Strategic approaches – Liverpool Biennial

Theme: temporary and permanent commissioning

Turning the Place Over, Richard Wilson, 2007. Photo courtesy Liverpool Biennial and the artist 

Turning the Place Over, Richard Wilson, 2007, Liverpool. Commissioned by Liverpool Biennial. Photo: courtesy Liverpool Biennial and the artist                               

Best practice in: establishing an independently curated programme to deliver high quality commissions that give an overarching identity to Liverpool’s art in the public realm.

Liverpool Biennial was established in 1998 by artist and patron James Moores to improve the city’s cultural opportunities and attract national and international attention. It has since grown to be the UK’s largest festival of contemporary visual art – it won the Northwest regional title Best Tourism Event in 2004, was runner up (to The London Eye) in 2004 for the accolade Best Tourism Experience in the national Enjoy England Awards for Excellence, and contributed significantly to the city’s success in winning the title European Capital of Culture 2008.  It has made a huge impact on the cultural economy of the city: the 2008 festival received nearly 1m visits, 50% travelling from outside the City Region, and created an additional £26.6m economic impact in the city.

Commissions for the public realm are a defining feature of the international festival (for example, in 2008 13 of the 31 new commissions were situated in the public realm) but as well as commissioning temporary works for the Biennial year, the Biennial curatorial team oversees a year-round programme of public art commissions. Until the recent appointment of a public art officer within the City Council, it led Liverpool’s Public Art Steering Group, whose public art strategy (never formally adopted) has helped shape the city’s objectives and remit, and it has created an impressive body of art in the public realm in the city and region over the last ten years.

Liverpool Biennial’s mission is “engaging art, people and place” and its core value is “Go Further”.  It aims to commission art of significant ambition and quality as measured by international arts professionals, and to broaden and deepen engagement with contemporary art.  As part of this, its public realm programme aims to:

  • Engage with a high calibre of artists to make exemplary commissions that help reinforce Liverpool’s reputation as leading city for the visual arts in the UK.
  • Commission site specific work that is integrated and responsive to the city.
  • Work in partnership with a wide range of local organisations and people in order to engage with local expertise, widen access to high quality art and help embed art into the locality.
  • Commission both temporary works that help draw people to the Biennial, and temporary and permanent works that help create better public realm for residents and visitors alike.
  • Achieve sufficient and sustainable funding to deliver the vision.

Liverpool Biennial is embedded into Liverpool’s cultural sector and works in partnership with myriad organisations and individuals on a year-round basis – from the city’s established art institutions to community groups in local neighbourhoods.  It uses the festival as a catalyst for temporary and permanent commissions in the public realm – both in terms of funding and the calibre of artists it is able to attract.  It has a specialist curatorial team to manage commissions in the public realm from beginning to end – from selecting the artists, to overseeing planning applications, community consultation and budgets – and although an autonomous organisation, it works closely with regeneration agencies (such as Housing Market Renewal and Liverpool Vision) to help ensure its direction is focused and in-line with the city’s needs.

Programme Development:
Major permanent commissions include Antony Gormley’s Another Place, at Crosby beach (Sefton Borough), which has become an iconic landmark for the region, and Turning the Place Over by Richard Wilson, which literally turns a building inside out and has transformed a former derelict and vacant building into a visitor attraction.

Temporary commissions include Ai Weiwei’s work for the International exhibition for the 2008 Biennial, MADE UP.  The exhibition was particularly spectacular as it was also a celebration of the city’s title of Capital of Culture.  The work was a giant steel spider on a web that hung between buildings in the city centre, illuminated at night by hundreds of LED lights. 

Facts and Figures:
Key factors for success:

  • A specialist, curatorial team which includes collaborative partners drawn from art galleries and institutions in Liverpool.
  • Close working relationships with regeneration agencies, community organisations as well as local arts organisations, helping to embed commissions via extensive programmes of engagement.
  • A remit and budget to commission both temporary and permanent work, making for a dynamic programme for the Biennial year, but also leaving a lasting positive impact on the built environment of the city.

Funding streams:

  • Regular funding from Arts Council England, North West and Liverpool City Council
  • Past funding partners include Liverpool Vision, the Northwest Regional Development Agency, the Liverpool Culture Company, The Northern Way and the A Foundation.
  • Public and private funding for the arts has helped lever in overall investment for the area, for example, Antony Gormley’s commission for Crosby beach has attracted £5 million worth of investment.

Laurie Peake, Programme Director (Public Art), Liverpool Biennial
PO Box 1200, 55 Jordan Street, Liverpool L69 1XB.  Email:

Liverpool Biennial website includes information on current and past commissions and the organisation as a whole.
Arts Council England website for facts and figures that demonstrate some of the success of the Biennial overall.