Bluecoat Annual Review, 2020-21

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Annual review 2020-21 Great challenges, greater change.


Cover: Jonathan Baldock, Facecrime, Bluecoat Exhibition Launch, 2020. Photo by Brian Roberts Bluecoat Building, Gallery Wing, 2021. Photo by Rob Battersby

A word from our Chair


Bringing the outside in


Taking the inside out


A catalyst for change


Into 2021 and beyond


Funders and partners



A word from our Chair.

Our purpose at the Bluecoat is to create new, more meaningful ways to experience art. For artists and for everyone - we bring art into life. Our building is central to this, but the Bluecoat is more than a physical entity, it's a working community, a creative playground, a dynamic hub from where we can have an impact in the city and beyond. It's a place where creativity, community and change flows in and flows out. Bringing people together and enriching lives. Our role is ever-changing and this year more than ever we've had to shift, react, and adapt. Bringing the outside in, taking the inside out, and working to be a catalyst for change. It’s been a year like no other – for the Bluecoat, the cultural sector, and for the world. COVID-19 has changed our lives, but I’m amazed at the resilience and strength demonstrated by the Bluecoat team. And, although it has been extremely challenging, it has also provided us with a moment to reflect on and strengthen our strategy for the next 10 years.


Rise Up! Family Workshop with Chris Alton, 2019. Photo by Brian Roberts


Frances Disley, Pattern Buffer, Bluecoat Exhibition Launch, 2020. Photo by Brian Roberts

While COVID changed many things about the way we run our organisation, the death of George Floyd and the subsequent focus on Black Lives Matter has, perhaps, had a more fundamental effect on the Bluecoat. It has led us to re-evaluate our civic responsibilities and how we relate to all parts of society – as a visitor attraction, an employer and a Liverpool institution. We had to close our doors for much of this year and we were keen to use this time to create a better visitor experience both on and offline. We reconfigured our Hub space to make it more welcoming, safer and greener, developed a new brand, and created a website that reflects our organisation and provides a platform to showcase work in its own right. We needed to be agile and dynamic in responding to unprecedented events: changing working practices, reimagining activities online and ensuring we continued to support those that needed us most. Although compromised by the multiple venue closures, we continued to stage an artistic programme that engaged, inspired and

4 challenged. Themes around place, politics, migration and the potential of the gallery space as a restorative environment couldn’t have been more relevant to our current context. Despite the challenges of this year and those that we still face, I believe that the Bluecoat will come out of the pandemic in a strong position to play our part in civic society, contributing to the revitalisation of the city centre, supporting the wellbeing of communities and providing a creative inspiration and outlet to audiences and artists alike. We owe a big thank you to everyone that made it possible – all the artists that we’ve worked with, staff and volunteers. Our studio holders, creative organisations and retailers, the Bluecoat’s supporters, members and patrons, who have stuck with us throughout this extraordinary year. Our major funders Arts Council England (ACE) and Liverpool City Council, who have passionately advocated for the arts to central government on our behalf. And most importantly, our visitors, who we’ve been thrilled to welcome back. Peter Mearns Chair, the Bluecoat Bluecoat Capital Development progress, Summer by Sumuyya Khader, 2021. Photo by Rob Battersby


Bringing the outside in.

Sean Edwards, Undo Things Done, Bluecoat, Liverpool Installation View (2020) Wales in Venice tour. Image courtesy the artist and Tanya Leighton Gallery


The Bluecoat is an inclusive home for artists, practitioners and the public. At times this year it has been a challenge to keep our doors open but we've found new ways to invite people in, to share experiences, and to create together. In Autumn we launched our PIVOT programme in partnership with Castlefield Gallery, to support mid-career artists based in the North West. The successful artists - Garth Gratrix, Salma Noor, Chester Tenneson, Bridget O’Gorman and Pat Flynn - are now undertaking an 18-month programme of mentoring, coaching, studio visits and support with individual bursaries of £5,000. Our partnership with New Contemporaries also goes from strength to strength with Liverpool-based painter Gareth Kemp joining us as the next artist in residence in Summer 2021. Navigating lockdowns was a challenge

for our exhibition and public programme, but we were delighted to host Undo Things Done, Sean Edwards’ presentation for Wales in Venice 2019. The artist was awarded a Turner Prize bursary along with nine other artists in recognition of this exhibition. Edwards invited upcoming Welsh artist Sadia Pineda Hameed, who was later awarded a prestigious Paul Hamlyn award, to show new work alongside the exhibition. No sooner had we opened the Frances Disley and Jonathan Baldock exhibitions, we had to close for the


