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The North West has a growing reputation as a cultural tourism destination

  • Date: 18 January 2013
  • Area: North
Piece of public art called Not Forgotten by artist Geraldine Pilgrim

Not Forgotten by Geraldine Pilgrim from Pennine Lancashire's Contemporary Heritage programme. Credit: Mid Pennine Arts

The cultural offer in the North West of England has never been stronger. With the two major cities of Manchester and Liverpool presenting large-scale festivals in alternating years, popular public free events attracting people from all over the world for their first visits to the region, annual festivals in urban and rural areas bringing in thousands of fresh visitors and imaginative use of heritage venues throughout the region, the North West is rightly established as a key destination for cultural tourists.

Last year's Cultural Olympiad events and activities across the region acted as a catalyst for that cultural tourism. Events like The Moment When in Cheshire, Lakes Alive in Cumbria, Blaze and Preston Guild with WE PLAY Expo in Lancashire, and Sacrilege - Jeremy Deller's inflatable Stonehenge - appearing in both Preston and Oldham raised the profile of the places where they were happening and brought them national and international attention.

Combine this with an already strong infrastructure of sold-out theatres, packed concert halls, busy galleries and museums and cutting-edge engagement with technology and you have a unique region that is comparable with many of the classic cultural destinations of Europe. There is so much going on all year round in the region, big and small scale and across all artforms, that it would be impossible to do it all justice in just one summary, but here are some indicators of the richness and variety that the region can be proud of.

Manchester International Festival is back in 2013 with Kenneth Branagh's new production of Macbeth, Britain's best young band The xx playing throughout the Festival for audiences of under 100, and The Biospheric Project (a prototype urban farm created in a disused cotton mill), the festival's reputation for new and imaginative work remains undiminished. 

This follows a 2012 which saw a strong Liverpool Biennial, focussing on bringing art to venues never used for art before and drawing in nearly 700,000 people over 10 weeks. Newly commissioned and existing artworks and projects were presented in diverse locations, including unusual and unexpected public spaces as well as the city's galleries and cultural venues. In 2014 Liverpool will be centre stage again, with Manchester back in 2015 - and so it goes on.

Also in Liverpool, there was the unprecedented and moving Sea Odyssey, a three day performance which brought the people of the city and many thousands from outside it together in a celebration of huge-scale and spectacular street theatre - more than 800,000 people watched this momentous event which is thought to have generated in excess of £32 million worth of positive economic activity for the city. Sea Odyssey, with its echoes of the Titanic centenary, became part of Liverpool's rich history overnight.

Further afield, Lakes Alive brought in 17,000 extra visitors to the Lake District with its season of world-class performances and arts events across Cumbria, with upwards of three million pounds spent by visitors. In Cheshire, Tatton Park repeated its biennial for the third successful time, using the whole of the park space for interesting and sometimes surprising installations. Both of these will build on their success for future activities.

Other heritage venues being put to positive creative use include the stately home Blackwell in Cumbria using its historic and beautiful rooms for contemporary exhibitions, and Contemporary Heritage: a new way of seeing by Mid Pennine Arts in which site-responsive artist commissions by nationally and internationally important artists stand outside urban centres and historical buildings throughout Pennine Lancashire. Notable new additions to this established programme of installations are due to open in spring 2013 at Gawthorpe Hall and Turton Tower.

The North West possesses a uniquely mixed natural landscape alongside a rich industrial heritage, and can add famous historical literary connections together with a flourishing literature scene, plus celebrated seaside resorts which both persistently continue their traditions and are reinventing themselves with contemporary culture as the trigger.

The Arts Council has been working jointly with a number of organisations in the tourism sector. Recent partnership work with Cumbria Tourism and Marketing Blackpool has increased the profile of cultural activities in those places. Cumbria is building a reputation for its rich arts and culture and Blackpool sees the development of an annual arts and cultural programme as a central element of its attraction for tourists.

The Arts Council has supported the new free website, Creative Tourist, a portal subtitled Things To Do, Places To Go which lets you see at a glance a full range of arts and cultural events and activities happening across the region at any given moment and up to two months into the future.

Commenting on this growing reputation of the North West, Jane Beardsworth, the Arts Council's Regional Director said: 'With the wide variety of festivals and events happening every year right across the region in addition to the year round offer provided by galleries, museums and performance venues, the cultural attraction of the North West has grown from strength to strength. The region is now firmly established as a key destination for cultural tourists - and rightly so.'