2020 witnessed a global pandemic that impacted the health of communities and economies of cities around the world. During this time our annual calendar of cultural events and projects was severely restricted.

Always forward thinking and not an organisation to sit back, we continued to develop creative initiatives to help the arts and cultural sector during a difficult period. Below is an overview of our programming pre lockdown and series of online activities throughout.

colourful picture of the Chinese New Year dragon alongside a person dressed as a rat to celebrate the Year of the Rat

Chinese New Year

2020 saw us welcome the Year of the Rat during the Chinese New Year celebrations, which took place on Sunday 26 February.

Leading up to this annual Spring Festival thousands of Chinese lanterns adorned the city centre streets and a number of buildings including Central Library, Cunard Building, Everyman & Playhouse Theatres, Liverpool Town Hall, St George’s Hall, World Museum Liverpool and the Mersey Tunnels were illuminated red in honour of this age old tradition, signifying good fortune and joy to everyone.

On the day and right in the heart of Liverpool’s Chinatown, traditional Chinese culture blended with modern performances to create a must-see event with street, stage and music acts, aerial demonstrations, family workshops, alongside the hugely popular dragon, unicorn and lion parades and firecracker displays.

The market on George Street was once again a popular choice for visitors, who took delight in sampling the Chinese cuisine and souvenirs on offer.

night-time image of RRS Sir David Attenborough on Liverpool's waterfront

Virgin Voyages / Sir David Attenborough

Liverpool’s cruise season started on 24 February with the impressive arrival of Virgin Voyages ‘Scarlet Lady’. This inaugural call in Liverpool was one of two planned visits to UK ports to showcase Virgin’s first cruise ship.

‘Scarlet Lady’s’ departure was closely followed by the arrival of HMS Prince of Wales on 28 February, when the city welcomed the Royal Navy’s second new aircraft carrier to Cruise Liverpool. Docked for one week, more than 15,000 people had the once in a lifetime opportunity to take a look on board and explore the vessel over the weekend.

Extending the offer and to add to the celebrations, the waterfront played host to a week long military village housing vehicles, interactive activities and simulators and personnel showcasing our city’s relationship with the maritime and services sector.

In November the new ‘RRS Sir David Attenborough’ polar research ship sailed across the River Mersey to dock at Cruise Liverpool ahead of technical trials and her maiden voyage to Antarctica.

Image credit: Stratus Imagery

VE Day Banner

VE Day: 75

Whilst we couldn’t gather in person to celebrate the 75th anniversary of VE Day we worked together with DCMS to ensure Liverpool was able to remember in a different manner.

Buildings across the city turned red, white and blue to mark 75 years since Victory in Europe Day, when allied forces announced the surrender of Germany in Europe, ending Europe’s involvement in World War Two. The Three Graces, St George’s Hall, Liverpool Cathedral, Radio City’s Tower, the M&S Bank Arena, Exchange Flags and Liverpool ONE were just some of the venues that took part in the region-wide commemorations.

A special VE Day ‘Thank You’ message also appeared on 18 digital screens across the city, at locations such as Lime Street, Lord Street, Scotland Road, the M62, Royal Court Theatre and Anfield Stadium in a co-ordinated campaign with 10 Downing Street.

Downloadable bunting and special music playlists featuring popular artists from the time including Vera Lynn, Glenn Miller and Frank Sinatra were made available on the Culture Liverpool website for residents across the Liverpool City Region to engage with. Schooling activities including a video produced by The Imperial War Museum and creative challenges set by historian and presenter, Dan Snow were also part of the online offer.

The VE Day 75th Anniversary was so well received that our work was mentioned in the Downing Street parliamentary briefing.

black crinkled piece of paper with the text Liverpool International Music Festival. Music City: Next Phase. Screening, Debate, Performance

Liverpool International Music Festival

Liverpool International Music Festival (LIMF) was proud to present a virtual event that explored and contextualised Liverpool as a music city.

On the day we should have been at Sefton Park for our annual festival, we invited LIMF fans to join us for an afternoon of screening, debate and performance with LIMF Academy artists Lydia, Podge and Tee, alongside renowned artists Nikki Kand, Red Rum Club, DJs G33, Hannah Lynch and Subcora.

Tying in with the event title, Head of UNESCO City of Music Kev McManus hosted a panel discussion with Cath Hurley, Mat Flynn, Paul Gallagher, Jennifer John, Beija Flo to talk about what next for Liverpool as a music city.

Kali Chadrasegaram poised with his head in the air and hand positioned under his chin whilst in a field of flowers

Festival 31

Festival 31 focused on highlighting the work of local arts organisations alongside the refugee and asylum seeker community in Liverpool as part of the the annual festival managed and delivered by SOLA Arts.

In 2020, we partnered with SOLA and Everyman & Playhouse Theatres to inform the development of the programme over the next few years and to bring the festival onto a digital platform in response to the ongoing pandemic.

Festival 31 artists, arts organisations and supporters were asked to respond to the theme of ‘Creative Connections’ and an exploration of what 31 can be, 31 days, 31 connections, 31 hours, 31 thoughts, 31 people, 31 countries, 31 smiles, 31 questions… Anything from a virtual meal, sharing recipes from where people of Liverpool’s refugee communities originate, to poetry and spoken word performances, dance, video, sound, comedy or music. The work comprised pieces from artists of refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds through to artists collaborating with people from displaced and settled communities in the region to create something wonderful together, our creative connections.

