Stand Up For Southport Blog by Andrew Brown
What’s been your favourite show, exhibition or event at The Atkinson over the past 10 years?
The impressive cultural and arts hub in Southport was reopened 10 years ago today (Tuesday 28th November 2023) following an impressive £20 million transformation led by Sefton Council from the old Southport Arts Centre and Southport Library buildings.
The stunning cultural centre on Lord Street in Southport town centre was named after notable Southport benefactor William Atkinson.
In the past decade it has hosted over 3,000 events, sold more than 440,000 tickets, issued over one million books, and served over 38,000 ice creams.
Here are 10 of my highlights from the past 10 years – I would love to hear yours!
1 – The Many / Paper My Wishes
What a fitting exhibition to celebrate a decade at The Atkinson.
Created by artist Suhail Shaikh, this is an extraordinary art exhibition on so many levels.
This is world class – and admission is free. It’s a must-see.
At the centre is the first ever unveiling of Suhail’s life-size sculpture of the nose section of a World War Two RAF Lancaster, made entirely from cardboard and paper.
The level of detail is astounding.
It’s a living piece of art too, which makes it incredibly powerful, moving, poignant and beautiful.
Local people have contributed their own copies of pictures, log books, diaries, medals and other items from relatives who served in Bomber Command.
2 – Unseen Southport
I was astonished when I saw Unseen Southport for the first time in 2014, and went back many times to see it again and again, discovering something new every time.
I was distraught when it left! I live in hope it may make a comeback one day…
This was a treasure trove of photographs detailing Southport’s past which were on show for the first time for generations.
The Unseen Southport exhibition was put together after hundreds of rare early images on glass plate negatives and slides were unearthed in the town.
The discovery led Joanne Chamberlain down an intriguing journey of discovery as she unearthed never-before-told stories about the seaside resort.
She said at the time: “There is just an astonishing collection of pictures from all parts of Southport. We want the exhibit to show people how much really happened in the town.”
3 – The Nightingale’s Song
Truly sensational is the only way to describe seeing The Nightingale’s Song.
It saw Illuminos project The Nightingale’s Song in a series of three mesmerising projections in collaboration with Guildhall Live Events, Lightworks, and artist Amelia Kosminsky onto the front of The Atkinson building as people watched from the Town Hall Gardens.
It was to be one of the highlights of the first Sefton Borough Of Culture in 2020.
Unfortunately it was dealt a cruel blow by the onset of the Covid pandemic.
We would love to see this celebration of Sefton’s coastline return – perhaps for the next Sefton Borough Of Culture?
4 – I Grew Up 80s by Matt Fox
This was an inspired exhibition that really got people of all ages talking!
Matt Fox is a fascinating person to talk to, with a huge enthusiasm for collecting all things 80s.
It led to a display which allowed visitors to travel back in time through the cultural landscape of 1980’s Britain through the eyes of a child – revisiting the vibrancy, quirkiness and innovation that defined the decade.
There were over 200 iconic treasures from BMX to Betamax, Dirty Dancing to Donkey Kong, Thompson Twins to Transformers.
I went with my daughters, who were baffled to see things such as Walkmans, Cabbage Patch Kids, and other items from the decade that taste forgot.
Matt’s collection of stunning 80s movie posters was very impressive.
5 – Matisse: Drawing with Scissors
This, for me, was the moment when The Atkinson announced its arrival in style.
The condition of the old Southport Arts Centre meant it could never host top class art exhibitions like this.
When these works by Matisse appeared in February 2024, they showed people just what was possible from their new venue.
Matisse: Drawing with Scissors. Late Works 1950-1954 was a huge hit.
As one of the 20th Century’s most influential artists his works are celebrated for their extraordinary richness and luminosity of colour.
This display featured 35 lithographic prints of his famous cut-outs, including The Snail and the Blue Nudes.
6 – Mrs Goodison’s Egyptology collection
In April 2015, The Atkinson unveiled a very special selection of rare and fascinating ancient Egyptian treasures.
They went on show in the building’s brand new Museum with the new Sacred Landscapes of Ancient Egypt exhibition.
