A meeting at Blackpool Town Hall tonight could bring Blackpool one step closer to having its own Illuminations museum – in time.
What’s proposed involves the systematic restoration, listing and archiving of artefacts and artwork dating back to the earliest days of what’s claimed to be the greatest free show on earth. And for that arduous task Blackpool needs a specialist curator who will be working with the council’s cultural services team.
Head of Lights Richard Ryan confirms: “We’ve secured £49k Heritage Lottery funding for the scheme and part of the remit is to create a post as a curator so the public can have access to properly curated archives which will be preserved for future generations. Frankly it’s a good opportunity to build upon what we already have here in Blackpool and bring the collection to the attention of a far wider public.”
An equally delighted Councillor Graham Cain, cabinet member for tourism and culture, declares: “The archives follow the whole process from the original artists’ design concepts, technical specifications, blueprints, photographs and even maintenance records.
“They are a genuine unique collection of historical archives telling the story of the world-famous Illuminations. This project will restore, list and catalogue to museum quality standards. It will also increase access through work with local schools and collection open days.”
Many already turn out to trip the light fantastic within the purpose built modern complex now housing the features – and the archives. Lightworks, on Blackpool Business Park, off Squires Gate Lane, already has its own archivist, Stockport maths master Andrew Hazlehurst, 39, who has written and co-written specialist books on the Lights since becoming a fan of the Illuminations as a schoolboy.
Many of the documents now coming under closer scrutiny were stashed at the old Rigby Road depot and unearthed by Andrew and local historian Terry Regan’s research for their book From Lamp to Laser. Andrew adds: “Today they are in two large rooms at Lightworks, with an open classroom. There’s a good storage facility, drawers with pictures in, boxes of slides. But some of it hasn’t been touched since the move – and probably not much before – and few people have the knowledge to archive effectively. There’s a fine line between junk and historical so pretty interesting stuff was binned over the years.”
Now that’s all set to change with heritage funding focusing on getting the records and lost archives back in shape - and on display in Blackpool.
Could it ultimately lead to a Lights museum? Those in the know say there’s the potential to make more of the Lightworks site – particularly when it comes to attracting more community visits.
Friends of the Illuminations, a voluntary support force, are already keen on forging closer links. The resort’s reference librarian Tony Sharkey already lends considerable expertise – and oversees volunteers keen to assist.
Visit Lightworks and it’s like stepping back in time and reaching for the future simultaneously. Many old favourites are racked up ready for refurbishment, reincarnation, recycling, resale and re-use. While features are still being brought in from the seafront from last year’s centenary display staff are already working on the 101st Illuminations. “It’s only January but we’re already on with the schematics,” adds Lights chief Ryan. “The whole council continues to back us, irrespective of politics, due to the rock solid economic case we present – investment of £18m and a return to the greater economy of £200m.”
And at tonight’s full council meeting members will hear how significant the past may prove to the future of the Lights. Specialist heritage academic Professor Vanessa Toulmin, who was granted unprecedented access to the hidden archives for her book Blackpool Illuminations: The Greatest Free on Earth, commissioned by Blackpool Council, says: “Blackpool tends to wear its heritage lightly – and that extends to the Lights too. My book was prompted by the need to really celebrate what has been achieved there. You have an Aladdin’s cave there.”
Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, now in his sixth year as creative director of the Illuminations, hails the collection: “A designer’s dream.”
Meantime, the Art of the Light Fantastic, an exhibition in the Stanley Park Visitor Centre, displays a series of traditional hand drawn and painted designs for seafront tableaux and installations from the 1920s to the 1970s. Organiser Carl Carrington, Blackpool Council’s built heritage manager, says: “These particular designs show the incredible quality of the work.”
The exhibition runs until March 10, daily until Sunday, then weekends only.
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