When passengers leave a cruise ship docked in Liverpool, there’s a good chance they make their way past the domineering statue of The Beatles.

The four cast iron figures appear to stride towards visitors as though custodians welcoming you into the city.

In many ways it is the ground level gateway into Liverpool beyond its iconic waterfront.

Read more:Liverpool's waterfront set for multi-million pound boost

That towering presence of The Beatles says a lot about the city. But it doesn’t say everything.

The announcement at yesterday’s budget that Liverpool could become home to a new £2m “immersive” Beatles attraction on the Pierhead brings into question the type of city this ‘gateway’ leads to.

Is it one guided by its past or the potential of its future?

Take a walk around the city and it's hard to miss Beatles iconography, from the sensory overload of Mathew Street to tour buses circling the leafy suburbs of Menlove Avenue.

However its presence is an essential one.

Having been remodelled as a cultural destination following the decline of industry, the draw of The Beatles cannot be played down in keeping aspects of the city’s hospitality and tourism sector afloat.

Without the prevalence of Beatles attractions, Liverpool would look a much different place.

It’s fair to say a new £2m Beatles attraction would prove no less popular than the others crammed with tourists each weekend and be a welcome boost to the visitor economy.

Photo of the Beatles Statue on the waterfront
The Beatles are a gateway for many into the city

But what would it mean for those who live in the shadow of that famed Beatles statue all year around?

Does the remarketing of a popular rags to riches tale say anything new about the city they live in today? Does it go anyway to bolstering the cultural scene that is an economic and social lifeline to so many?

Since 2010, the number of Liverpool’s grassroots music venues has been in decline.

Integral venues such as The Kazimier, Mello Mello, The Zanzibar, Korova, Sound, Constellations and Studio 2 have all sadly closed their doors.

Arts studios are being put under threat by increasing city centre rents.

All museums and galleries in the city region were forced to shut for the best part of nine months.

Research by University of Liverpool and Bido Lito magazine found that, together, local musicians missed out £1.75m of performance revenue through the first lockdown.

And even through all that hardship, Liverpool is still home to one of the most thriving cultural scenes in the country - one that is still attempting to get back on its own two feet and assess the damage of the last 18 months.

In an austere landscape of venue closures and city centre redevelopment, Liverpool’s on-going cultural story still punches well above its weight.

Where we have The Beatles, we also have The Real Thing. Where we had The Cavern, we had the wild hive of creativity that was Eric’s. Where we have £2m set aside to potentially build a major new Beatles attraction, we have a vibrant contemporary music scene that is crying out for investment and more stages to build their own legacy.

There is so much more to be said about Liverpool’s past.

There is so much more that can be done to secure its creative future.

Subsequent plans for 'The Pool', a transformative project on the waterfront announced by Liverpool City Council, may yet in fact show there will be a less Beatles-centric focus to the new attraction and platform the city’s wider cultural offer.

Reacting to initial news that the £2m of funding could be lent to revamping Liverpool’s Beatles attractions, Yaw Owusu, artist manager and curator of LIMF and On Record festivals, said that any new attraction has to be a wider conversation starter about Liverpool’s cultural offer.

He said: “The Beatles are a great conversation starter. Even if we were to open a Beatles museum, would it have more contemporary activity going on?

“Does it lead to discussion about what The Beatles were in terms of pedigree, what made them who they are in terms of cultural background, but also the culture they absorbed and repackaged and made such a huge success from?

“If it's going to open conversations like that and be a beacon of this kind of discussion, it can fit into the new narrative of Liverpool.”

However Mr Owusu did admit that continued celebration of The Beatles can lead to a sense of confusion in how people outside of the city view Liverpool.

He added: “I think people are fascinated by Liverpool, but are also a bit confused. I know how LIMF made people look at the city differently, but the opening of a Beatles attraction could make it look on the outside that it's all we're talking about.

“When other people talk about Liverpool nationally and refer to The Beatles as the main thing in the city musically and culturally, it does hurt us somewhat because it doesn't show the full breadth of what's going on.

“But I think we have to take control of that a bit better.”

Beatles overlooking the Mersey
Moon and Venus visible on the Liverpool waterfront and onlooking Beatles statue

Laura Marie-Brown is a freelance PR consultant and producer who’s worked on a range of grassroots cultural projects in the city.

She told the ECHO how “challenging” it can be to cut through the dominant cultural narratives of Liverpool.

She added: “Liverpool is a mixed heritage city and it’s important to reflect that.

“I want today’s artists and musicians to have the range of stages The Beatles had to play on.

“I want them to have their own Cavern, a record shop on the same road, the industry contacts the Beatles were given, the same access to practice rooms, their own vibrant scene.

“How are we making sure that the city can create the next Fab Four from Toxteth, from Kirkdale, from Huyton from Wirral? What are we doing to make sure that that happens?”

So much of Liverpool’s cultural legacy and future can't rest at the feet of that domineering statue of The Beatles.

While a new attraction is sure to make financial sense in returns, it could extend the towering image of the Fab Four to those on the outside looking in - with so much more in the city kept in the shade.

The Beatles should be a gateway to a vibrant and diverse city that is happening and developing.

It may yet prove that the wider plans for ‘The Pool’ harnesses this potential.

However, the promotion of new, innovative culture is essential to rewriting narratives and delivering a citywide regeneration that works for tourists and residents alike.

So when tourists come into our city, will we want them to sit before a hologram displaying its former glory, or for them to take in the contemporary sights and sounds of artists who could one day have their own statue down on the waterfront?

That statue of The Beatles will continue to dominate the Pierhead on its own unless we use our celebrated heritage as a gateway to the city’s contemporary offer.

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