Jonathan Baldock, Facecrime, Bluecoat Exhibition Launch, 2020. Photo by Brian Roberts

first lockdown. Thankfully, we were able to reopen shows in July but, while our doors were closed, we explored new ways to stay connected with audiences and keep them involved in our busy behind the scenes work through online programmes, digital content and a regular newsletter. While we continue to bring artists with an international profile to Liverpool, this year also saw the launch of an initiative to show and support the work of local artists, with premieres of two films by Kiara Mohamed, Home and The Lives We Lead, and an exhibition by painter Josie Jenkins. And while our work with the artists of the future through our after-school arts club Out of the Blue couldn’t run as normal, we continued our relationships with schools and saw the work come to fruition in the form of the Bluecoat Platform. Plans were developed for an outdoor public sculpture designed by artists Simon & Tom Bloor with children from Out of the Blue, to host a programme of summer performances and family workshops. The work was commissioned as a Here and Now Project led by Future Arts Centres and marks the National Lottery’s 25th birthday.


Biodiversity Artist in residence New Bluecoat Hub and Cafe, 2021. Photo by Rob Battersby

In Autumn, Andrea Ku joined us as our Biodiversity Artist in Residence. Hailing from Liverpool 8, Ku is also a highly skilled beekeeper and her programme saw children go wild for her ‘bee bags’, promoting biodiversity. The bags were later given out by Homebaked In Anfield as part of our free lunches partnership during the school holidays.

A fresh welcome We spent time during lockdown redesigning our main ‘Hub’ space, to create a better visitor experience and realise our long-term ambition to bring art out of the gallery and into all our spaces with three new artists commissions, by Babak Ganjei, Sumuyya Khader and Harold Offeh. We also took a fresh look at our public image and brand, drilling down on our purpose, developing a new look and feel and transforming our website and digital presence.

Bluecoat Garden, 2021. Photo by Rob Battersby


Taking the inside out.

We don’t keep our creativity, resources and ambitions to ourselves. The pandemic made it trickier to share them, but we continued to make connections, engage with the hard to reach and support artist development. Despite facing great challenges, Blue Room, our long-running creative programme for learning disabled and neurodivergent adults, went from strength to strength. With our partners, Norton Priory, we had to completely reimagine the programme online as Blue Room @ Home and carry out weekly Zoom sessions, regular deliveries of materials and worksheets and weekly welfare phone calls. Traditionally, digital exclusion is a major issue in learning disabled communities, so it was a real achievement of creative engagement with technology and provided a real lifeline to a group at risk of pandemic isolation.


Blue Room at Home, Zoom workshop with members, 2021

In February, Blue Room member Tom Rooney accepted a ‘Collaboration’ award from Esther Rantzen at the Markel 3rd Sector Care Awards for our collaboration with Project Collective. We have now embarked on a three-year growth programme for Blue Room, supported by a £147,000 grant from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. This will enable a programme of supported artist development for learning disabled and neurodivergent artists in visual arts and new dance, building on our previous success. During lockdown we received almost £30,000 from ACE to deliver a new project, We Belong Together, which was aimed at combatting loneliness and isolation in older people. Artists Alan Dunn, Brigitte Jurack and Gav Cross led regular virtual art sessions for small cohorts of apartment tenants living in Belong’s care villages across the North West, to improve wellbeing and stimulate social interaction within the tenants’ support bubbles. It was a hard year for many in our creative community - artists, creative organisations and retailers based at the Bluecoat - and we continued to offer support to a wide range


