This blog set out the final published itinerary for the Netherlands Foundation for Visual Arts, Design and Architecture (Fonds BKVB) study tour to northern England in October 2010. The UK programme was organised by Liverpool Biennial in collaboration with Atoll for Fonds BKVB. Check out the 5-day itinerary by clicking on the page links above.

Thursday, 29 July 2010


The core activity of the Fonds BKVB (the Netherlands Foundation for Visual Arts, Design and Architecture) is to provide subsidy to individual visual artists, designers, architects and cultural mediators. The Fonds is especially active in the area of internationalisation; it has access to many artist-in-residence places and studios throughout the world, besides, the foundation organises an interdisciplinary study tour on a particular research theme for (landscape) architects and (urban) designers, cultural mediators as well as for theoreticians, designers and visual artists who make a contribution to the design and theory of the public space. In the past the Fonds has organised study tours to the United States, Central and Eastern Europe, India, Japan, Scandinavia and Denmark, metropolises in South-East Asia, Los Angeles, and traffic junctions in France and England.

The ninth Fonds study tour of October 2010, is entitled ‘What’s up, what’s down. Cultural Catalysts in Urban Space’. It is intended to investigate the urban transformations that have taken place in a number of secondary European cities over the past 20 years. Participants will be visiting Marseille,Tirana, Prsitina, Skopje and the Basque country; as well as Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds in the North of England.

In the past couple of decades many secondary cities have exchanged a one-sided past as an industrial city or port for a cultural creative profile. Attractive and high-quality cultural amenities were devised to provide new impulses for the often impoverished and neglected city and to make it attractive. This model of the ‘cultural colonisation’ of the city seems to be successful, but the question is: To what extent, for how long, and for whom?

The cultural colonisation of the city is in the first place a top-down strategy of local authorities and large institutions. A fundamental question is whether this top-down movement has also contributed to the growth and renewal of a fertile cultural breeding ground consisting of fine-meshed and ramified creative and innovative cultural networks. The question is all the more important because this strategy of cultural revitalisation was deployed at the moment when the composition of the urban population was changing drastically. Immigrants, residents from the former colonies, temporary labourers, refugees, intellectual and economic nomads settled in the big cities of Europe and came to form an increasing proportion of the urban population. It is debatable whether they can identify with the historical and cultural profile of the city and its deliberately chosen form of (self-)presentation.

These and other questions regarding the significance of the cultural profiling of the city will be raised during the study your. The official rhetoric that legitimised these transformations will naturally be taken into consideration too, as well as the question of what the generic urban yield has been. For instance, did the adoption of a new cultural profile primarily provide opportunities for the improvement of the public domain in inner cities and the adjacent creative environments, or did it filter through to the districts where the immigrants and other groups in search of a better life settled?

The Fonds BKVB tour wishes to investigate what has developed in the shadow or slipstream of the more strategic cultural programmes in the urban space of cities – that is both, 'thanks to' or 'in spite' of them.


Starting with the Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries, and fed by the burgeoning textile industries, the rapid planning of first roads, canals and then railways, gradually influenced the economical & cultural identities and stoked an intense rivalry between northern towns and cities along the trans-Pennine corridors - running first between Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds, and in time extending across to Hull. This rapid growth resulted in a migration of the workforce towards these condensed industrial centres. Much further back, a 15th Century sowed the seed of a great regional rivalry when the Wars of the Roses saw a long and bloody civil war fought for the throne of England - and set between the rival Royal Houses of Lancaster (the red rose of Lancashire) and York (the white rose of Yorkshire).

Following a slow decline after two World Wars and the subsequent economic downturn in the 1980's, each of these three cities began a long process to try to re-invent themselves, whilst around them the populations supporting their respective hinterlands began to shrink-back. This ensured that the old economic rivalries endured - and even resulted as recently as 2007 with the creation of the old Labour government's £100m Northern Way economic engine: "bringing together the cities and regions of the North of England to work together to improve the sustainable economic development of the North”. Its aim was to close a measured £30bn output gap between the North and the average for the rest of England. This desire stemmed from the stirrings of the 2000 Urban White Paper - Towards an Urban Renaissance, prepared and then updated by Richard Roger's Urban Task Force; and linked to the subsequent “paradigm shift” called for by ex Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott at the critical Urban Summit of 2004.

Regardless of any evolving economic strategy however, culturally-speaking an intense competitive streak will always exist here through the ever-present sporting rivalry evidenced in football and the largely northern phenomenon of rugby league.

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Outline Proposal

It is proposed that the transpennine corridor now tracked by the M62 motorway, first muted in 1930; and mirroring the earlier (and much more contour-following) railways and Leeds-Liverpool Canal routes, provide a simple narrative to explore a range of cities and their hinterlands in the North of England. Whilst other major cities like Sheffield and Newcastle undoubtedly have also much to add culturally to this northern perspective, it is felt that the simpler geographical and geological dynamic; historic economic and cultural rivalry; and better transport links of this transpennine corridor, provide the best starting point for such a targeted and time-limited visit.

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This outline principle is further reinforced by a number of strategic generators - ranging from the transport networks of the M62 and Leeds Liverpool Canal; the Transpennine Trail and E8 European Long Distance Footpath; as well as the unsigned Euroroutes E20 (Shannon to St. Petersburg); and E22 (Holyhead to Ishim). As well as this, are recent cultural precedents like Art Transpennine festivals in 1998 and 2008; and more recently the New Icons of the North pan-regional public art programme. Representing a more contemporary urban planning vision for this same M62 corridor is also Will Alsop's 2004 concept for a huge coast to coast Supercity, 80 miles long and 15 miles wide - featured as part of his C4 series Supercities UK.