THE BLOG

Cultural Spaces: Is It Time We Took Over Empty Buildings?

06/10/2014 15:11 BST | Updated 05/12/2014 10:59 GMT

Pop-up has become something which is synonymous with urban cool, from restaurants to clothing boutiques, they are prime social media fodder and a notch on your "this great little place I know" list. But what if we could take the pop-up model and make it something so much more within the cultural sector?

Last week I attended a talk entitled, "Sustaining Creativity: Value and Cultural Spaces" courtesy of Julie's Bicycle. The speakers had some serious clout, with both Executive Director of the Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse, Deborah Aydon, and multi-award winning architect Steve Tompkins, of Howarth Tompkins fame, giving some excellent presentations.

Cultural buildings can have a real risk of alienating people, those big Victorian theatres were meant to be palaces for the arts, a place for the middle class to pretend they were slightly higher in society than they were. If you were working class then you went to the music halls, not really much more than a pub with a stage. Unlike the theatre you weren't there to clap at the final curtain politely, you were there to sing along and performances had a large amount of audience interaction.

It's not just theatres either, take a look at the vast amount of cultural spaces and you can see an implicit class level associated with them all: museums, art galleries, libraries - there's a reason they were built to look like Roman temples. By and large we haven't really evolved that much in contemporary cultural architecture - we have just taken Neo-Classicism and replaced it with shiny surfaces and sharp angles.

So what can a pop-up do that an arts venue can't?

By their very nature of being temporally unstable, they're here today but gone tomorrow, there is something dangerous in the pop-up. They are reactionary structures and are able to connect art, people and place in a uniquely tangible way. They can burn as bright as they like for the short time they exist, and allow places which don't have a huge cultural scene to experience something which could otherwise require a long trip to a neighbouring town. Emerging artists suddenly have a platform to make work which hasn't required a long and arduous process of application; work could be written in the morning and performed that afternoon.

This doesn't mean the end of the arts institution though, in fact I believe that it is in part the responsibility of these large, publicly funded organisations to turn the trend of pop-up into a full blown movement.

Liverpool Biennial took over Mitchells bakery in Anfield when it closed in January 2011. A stone's throw away from the Liverpool FC stadium it was to be bulldozed to make way for a council led regeneration plan for the area. However, with the help of Dutch artist, Jeanne van Heeswijk, the local community installed themselves in the building and decided to re-fire the ovens until the bulldozers came.

It's now three years later, this pop-up, community led bakery is far from closed and now provides fresh bread, cakes and pies to the community again. The Biennial and Jeanne van Heeswijk have gone, Homebaked, the bakery's new name, is now a self sustaining business run by the community for the community.

Without the help of the Liverpool Biennial this long deprived area would have continued to struggle to receive funding for arts projects. It took this innovative festival to see that art, people and place is a formula which is hugely powerful, and can address issues in new ways.

Surely this is the biggest endorsement for pop-ups in culture: sometimes they don't just pop, they explode.