The Culture Mile that will transform arts in the City

Sir Nicholas Kenyon
Evening Standard
Culture on the streets: the Lumiere Festival in London: PA
Culture on the streets: the Lumiere Festival in London: PA

Culture is spilling out onto the streets. From the Lumiere festival lighting London’s buildings and spaces, to the moving performance events in public spaces around the centenary of the First World War, the arts are heading for the places where people live and work.

London has undergone a huge artistic resurgence: public spaces at King’s Cross and Trafalgar Square, venues such as the Bridge Theatre and a renewed South Bank reinforce the capital’s place as one of the greatest cultural cities in the world.

Now the City of London’s new Culture Mile is joining in. This weekend Barbican OpenFest offers a variety of free events in and around the mile from Farringdon to Moorgate. It will show how one of London’s less welcoming spaces — the road tunnel at Beech Street running underneath the Barbican — can be transformed into an immersive light and sound experience. A two-day installation called Tunnel Visions: Array is being created by 59 Productions, the artists behind the video design of the London 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony, with contemporary music by the leading composer Esa-Pekka Salonen recorded by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.

The City of London Corporation, which built the Barbican in the period after the war as a utopian vision of a residential estate with the arts at its core, is now supporting new era of cultural development. Culture Mile, launched last year, brings together four of London’s leading cultural institutions led by the City Corporation, all working together to bring the north-west of the Square Mile to life with exciting events and unique collaborations. The Museum of London, the Barbican, the London Symphony Orchestra and the Guildhall School of Music & Drama will work together with an increasing network of diverse partners to deliver new experiences for everyone.

This is the start of a long journey. Later this year the central section of Crossrail opens: the new Elizabeth line will transform access to the north-west of the City, connecting it directly to London’s airports, putting more than a million people within easy reach of the area. Culture Mile will work with the community and City Corporation to improve streets with pop-up art, better signage and wayfinding, with welcoming public spaces. Engagement with our neighbouring boroughs in arts outreach and learning has been central to our activity and will be crucial for the future.

And at the heart of Culture Mile, two landmark projects will establish it with an international public: the new Museum of London at West Smithfield, and the proposal for a new Centre for Music, offering great music for all. The arts in the City, inside and outside, bringing meaning and value to our lives, will be a powerful part of our future.

Sir Nicholas Kenyon is managing director of the Barbican Centre.

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