But why? Why restore a building that has been abandoned for now nearly 30 years? Before I go in to details – as promised in the previous post – about my motivation for this project a short update:
I’ve talked to the city council; First to a really nice person at the Liverpool direct who started telling me about her memories and experiences of the Futurist, and then mentioning many, many other cinemas here in Liverpool now closed. She also provided a phone number within the City Council for further information whom I then called up directly.
Sadly, that turned into a dead end. The City Council does not own the Futurist, it is in private hands, and they can not provide any information on the current owner. Next step: The Landregister – who charge a fee of £4. At the moment I am double and triple checking I have the correct address before sending out a request. I have also just ordered thefuturist.org.uk for this project to separate it from my blog.
So why do this, then? On the one hand – quite simply – because I love the building, like the idea, and am enthralled by cinemas and film. The building attracted me, ever since I first came to Liverpool four and a half years ago – the contrast between the Futurist name, the “outmoded” Edwardian architectural style and the clear signs of neglect. I want to because it is something I just would like to do. That really should be enough of a motivation and explanation. All else really is secondary.
But, there is, as always, more. On a slightly less shallow level this is a response to the idea of “The Big Society” floating around and the fears the political course of the current government gives raise to among most of the people I’ve talked to. It’s a lucky, but not completely random, coincidence that the Futurist closed in July 1982. In political history the years around 1982 are important – the Toxteth Riots occurred a year before – and by early 1982 the 80s recession reached its worst stages as the UK’s unemployed exceeded 3,000,000 for the first time since the 1950s. As such the Futurist closed exactly amidst political and economic developments people fear are about to be repeated. What better time to initiate an attempt to re-open and re-claim something that was lost then?
The Futurist features an installation as part of the Biennial here in Liverpool at the moment. Emese Benczúr is asking people if they are thinking about the future, through a sign just above the Futurist’s former entrance. The two fairly relevant statements – quoting from the Biennial guide – connected to this installation are that “[…] while ‘time’ is a given, the way we use the time given depends on our free will and conscious decisions” and “Emese Benczúr points the finger at an end of an era: in a Blade Runner like scenario of abandoned buildings, there is little for positivist thinking.”1 Despite restoring the building I aim to ask questions. Do you think of the future? What future do you want? What do you do with your time? What society do you dream of? Who do you want to organize and shape that future? Do you keep thinking positive, even amidst a time of abandoned buildings – which, in the case of Liverpool, have been abandoned for decades? What dreams do you wish to see fulfilled?
We want to give citizens, communities and local government the power and information they need to come together, solve the problems they face and build the Britain they want.2
The idea that a local and citizen based focus should be at the core of policy – whether that will be ever actually politically realised, valued and established or not – seems to be among the publicly highlighted core focus of current political leaders. Not just from the Tory / LibDem front, but also Labour, as Miliband aims to consult with local organisations and groups about Labour policy “beyond New Labour”:
The first tranche of reviews will lead to a state of the nation document in 2011, Modern Britain’s Ambitions, before further specific policy work is done, which will form the basis of detailed policy-making leading up to the next general election manifesto.3
I am not trying to make a political statement here, even if all actions and inactions are of course political in nature. I am not interested in party politics – nor is this project really related to the focus of the current policies implemented. But I want to suggest that society has, can and will operate outside a top-down planned approach to politically transform it. If this project works it can be an example – there are a lot of buildings in this town that could be saved, re-opened and re-claimed for the public good by similar schemes – without waiting for someone else to do this for us. So tell me, do you think about the Future?
I also do not only want to prevent a building’s death, restoring it and re-establishing it. As mentioned in the previous post I see this as an art work as much as a non-profit project. I want to restore people’s memories alongside and keep them alive. Memories about the Futurist. Memories of Liverpool connected to the area around the building. Memories of people’s lives connected to the building. Memories of what film meant and means to them. Instead of just only being inward focused on restoring the building I’d like to go out and collect these, talk to people, ask them to submit and restore the part of the building that’s not physical – the human history connected to it. These the stories of what was.
I want to document the story of the restoration of the building itself. Asking those that participate to illustrate their connections to cinema, their hopes, aspirations, their dreams of the future. What motivates people participating? What struggles does the team face restoring the building? These the stories of what is.
The Futurist itself, once re-opened, would be the story of what will be.
Beyond Cinema – uses for the building
As a non-profit organisation I feel the social aspect is to be stressed. Like two of the examples linked to in the first post Harwich Electric Palace Cinema and Grand Theatre Blackpool the building could / should be available for non-cinema occasions outside the evenings / screenings.
Given the question asked, above, about Society the aim is to – in some form or other – contribute more directly to society then just through being a cinema.
One possible use came up during a recent biennial talk. A lecturer at one of Liverpool’s universities aims to establish a free university in Liverpool in response to the tuition fee changes and teaching fund cuts. As a location the cinema would lean itself, easily, to be used as a lecture theatre during the day.4.
- Biggs, L., Domela, P., Waldron, S., and Kirk, A. (eds.) (2010), liverpool biennial, International Festival of Contemporary Art, 18 Sept – 28 Nov 2010, The Guide, Liverpool: Liverpool Biennial Contemporary Art Ltd, 62-63. [↩]
- From the opening paragraph of the Building the Big Society document. [↩]
- From this Guardian Article. [↩]
- As would, of course, that other cinema across the road – the now closed ABC / Forum. But that’s Project Dreams #1.5 [↩]