The Bluecoat building, 2020. Photo by Brian Roberts.

of individual artists and creatives including letters of support for bids, advice and feedback on applications and nominations for awards and prizes. In January 2021, during the third lockdown, we offered help specifically on ACE Develop Your Creative Practice (DYCP) applications, within our creative community and beyond. Over the year, we supported 245 artists in total. In recognition of the work we do to support artists, Jerwood Arts awarded us £15,000 from their Commissioning for the Future Fund, which will go towards early-career artists in 2021. We’re committed to supporting artists through their careers and were delighted that a key piece we commissioned for Frances Disley’s exhibition this year was acquired by the Walker Art Gallery through the Contemporary Art Society.

Sharing our Story The Bluecoat’s 300-year history and its transformation from a charity school to a creative hub was captured in a new publication, Bluecoat, Liverpool: The UK’s First Arts Centre. Although we weren’t able to launch the book at a live event, we hosted an online discussion event A Dissident View, hosted by Laura Brown and featuring the book’s editors Jon Belchem and Bryan Biggs and contributor, Anjalie Dalal-Clayton in conversation.


Belong at Home Despite the pandemic we continued to provide enriching arts experiences for older people in partnership with Belong, a specialist dementia care provider working across the North West. The online programme saw five critically acclaimed artists host a range of workshops for Belong customers in their own homes via video call, including sessions in music, drawing and dance.

Belong at Home Customer and Belong Community Support Worker, 2021

Where the Arts Belong workshop, 2019. Photo from Belong


Artwork from left to right: Salma Noor, Daad Futurism 2020; Millie Olateju, Untitled - part of Sumuyya Khader’s Black History Month Project. Installation View at Bluecoat, Blundell Lane. Supported by Culture Liverpool Without Walls 2020 programme. Photo by Rob Battersby

Being closed to the public for much of the year meant that we had to find new ways to display artists’ work. Blundell Lane, which provides a vital route through from School Lane to College Lane, was transformed into an outdoor gallery during Black History Month, when Sumuyya Khader invited some of Liverpool’s most talented Black creatives to display their work alongside hers. Supported by Culture Liverpool’s Without Walls programme, the work featured the work of Amber Akaunu, Jamel Burke, Kiara Mohamed, Salma Noor, and Millie Toyin Olateju, and was a response to a lack of visibility for Liverpool’s black artists. Later in the year the facade became part of Homotopia’s Art Crawl showing the work of Fox Fisher, an awardwinning artist, author, filmmaker and trans rights campaigner based in Brighton. Four screen-prints were presented supporting the rights of transgender people.


Artist Fox Fisher in front of his four illustrations - Trans Women Are Women, Trans Men Are Men, Non-Binary People Are Non-Binary, Trans Rights Are Human Rights. Installation View at Bluecoat, Blundell Lane. Part of Homotopia Fest, 2020

While the Liverpool Biennial couldn’t open in full until June, Jorgge Menna Barreto’s mural Mauvais Alphabet bought some much needed colour to Blundell Lane in March. A culmination of a durational project, the mural depicted drawings of common weeds found in Liverpool, produced in collaboration with Liverpool John Moores University Art and Design students.


Bluecoat Children’s Corner, designed by Harold Offeh, 2021. Photo by Rob Battersby

A catalyst for change.


In a year of unprecedented upheaval and change, we’ve reflected on our civic role, and looked to challenge ourselves and the world around us. We have embraced a civic role and been part of the day-to-day lives of the people of Liverpool for over 100 years, and this year we have rearticulated our heritage programme as Cultural Legacies. We hope to provide new perspectives on Liverpool’s past through the history and heritage of our Grade I listed building and explore them in relation to the present. The work has already provided context for discussions around Black Lives Matter and the building’s origins in Britain’s colonial period and direct links to Liverpool’s transatlantic slave trade.

