The Curation of Venues

How can the renovation of a venue be used to curate it?

This is not the most obvious way to look at a music venue so will take a little explanation, so first things first, what do I mean by curation?

In the context of a museum exhibit it’s the organisation of the content in order to communicate ideas. It’s an almost editorial control over what information is expressed, which objects are and aren’t suitable for inclusion, all for the purpose of asking the attendee to believe what the collection is saying; whether it’s a narrative to be invested in, or some dry facts to be remembered.

So if we think about a venue like a museum collection, what can we take away from this?

To begin with, different aspects of the history of a venue can be emphasised or diminished by the owners. For instance, the number of bands that have played at the Cavern Club in Liverpool is a comprehensive cross-section of the evolution of British popular music from the 1950’s onwards with everything from post-war jazz to post-punk being performed there. But, let’s be frank, they are not the reason why the Cavern Club is a household name. Despite the number of musicians that made up the Merseybeat scene in the late ’60’s it is the Beatles that have been the group emphasised by subsequent developments of the site.

Likewise, the Free Trade Hall in Manchester has been remembered for its fateful Sex Pistols gig, yet before that it played a major role in the development of Bob Dylan’s musical career with the infamous “Judas” moment. Once again hundreds of bands have played in this venue over the years but, outside of the Classical music world, it is rarely discussed outside of the contexts of these two bands. In the case of the Free Trade Hall, this management of the venues legacy is almost entirely done by agents beyond the venue’s control as the venue is now a hotel. The significance of the Free Trade Hall is now curated by the wider musical world.

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