Page last updated at 10:16 GMT, Saturday, 10 January 2009

City gears up for culture finale

La Princesse
La Princesse was one of 7,000 cultural events in the city

Liverpool is gearing up for a spectacular firework display to mark the finale of the city's reign as Capital of Culture.

About 50,000 visitors are expected to attend the People's Celebration event on the banks of the River Mersey.

The European Capital of Culture title will be passed to Linz in Austria and Vilnius, Lithuania, during the evening.

Organisers say the 2008 title has transformed the city, boosted its confidence and raised aspirations.

They point to the creation of Liverpool One shopping centre, the new pier head and new residential buildings near the waterfront as evidence.

Warren Bradley, leader of Liverpool City Council, said there had been 15 million visits to cultural attractions in the city, and three and a half million more visitors than organisers expected.

'Aspirations raised'

"What we set out when we bid for European Capital of Culture was to change the perceptions, not only of the people in the city but people who live in the UK or internationally, about what Liverpool is and what Liverpool has to offer," he told the BBC.

"And I think we've managed to do that. It's a lot more positive now.

"There's a lot more confidence in the city and there's a lot more confidence of would-be investors who are going to bring that sustainability that Liverpool hasn't had for so long."

The government has recognised the impact and wants to build on the social and economic success of 2008 with a competition for a British city of culture to be held every four years.

Phil Redmond, deputy chairman of the Culture Company, said the economic impact of 2008 was estimated to be 800m on the Merseyside region, while 4bn had been spent on the infrastructure and regeneration of the city.

Sir Paul McCartney at Anfield
Fireworks and pyrotechnics will be launched from boats on the Mersey

"So they are real, visible, concrete benefits within this year. And the soft benefits that will flow out is a young generation in the city which has now had its confidence and its aspirations raised."

The public celebration was due to start 1815 GMT when the outside of the new 70m Museum of Liverpool will be used as an 80ft (24m) cinema screen showing highlights of cultural events from the last year.

Huge fireworks will be launched from boats on the river during the evening.

Meanwhile, 14 cultural venues, including the Bluecoat Arts Centre, and Tate Liverpool will remain open until 2200 GMT to allow visitors free access.

Street theatre and musical performances will also be taking place on Church Street, Bold Street and other areas of the city centre.

Highlights of 2008 included Sir Paul McCartney's 40,000-strong concert at Anfield stadium, the Gustav Klimt exhibition at Tate Liverpool and the hosting of the Turner Prize competition.

Other notable events were the MTV Europe Music Awards at the Liverpool Echo Arena, and La Princesse, a 50ft (15m) high mechanical spider that crawled through the city centre, watched by a crowd of 20,000 people.

A total of 7,000 events featuring more than 10,000 artists have been staged across Merseyside as part of the year of culture.

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