Having guided Manchester to Commonwealth Games success, Sue Woodward is relishing her role as creative director for Liverpool's Capital of Culture events
Sue Woodward finds it funny that she is known as a 'professional secondee'. This is fortunate because, though she is normally ensconced at Granada TV in Manchester as director of regional affairs, her life is about to be taken over again by the rigours of the cultural regeneration industry.
Woodward wrote the creative bid for the Commonwealth Games staged in Manchester last summer and was awarded an OBE for conceiving the games' opening and closing ceremonies. She is now back along the M62 in her native Liverpool, where she has been formally appointed creative director for its 2008 Capital of Culture programme.
The appointment builds on her work steering Liverpool's bid to success and is a natural progression for a woman who can see the big picture without losing sight of the details. She takes genuine pleasure and pride in Liverpool's jubilation, without descending into council-speak cliché. Woodward will be responsible for Liverpool's five-year programme in the run-up to being European Capital of Culture, including the city's 800th anniversary in 2007. That means at least 50 festivals, celebrating art, architecture, dance, food, sport, science, cinema, theatre, comedy and literature.
Though the bid was not buildings-driven, Liverpool's Victorian and Edwardian architecture will inescapably form the backdrop - the legacy of a grander time when the city's wealth came from commerce not culture. For a city built for twice as many inhabitants as it has now, the hope is that filling it with tourists will eventually bring genuine, lasting benefits for its citizens and halt the damage done by depopulation and industrial decline. None of the culture team doubts that this is the right way to transform the city's fortunes, that cultural regeneration is the logical economic driver. The measure of Capital of Culture's success, say the city leaders, is tourism spend.
Woodward recognises that Liverpool needs more tourists. 'We want them to stay and spend more - to see what the city does, how it lives and breathes and what comes back when you scratch it, ' she says. But it is the planned transformation of the public realm she is most excited by. 'It's very hard to change the perception of a place, and Liverpool has had a poor perception for years.
'But the one thing it's always had is the world-class architecture. Now it has some truly amazing world-class projects that can build on what have been under-used assets in the past, particularly on the waterfront.'
Big set pieces are planned, she adds, with the buildings to be used for pyrotechnic displays. 'We aim to be European city of light, using the architecture as a backdrop, ' she adds.
The architectural structures will be a magnet, says Woodward, with Alsop's Cloud the centrepiece when it opens in 2008. Liverpool's waterfront, including Albert Dock, has long been cut off from the city centre by a 1970s-inspired ring road, but a new retail development (shopping is as much part of culture as high art, insists Woodward), backed by the Duke of Westminster, will provide a physical connection. This is at masterplan stage, being drawn up by BDP, and aims to reinstate the area's original dockside fabric and atmosphere. It will consist of a series of buildings with public squares, courtyards and alleyways. 'The things that have disappeared in most cities - linked squares that draw people in, places that you come across almost by accident, but with good contemporary design. It's the antithesis of an out-of-town shopping mall;
definitely not another Trafford Centre.'
Plans to create a £40 million World Discovery Centre have been boosted by a £15 million Private Finance Initiative grant from the Department for Media, Culture and Sport. This will include a redesign of the city's 1860 Central Library, to create an online centre for tracing family roots. Once completed, the centre will be part of the key buildings within the city's nominated World Heritage site, with customer usage expected to rise from 600,000 to more than a million a year.
'People's stories make up the history of the city, and this world archive trail is the intangible backdrop, ' says Woodward. 'Liverpool has 90 million public records.Millions of people, from Al Jolson to Charles Dickens, sailed from Liverpool to America and we want to create a link with the Ellis Island website.'
Between the Pier Head, where the Cloud will house the new Museum of Liverpool Life, to William Brown Street, where the library, Liverpool Museum and the Walker Art Gallery were built in the mid-19th century, there will be stainless steel information pods. 'These will be similar to ones in Vienna, where there are eight of them. We plan to have 50. And they will become a permanent piece of the public realm, ' says Woodward. 'Iconic buildings are important, but the public realm is just as important. It gives people a renewed sense of ownership of their city, so they don't need to be defensive about it in the first place.'
Changes in Liverpool's cultural infrastructure were already planned, and in some cases under way, before it was awarded European Capital of Culture, but winning the title has added impetus. It's not just about money, however, stresses Woodward.
'Where partnerships were tentative, the ideas that came out of the bid really focused people, ' she says. 'You have to make decisions about how you want people to use the city centre, where you want them to go, how to create the right ambience, how to encourage clean and safe spaces without cars. It's the face and fabric of the city, not just the skyline. For instance, we are installing a tram system. They are clean and stylish and say a lot about a city, and the tram stops create a design opportunity.'
'Why I love Liverpool, ' she adds, 'particularly its landscape and architecture, is that you can walk round the business district and you want to put your hands on the stone and literally touch the city and all its stories.
'But look again and you see the cranes of all the multimillion-pound developments.
It's a magical mix. It's a city whose time has come. It has the hunger, the appetite and the confidence - people can see the future.'