This interview is part of a study exploring community use of railway buildings. The final report will be available later this spring, published by ACoRP and the Rail Development Group. The study was led by Professor Paul Salveson. This interview with Shaun Curtis, director of Metal Culture in Liverpool, is by Rachel Francis.
Metal’s vision is to transform iconic, disused buildings into creative workspace for artists. In Liverpool, Metal work out of Edge Hill – the world’s oldest active passenger railway station.
At Edge Hill, artistic aspiration is coupled with down to earth ideas that engage the local communities – like inviting people round for a home cooked meal, or giving out free tickets for world class performance.
Metal completed the renovation of two historic buildings at Edge Hill in 2009. The original 1836 Engine House, Boiler Room and Accumulator Tower have become a cultural and creative hub for artists whilst maintaining the aesthetic of the railway station and its historic roots. The main building on Platform One includes large communal dining area, exhibition/work spaces and office. On the opposite platform are studios and an incubation space for creative businesses. An outdoor area has become a garden for community projects with focus on health, natural world and climate change.
In September 2016, Metal held an open-air performance of Steve Reich’s Different Trains. Reich attended the performance, together with a packed audience from across the country. The performance took place on an unused area of the station – once an entrance for carriages – that forms a natural amphitheatre. The performance was widely acclaimed and attracted a high level of media coverage.
Tell us about your work at Edge Hill
S.C. Three permanent staff work at Edge Hill, supporting artists from the UK and overseas, hosting artists-in-residence and running intensive, week-long Culture LAB’s for peer-to-peer learning and exchange. Following up from the success of Different Trains, a follow up performance is planned – at the moment further details are embargoed.
Creative work is directly linked to people and place:
Our community at Edge Hill is Wavertree, Fairfield, Kensington(Liverpool) and Toxteth – the poverty in these neighbourhoods is a pervasive narrative – from Edge Hill Station we have begun to tell another story about the same area – about a place where passenger transport by rail began, a place of new ideas – ideas that have changed the world for the better.
What is Metal?
SC. Metal started up in London in 2002. The founder is Jude Kelly OBE and her vision is to transform disused buildings into creative workspaces for artists of all disciplines. Metal at Edge Hill began a few years later, with a meeting between Jude and Ian Brownbill who was already working in the Edge Hill area and went on to become the first director at Metal Liverpool.
Included in the meeting was Columbian artist Luis Fernandez Pelaez . … he was planning to create an urban forest in a rundown area of the city … it struck them that the desire to transform spaces through art can have a powerful impact.
This was the spark that bought Metal to Edge Hill Station. There was an engagement process and funding was raised to renovate the disused station buildings with support from Northern Rail, Network Rail, Merseytarvel, the Railway Heritage Trust and Kensington regeneration. The work was completed in 2009, achieving recognition for the beautiful contemporary spaces that embrace the history and aesthetic of the building. Funding for Metal Liverpool comes from Arts Council, Liverpool City Council, Northern Rail.
What form of lease or other agreement do you have with the landlord?
SC. We have a 25-year Tripartite Lease with Network Rail and Arriva Northern for the two buildings. They have recently acquired the space for a community garden and would like to develop use of the disused entrance that was used as an amphitheatre for “Different Trains”
What have been the positive impacts of the project for your organisation and the community/s you support?
SC. The key success factor is a focussed, authentic vison in which aspirational art connects with place – the history, the atmosphere, the trains and the people of that place. This has been achieved without any compromise on the creative intent or quality of the art, in fact the station and local community are a compelling element of the art. The station has become something to be proud of and also to get involved in – a positive, inspiring, welcoming presence in a rundown area.
Metal operates through a wide range of partnerships, including Arts Council, local authorities, agencies such as the Local Economic Partnerships. Local Community groups get engaged through particular projects and a strong local network has been established. If this had been an arts initiative that was pretentious – or that didn’t have a connection to place – that parachuted in – felt like a UFO – it wouldn’t have worked. The station has bridged the gap between art and community.
Rachel Francis, www.sharpeningpencils.co.uk