A proud building standing at the centre of a proud city, the BLUECOAT ART CENTRE has played a pivotal role in everyday Liverpool life for over 290 years. From its earliest incarnation as the Blue Coat School, it has seen changes in purpose and even survived a Second World War blitzing to reach its modern incarnation as a centre for forward-thinking artists, musicians and the creatively minded.
In its earliest days as an art centre in 1910, the Bluecoat survived numerous threats of closure, before the air attack on Liverpool saw the centre badly damaged in 1941, closing the doors for nearly 20 years before reopening in the capacity that it retains to this day. Current Artistic Director at the Bluecoat Bryan Biggs lets Bido Lito! in to a few secrets, past and present.
A designated UNESCO Heritage site, The Bluecoat remains at the forefront of the arts in Liverpool, it has been helping define the cultural landscape for over 6 decades since the blitz. In fact, the Bluecoat has played host to some of the most interesting events that Liverpool has seen since the 1960s. Captain Beefheart (a name that despite no other connections has become almost enmeshed in Liverpool’s musical mythology), made an appearance at the Bluecoat, not as a musician but as artist Don Van Vliet, exhibiting some of his paintings. Bryan Biggs: “Captain Beefheart came over in 1972, he was on tour, and came to the Bluecoat to exhibit his monochrome paintings. It was his first art exhibition. I think there’s still some television footage of the show archived”. In the spirit of any artistic endeavour, The Bluecoat has never shied away from controversy, displaying Jacob Epstein’s Genesis in 1951, attracting crowds of over 50000 in the month of display. The figure of a pregnant woman had encountered derision and accusations of obscenity. As well as this, the young Yoko Ono made her first visit to Liverpool as a performer at the Bluecoat, in the midst of becoming rather attached to one of Liverpool’s favourite sons.
As well as the visual arts, music has had a big role to play in the history of the Bluecoat, with classical legends Bela Bartok and Stravinsky making appearances, and also playing host to avant-jazz legend Sun Ra and his Arkestra. Bryan reminisces that “Sun Ra in 1978 was an amazing experience, the place was rammed full and he took over the place, put on an incredible show.” More recent years have seen a performance of Terry Riley’s In C performed by over 100 people throughout the Bluecoat, turning the whole structure into a humming, pulsing meta-instrument. Apart from the more avant-garde, The Bluecoat played host to a show by American post-hardcore legends Fugazi, and on top of that, Liverpool favourite Probe Records has also found a home on the site.
In these economically stark times, it’s a constant fear in the arts that funding will be substantially cut. The Bluecoat is, of course, a beneficiary of Arts Council funding, but Bryan believes that the Bluecoat would be able to survive cuts and remain in service on some level. “We’ve met to discuss the possibilities. One major factor is we own the building, so at least the space is always going to be there. It would just be a case of working from the ground up.”
With a John and Yoko-inspired Bed-In currently taking place, a DaDa-inspired Burlesque performance, and a performance by saxophonist Soweto Kinch all coming up, The Bluecoat is certainly maintaining its pedigree in both art and music.