Bluecoat, Liverpool

BookBluecoat, Liverpool

Bluecoat, Liverpool

The UK's first arts centre


May 23rd, 2020



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Bluecoat is a unique and much-loved Liverpool institution, its oldest city centre building. This book tells the fascinating story of its transformation from charity school to contemporary arts centre, the UK’s first. Its early 18th century origins shed light on the religious and maritime mercantile environment of the growing port, whose merchants supported the school. Echoes from then are revealed in themes explored by artists in the 20th century, including slavery and colonial legacies.

The predominant focus is on an inclusive building for the arts, starting with colourful bohemian society, the Sandon, who established an artistic colony in 1907, hosting significant exhibitions by the Post-Impressionists and many leading modern British artists. Bluecoat Society of Arts emerged as the building’s custodians, paving the way for the arts centre which, despite financial struggles and wartime bomb damage, survived and continues to play a prominent role in Liverpool’s and the UK’s culture.

Bluecoat is described as where ‘village hall meets the avant-garde’. In its rich story, Picasso, Stravinsky, Yoko Ono, Captain Beefheart, Simon Rattle and the inspirational Fanny Calder are just some of the names encountered, as key strands, including music, visual art, performance and the building’s tenants, are traced.

Bluecoat is in large measure a celebratory volume, designed to draw attention to the many achievements of the institution and concluding with a heartfelt plea for further support in difficult times.’
William Whyte, Northern History

Author Information

Bryan Biggs has worked at Bluecoat, Liverpool’s contemporary arts centre, for over four decades, curating numerous exhibitions, and live art programmes. In 2017 he directed Bluecoat’s tercentenary year. He writes on contemporary culture and is co-editor, with Julie Sheldon of Art in a City Revisited (Liverpool University Press, 2009) and, with John Belchem, of Liverpool City of Radicals (Liverpool University Press, 2011). John Belchem, Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Liverpool, is acknowledged as Liverpool’s leading historian, whose many publications include editing the Liverpool 800 book, published on the city’s 800th anniversary. He recently contributed to the Peterloo Massacre bicentenary programme.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
1 The Bluecoat Building: Origins and Continuity23
2 Saving the Bluecoat, Regenerating the City49
3 ‘A Live Arts Centre’85
4 Where Village Hall Meets the Avant-garde117
5 ‘A Dissident View’: Bluecoat Exhibitions, 1967–2005157
6 Bechsteins and Beyond: Music at the Bluecoat, 1907–2017187
7 A Creative Community217
8 Academics-in-Residence237
9 A Reflection on Bluecoat’s Tercentenary249
Bluecoat Timeline266
Further Reading270