year, which declared the Baltic Triangle the “coolest place to live in Britain”. It has been used as something of a qualifier for the Baltic’s cultural and creative credentials and Constellations’ closure is lamented by some as a body blow to this status. But really the issue is implicit within the headline itself: the coolest place to live in Britain. Not the best to create, enjoy music festivals, visit galleries, collaborate and participate, but the coolest to buy an off-plan apartment for £87,000. If you take a moment to revisit the article, it makes alarming reading…
Topped with a photograph of Constellations’ RIBA Award-shortlisted garden, the article declares, “Liverpool’s arts and party scene is thriving, nowhere more so than in the Baltic Triangle where abandoned factories have been repopulated by tech start-ups, burlesque shows and pop-up club nights,” before going on to celebrate that “you can buy a studio apartment in the Baltic Triangle for £87,000”.
A little over 12 months later and one of the key cultural institutions that has made the Baltic so investable in the first place – and is pictured in the Times article – has been consumed by the subsequent development it unwittingly encouraged.
As I said, we share your pain. But, what is important to maintain throughout this is the understanding that this is not an inevitable reprise. Just because the culture-led gentrification mantra has become a staple overture within our cities, does not mean that this is a hard, fast reality. It is not the universal truth. It is not the unwritten inevitable. It is, however, the natural order of things when one consideration is prioritised above all others: short-term profit.
There is an unfortunate and cruel irony at play within this latest episode. If (and it is an if) the aspirations underpinning the establishment of the new Liverpool City Region Music Board and Music Office within the City Council are realised, we have the opportunity to shape a new narrative. Music will enjoy a new status as a central and influential lever in the economic, cultural and social life of the city. This will result in new policy and frameworks with music at their core, respecting and understanding the issues our music community faces and prioritising music’s development within the city. It will, however, come too late for Constellations.
What we see with Constellations is not a case of an unscrupulous developer looking to force a venue closure with underhand tactics; it is the result of market forces. Property developers are commercial entities, designed to create profit. With an absence of any strategic vision which prioritises music, this is the inevitable result. The Music Board and new structures being established within the corridors of power must provide this.
There is an indisputable reality that, as a music community, we need space. We need venues. We need studios. We need workshops. We need space to commune, collaborate and participate. And property developers need us to be doing this. They need our oddness, our maverick spirit, our creativity, our shows and our character. Because we are what differentiates one glazed stack of sleep boxes from the next.
Herein lies a huge opportunity; one where planners, developers, city-leaders and the music community sit around one table and develop policy that allows both to coexist and flourish in harmony, for mutual and collective benefit, financially, culturally and socially. We can achieve development schemes that include and prioritise the venues, studios and spaces we need.
But this needs strong leadership. It needs an active, engaged and powerful Music Board.
At the time of press we still await details from the Liverpool City Region as to the process through which the Music Board will be constructed, when the Board will be established and the particulars of how it will be structured. Once we have specifics in place, Bido Lito! will, in partnership with a number of other organisations in the music community, be convening an open public meeting to discuss and debate the agenda that the Music Board should pursue and ensure that as an organisation it is as diverse, plural and as representative as possible, reflecting the music community it seeks to represent.
What we do know is there is a call for Expressions Of Interest open now for people who wish to have their voice heard. If you wish to be involved, email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject ‘Liverpool City Region Music Board expression of interest’.
We love Constellations. The team there (and in particular Becky) have been brothers and sisters in arms with Bido Lito! from the start. It pains us to see so much love and hard work go down in rubble.
As I type this, the cranes of Wolstenholme Square rattle on stinking hot air through the jammed-open window at Bido Lito! Towers. The falling bricks of The Kazimier, Wolstenholme Creative Space and Nation provide an unwelcome and moving daily soundtrack. Constellations will be next. The latest reminder of how we as a community need to make sure we seize the opportunity the Liverpool City Region Music Board will present and not retreat to the comfort blanket of protest.
A Constellations Kickstarter starts on the 6th August to enable the much-loved venue to orchestrate an exit strategy from the Baltic Triangle to new locations across the city. Find out more here.