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The Bluecoat has been a home for working artists for over a hundred years. From the first group of artists who occupied the former school building in 1907, through to the present day, this ‘creative community’ remains at the heart of the Bluecoat, with some 20 artists and creatives occupying studios today. A Creative Community will tell the story of these artists through material drawn from the art centre’s extensive archive.
Formally established in 1927 as the UK’s first art centre, the Bluecoat is housed in central Liverpool’s oldest building which has a long and complex history. The Cultural Legacies programme focuses on the Bluecoat’s wider impact, starting with its support for artists. Two further focuses, the civic role of the arts centre, and interrogating colonial legacies, will follow between November and March 2022. All three are intended to explore the idea of the arts centre as providing space for critical reflection and engagement.
The exhibition reflects a key aim for the Bluecoat as an arts organisation: to ‘unlock creative process’, and it provides a behind the scenes glimpse of this happening.
“We associate groups of artists taking on and reviving vacant buildings as a recent phenomenon, but this story started at Bluecoat in 1907, and continues today. Artists have been the lifeblood of the building and they played a key role in securing its future as an arts centre. Today, with such an active creative community of artists, designers and other practitioners, the Bluecoat is proud to be able to maintain a hub for working studios in the heart of the city.”
As well as revealing the heritage of artists working in the building, the display will also feature the Bluecoat’s ‘extended family’ of artists-in-residence and printmaking studios, and a new series of photos commissioned from current occupier Sophie Traynor provides an opportunity for the public to get to know the current cohort of creatives.
One of these, textile designer Nawal Gebreel, whose innovative scarves and wraps sell internationally, says:
“Being a member of the Bluecoat’s creative community has played an important role in the development of my artistic practise. Being in the same physical space as other artists and exhibitions provides continual fresh ideas and inspiration, something that is crucial for every artist. This exhibition is a celebration of these creative communities that help us all to flourish”
To accompany the display, Merseyside-based international artist, Leo Fitzmaurice, who has been resident at the Bluecoat for over three years, has curated a collection of historical exhibitions and other images for our online archive. He says of the collection:
“Having had a relationship with The Bluecoat since leaving art college, both showing in exhibitions and more recently as a studio member, I have chosen to base my selection from the archive on the works that have stayed with me over time. This collection is, in a way, as much an account of my interests as an artist as it is a record of the Bluecoat’s history.”
Accompanying the exhibition is an online programme that will contribute to a conversation around artistic practice in the Liverpool City Region.
Laura Brown, co-author of a recent report on studio provision in the city region, will be developing a short film inviting a range of artists and art studios to share their experiences. This will inform a discursive event in October, considering the challenges and opportunities that artists and art studios in the city region face.
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