The display, which you can see today, contains treasures from the Goodison Egyptology Collection, an assortment that was previously displayed in the Bootle Museum and has been in storage for over 40 years. Some of the pieces date back to up to 3,000 BC.
The exhibition was laid to take people on a journey, as well as to show the deeply spiritual connection that the ancient Egyptians felt with their environment and the land around them. This connection influenced their perception and the design of everything from their spectacular temples to everyday household objects.
7 – Pantomimes
Southport must be the pantomime capital of the UK!
Which other town can support so many shows?
The Atkinson hosts pantos by the Southport-based All Souls Dramatic Club, and this year by KD Theatre Productions Ltd.
There have been some superb shows to entertain families over the years and this December and January is no different.
Winter wouldn’t be the same – or as cheery – without watching a panto in Southport.
With two daughters, I have special memories from watching pantos at The Atkinson and at The Little Theatre in Southport. I can’t wait to see this year’s shows.
8 – The Crossens Canoe
Sometimes known as ‘King Arthur’s Canoe’. Suspended between the library and the main building, four metres off the ground, this ancient artefact was discovered on 22nd April 1899 in a field near Crossens by local farmer Peter Brookfield whilst ploughing his field.
Formerly on display at the Botanic Gardens Museum in Churchtown, it dates from the edge of Martin Mere 1,500 years ago.
Martin Mere was then the largest lake in England and is supposedly where The Lady of the Lake handed Arthur the legendary Excalibur sword.
It is the lake into which Sir Bedivere returned the Excalibur, hurling the sword into the dark waters to fulfil Arthur’s dying wish.
9 – The World Reimagined
This was a globe created by people in Southport to promote racial justice. It took pride of place in the Atkinson foyer.
It showcased figures including: Southport DJ Adele Roberts; Merseyside Black Lives Matter founder Chantelle Lunt; writer and abolitionist Oloudah Equiano; former US President Barack Obama; NASA astronaut Dr Mae Jemison, the first black woman to travel into space; and Liverpool FC star Mo Salah.
The artwork was created by Southport Against Racism and Christ The King High School in Birkdale, as part of The World Reimagined initiative, which aims to transform how we understand the transatlantic trade in enslaved African people and its impact on all of us.
This is not ‘Black History’, this is all our history.
The globe in Southport included inspirational quotes including: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” (former South African President and anti-Apartheid campaigner Nelson Mandela).
10 – Princess Anne visit
How can you beat a royal visit?
Earlier this year, Princess Anne came to officially re-dedicate Southport War Memorial to mark the Centenary since it was unveiled.
The event was organised by Southport Royal British Legion.
The Princess Royal enjoyed lunch in The Atkinson and was also there to admire remembrance themed artwork created by children from local schools.
11 – Courage And Devotion
The bravery of the Polish airmen who served at RAF Woodvale during World War Two were celebrated with this special exhibition at The Atkinson.
It included artist Suhail Shaikh’s spectacular reconstruction of a historically accurate Spitfire as flown by 308 Krakowski Squadron at the airbase, near Southport.
This exhibition, called ‘Courage and Devotion, looked at the lives of the Polish airmen based at RAF Woodvale, and the surrounding area, during the Second World War.
There were lots of other fascinating objects. They included a painting in the collection by artist Stanislaw Mikula. During the war, The Atkinson staged concerts and other events which there were programmes for.
12 – Red Rum
The world’s greatest racehorse, and one of Southport’s most-loved residents, who won The Grand National a record three times (and finished second twice).
The regular sight of Red Rum flying over the Southport sands where he trained thrilled many a local resident and this exhibition captured some of that magic as we tell his unique story.
Central to the exhibition was a mural of Red Rum by Liverpool-based artist and Liverpool City Region Artist of the Year 2020, Paul Curtis.
The mural depicted Red Rum’s hattrick at the Grand National in 1977 with Churchtown Boy ridden by Martin Blackshaw coming in second behind him. Paul’s work will be familiar to many from the 15 metre high mural of Red Rum situated on the Promenade and the white line Red Rum mural on the side of The Bold Hotel on Lord Street, both in Southport.