Picture of a boy practising the flute behind a screen during lockdown

Black History Month

In October we were proud to support the Creative Organisations of Liverpool (COoL) and partners and their special commissions created for Liverpool Black History Month. The Black Lives Matter protests in response to the racist killing of George Floyd and the Coronavirus pandemic laid bare deep structural inequalities, and in 2020 Black communities and anti-racists across the globe demanded change.

With the oldest continuous Black community in Europe, Liverpool has a vibrant heritage, enriched by successive waves of immigration, and we wanted to stand in solidarity with all our communities facing racial discrimination. Working with COoL we recognised and platformed the role that the arts can play in affecting that change, promoting equality and justice through a range of art forms.

Black History Month celebrated the artistic excellence of the diaspora. African Superheroes danced to Brazilian beats, Calypso arrived on the Empire Windrush, The Sankofa bird took flight and sculptor Faith Bebbington protested with plants. Poetry chimed to Afro beats and Latin sounds. The Chinese Youth Orchestra, representing a community at the sharp end of Coronavirus inspired bigotry, reflected on quarantine though a musical fusion of east and west. Travelling back in time led us through the riot torn streets of 1919, and into the heart of the slave trading capital of Europe. Booker prize winner Marlon James ‘Zoomed’ in from America with Afrofuturist Ytasha Womack and ON RECORD: Untold & Retold celebrated, honoured and showcased black music on Merseyside through performance, exclusive content and debate.

The three graces on Liverpool's waterfront lit up in red in honour of Service of Remembrance

Service of Remembrance

Service of Remembrance this year was pre-recorded at St George’s Hall. Entitled ‘Remember from Home’ and officiated by The Rector of Liverpool and The Reverend Canon Dr Crispin Pailing, civic dignitaries including The Mayor of Liverpool, Mr Joe Anderson OBE and Lord Mayor of Liverpool Councillor Anna Rothery were joined by key representatives from the Military, ex-service organisations, Clergy and Faith Leaders.

The online service featured a virtual parade made up of footage supplied by regiments and associations across Liverpool, accompanied by music from The Band of The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment. The service reflected the city’s diverse communities and their contribution to Britain’s war effort, with a particular emphasis on Black service personnel who served during World War One and their subsequent treatment when they returned to the UK. This was enhanced with a supplementary education programme and digital marketing campaign including the dedicated Service of Remembrance website.

A specially commissioned spoken-word piece by Liverpool poet, rapper, singer-songwriter, and producer Daniel Sebuyange, known professionally as Blue Saint was also performed and released in the run-up to the service to express the deep significance of Remembrance Sunday. Key venues across the city were also lit in red in support of the city wide campaign to remember the fallen.

Image credit: Stratus Imagery

MiC Lowry performing live on stage at the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic during the pandemic

ON Record

Launched as part of Black History Month in October, this specially curated festival explored the Black music in Liverpool and the role it has played in the city and in communities over the past 7o years.

The month long festival brought together a wealth of original commissioned content including streamed performances, exclusive in-conversation events, film screenings, podcasts, an exhibition and much more.

Iconic masters of music The Real Thing and The Christians joined MiC Lowry, Jennifer John, Hannah Lynch and many more artists to kick start the festival with an evening of live performances, intertwined with a panel discussion and films.

picture of wall art with a saying - everything is a little crazy right now, but it's going to be ok! Be kind and choose love

Liverpool Without Walls

In July Liverpool City Council announced a £200,000 fund to support creative businesses and individuals who have been hardest hit by Covid-19. Following hundreds of applications, almost 50 cultural organisations and freelance artists were awarded funding to help bring the city’s streets to life once again with its world-famous cultural offer.

From live music, theatrics, dance, light installations, murals and photography to exhibitions and street animation a whole host of stunning performances took place in outdoor spaces during the months of August and September.

Running in parallel with this was the creation of a new strategy to set out the vision for cultural life in Liverpool up to the year 2030. Entitled ‘Developing A Cultural Strategy For Liverpool’, this document provided a direction of travel for the cultural sector as it looked to rebuild and strengthen in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.

picture of Cath Rice in a dressing gown and hair towel as part of her video Virtual Insanity

RISE Together

In 2019, we commissioned RISE, a season of commissions, exhibitions, events and happenings exploring and telling the stories of women in all their power and glory, through a cultural lens. Featuring women from Liverpool, the UK and the rest of the world, RISE shone a light on those females whose legacy educates, empowers and inspires us and future generations.

The RISE programme for 2020 continued with Culture Liverpool producing a specially curated programme, which once again showcased the fantastic talent and creativity and the female strength and spirit. This time online, the programme provided a social commentary on social inequalities, isolation, and how this has become the new norm through loss and separation. The stories were told through the eyes of female artists of different ages and backgrounds, bringing them visibility through a digital platform of podcast, blogs, music, visual art and comedy.

The ultimate question asked – how will we RISE out of this situation?

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