Through a new participation project, Echoes and Origins, we are interrogating our building’s origins and exploring how continuing legacies from its original purpose connect to the lives of young people in the city. Working with young people from the Greenhouse Project in Liverpool 8 and elsewhere, we have been exploring themes such as colonialism and the empire, slavery, migration, diaspora, independence, race and identity, in the Colonial Legacies strand of this work that

17 will culminate in a public programme of talks, performances, displays and other activities. The second strand of the project focuses on Looked After Children, using our original philanthropic purpose as an educational institution set up to help the town’s poor and destitute children as a starting point. We’re committed to making society more inclusive, more equal, and to guarantee opportunities, regardless of background. But as a major cultural institution we recognise that we have to do more to become a true ally to the communities we serve and have started to shape our strategy for this. Internally, we are improving our recruitment at all levels throughout our staff, board and volunteers. A recent project with Weston Jerwood has enabled us to invest in our recruitment processes to ensure opportunities are more accessible to a broader range of people.

Scarlett Crawford, First Waves, Bluecoat Exhibition Launch 2018. Photo by Brian Roberts


Black Lives Matter The death of George Floyd and the subsequent focus on Black Lives Matter led us to re-evaluate our civic responsibilities and how we relate to society - as a visitor attraction, an employer and a Liverpool institution. We are taking decisive action to create a more equitable Bluecoat, both for our workforce and for visitors, and to diversify the sector we work in.

New Bluecoat Hub and Cafe, 2021. Photo by Rob Battersby

Free lunches

Kiara Mohamed Amin, Black Trans Lives Matter, part of Sumuyya Khader’s Black History Month Project. Installation View at Bluecoat, Blundell Lane. Supported by Culture Liverpool Without Walls 2020 programme. Photo by Rob Battersby

The arts have the power to articulate difficult truths. Inspired by the exploration of free school dinners in Sean Edwards’ exhibition and the national campaign for a review of the school meals system, we offered free lunches and creative activity packs for local children over the Christmas holidays.


Into 2021 and beyond?

The future is never predictable, but we’re prepared for challenges, excited for ambitious plans to come to fruition, and committed to playing our part in ensuring the Bluecoat, the sector and our city thrives, post-Covid. In the year ahead we look forward to welcoming people to our new look Hub and the art works specifically commissioned for the space. London-based Babak Ganjei’s witty observations on the art world have been applied to tiles that wrap around our new information desk, Liverpool-based Sumuyya Khader has created a bespoke tile design that references our popular garden, and Cambridge-based Harold Offeh has created an area specifically for children and families. Sustainability was a key priority for the new Hub and we’ll be looking at new ways we can strategically approach our environmental responsibility, starting with changing the lighting system throughout the building. Following the Liverpool Biennial and an exhibition by Bluecoat alumni artist Tony

20 Phillips will be a packed Autumn programme. Displays from three prominent female artists Rosa-Johan Uddoh, Deborah Roberts and Sumuyya Khader, exploring the Black Curriculum, the formation of identity in childhood and Black Joy respectively, will take us through to the new year. From January, preparations will begin to stage CONSCIOUS, new work by London-based artist Suki Chan, with a focus on consciousness and dementia. A new Cultural Legacies programme will focus on three strands: creative community, civic role, and our colonial legacies. Each will culminate in an exhibition, digital commission, a discursive event and a new archive collection. And we will continue to grow and evolve our participation programme, to help more people experience art in new ways, with a focus on creating new, deeper experiences for our visitors and actively involving and engaging with new communities. Over the next 12 months we are likely to be called on to adapt and react. But we look forward to welcoming those from the outside in, taking our creativity to the world, and continuing to be a catalyst for change. LightNight Play 2021 at Bluecoat. Photo by Brian Roberts


Funders and Partners Core Funders

Whole Place Low Carbon Solutions, project is a green infrastructure

Supported by:

and energy saving technology, partnership project led by Mersey Forest and Cheshire West and Chester Council. It is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund.


Project Funders

The Estate of Mrs A F Frohlich Liverpool City Council Mayoral Inclusive Growth Fund Livv Housing Group



Art Friends Merseyside


Where the Arts Belong workshop with Belong Customer and Family Member, 2019. Photo from Belong


Bluecoat School Lane Liverpool L1 3BX Charity Number: 700862