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Friday, 8 March, 2002, 17:31 GMT
Barbican celebrates 20th birthday
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By BBC News Online's Robert White

The Barbican arts complex, in London, is celebrating its 20th birthday this week.

Since 1982, more than 27 million visitors have passed though its portcullis to attend more than 52,000 events.

This impressive statistic raises the question - how many of them are still in there?

Artistry in residence: The Barbican mixes spaces

The building's labyrinthine intricacy is immortalised in the anecdotes of countless theatre- and concert-going Londoners.

A thin yellow line painted on the floor is supposed to help lost punters find their way to daylight.

Nevertheless, the critics and the public have been pretty nice about the Barbican over the years.

The complex was devised in the 1960s, built in the 70s and finally opened on 3 March 1982 by the Queen, who pronounced it "one of the wonders of the modern world".

A broadly positive consensus of opinion about the new arts centre quickly emerged.

It established itself as a leading venue for classical music with a series of concerts featuring some of the world's top orchestras.

Marianne Faithfull
Marianne Faithfull: Only Connecting

The Barbican also enjoyed instant credibility though its association with the Royal Shakespeare Company, which had been involved with the new complex since the design stage.

And it was deemed to have sidestepped some of the design pitfalls the other great London arts complex built since the war, the South Bank Centre, had failed to avoid.

Clive Gillinson, Managing Director, London Symphony Orchestra, has paid tribute to the "wonderful acoustic" of the refurbished Barbican hall.

The Barbican has occasionally found itself at the centre of controversies that have not been of its own making.

In recent years, it has been in the news because of the gradual departure of the RSC.

After reducing its residency from a year to six months in 1997, the RSC is due to decamp entirely to its Stratford base in May this year.

Barbican't: The site was very unpromising

And in 1995, John Tusa took over as Barbican managing director, having left the BBC World Service after very publicly denouncing the policies of the corporation's former director general, John Birt.

The centre is moving into its the third decade with a series of events, including a photographic exhibition entitled This Was Tomorrow.

The exhibition traces the development of the groundbreaking wider Barbican complex.

The arts centre joined with housing stock that was already on the site to create a unique fusion of performance and residential spaces; the public and the private; the new and the old.

On Sunday 10 March, Marianne Faithfull is due to open the centre's third annual Only Connect series of live events.

With a genre-busting programme, the Barbican seems more than ever determined to live up to novelist EM Forster's famous injunction to "only connect".

Faithfull will be to be joined on stage by Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker and former Smashing Pumpkin Billy Corgan, among others.

Afel Bocoum
Afel Bocoum: Appearing with Damon Albarn

Cocker has collaborated with Faithfull on her latest album, Kissin' Time, stepping imaginatively inside Marianne's skin to supply the lyric for Sliding Though Life on Charm.

On 25 March, New York-based free jazz multi-instrumentalist John Zorn blends surf-rock, lounge jazz, world beats and jungle sound effects in his latest piece, entitled The Gift.

And the following day, in the third of the nine events, Damon Albarn, of Blur and Gorillaz - himself a Faithfull collaborator - takes to the stage with Malian musician Afel Bocoum.

The whole Only Connect event seems like a timely declaration of intent from an arts centre that has always been proudly eclectic.

See also:

06 Sep 01 | Arts
Barbican to get listed status
16 Oct 00 | Entertainment
Barbican gets 6m makeover
30 May 01 | Arts
All change at the RSC
15 Feb 02 | Reviews
Barbican goes back to the future
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