A 200-year-old bronze statue commemorating Nelson’s victory at the Battle of Trafalgar is to be surrounded by thousands of sandbags to echo the plight of monuments in Ukraine.
The plan for Liverpool’s Nelson’s Monument is one of 24 cultural commissions announced on Tuesday as part of a festival that aims to transform the city in the run-up to its staging of the Eurovision song contest.
Running from 1-14 May, it will, say the organisers, be “the pre-party to end all pre-parties” as fans from across the world descend on the city.
Claire McColgan, the director of Culture Liverpool, said the planned EuroFestival would be a “scouse/Ukrainian mashup of brilliance”.
She added: “No other Eurovision host city has ever curated a creative programme of such scale and scope. This is the spirit of Eurovision spilling on to our streets. Free for all. Accessible to all. Uniting us all.”
In arts festival commissioning terms, EuroFestival has been brought together at lightning speed. There was a call-out in December that brought more than 700 submissions from artists across Europe.
Fifty were shortlisted and 24 have been chosen – 19 of them collaborations between UK and Ukrainian artists.
They include Protect the Beats, in which Liverpool’s Nelson Monument will be surrounded by 2,500 sandbags to replicate the way monuments in Ukraine are being enveloped to protect them from bombardment. Inside the structure there will be screens showing a documentary on the importance of music in Ukraine, including soldiers singing on the frontline and late-night raves in Kyiv’s metro stations.
Esther Simpson, of the arts group Whispered Tales, said the idea was to create a poignant artwork that transformed a city landmark. “As an artist who has lived in Liverpool for the past 10 years I know how the city’s streets continuously vibrate to a variety of beats due to its rich musical heritage … We can’t wait to be a part of EuroFestival.”
Festival organisers said one of the most ambitious projects would be one called Soloveiko Songbird – the national bird of Ukraine and “a symbol of song and happiness”. In English the birds are nightingales and the idea is to have 12 large, lit-up nightingale sculptures across the city.
Each will have unique plumage and audio representing different regions of Ukraine. The hope is that people will follow the full trail of songbirds.
Another trail will be With Fire and Rage, an immersive audio experience and “smartphone adventure” accessed via QR codes located around the city. It will include music concerts in metro stations during air raids and puppet shows that were livestreamed from bomb shelters.
In one commission, 450 children from Ukraine and 450 children from Merseyside will go on a simultaneous mass kite-fly, all of the kites designed and painted by the children.
From 8-10 May, there will be a three-day “queer fantasia” at Chavasse Park including the “best and wurst of Eurovision” – a day of drag and cabaret paying homage to all things Eurovision.
Jamala, the Ukrainian singer-songwriter who won the Eurovision song contest in 2016, will premiere her new album of music based around Crimean Tatar folk songs. It will be the first full performance of the album and she will be accompanied by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra.
She said it was a record she and her team “literally saved from the rubble last year” and one that preserved “the beauty and greatness” of her home culture.
“During these dark times for Ukraine, the presentation of the new album in Liverpool is an essential mission for me,” she said. “Just like the most precious memories of our lives, we cherish our culture as the most valuable treasure.”