Man looking at metal sculptures

Bluecoat kicks off 300th anniversary programme

Posted on 07 February 2017

Bluecoat, the UK’s oldest arts centre and Liverpool’s Centre for the Contemporary Arts, is celebrating the 300th anniversary of its building with a programme of exhibitions and events to mark this exciting milestone.

Schoolchildren letting balloons go
Public View exhibition launch, 2017 © Brian Roberts


The Bluecoat building, a fine example of Queen Anne style architecture, began life as a charity school in 1717, before becoming an arts centre in 1907, making it the oldest of its kind in the UK.

Pupils from St Vincent de Paul Catholic Primary School in Liverpool released 300 balloons to mark the start of the anniversary celebrations at the Public View exhibition preview on Friday 3 February.

The anniversary programme will mark a period of 300 days of celebration, running from 4 February-30 November 2017. The 300 days opened with the Public View exhibition which examines Bluecoat’s commitment to artists and features over 100 Bluecoat alumni artists including Sonia Boyce, Jeremy Deller, John Latham, Mark Leckey and Imogen Stidworthy. Photographer Tricia Porter, known for her work in Toxteth in the 1980s, is also taking part in the exhibition and you can read a blog post she wrote for us here.

Self portrait of young man with hand in hair
David Mabb, Self Portrait as Angel of History © David Mabb

Highlights include a first look at a new series of photographs from John Akomfrah and video and photographic documentation of performances in 1967 at Bluecoat by Yoko Ono and Mark Boyle.

At a time when it feels as though we are at grave risk of being diminished culturally (and in many other ways...) this exhibition feels expansive and outward looking. I am proud to be taking part! Artist Nicole Polonsky

Sarah Maxfield, Area Director North, Arts Council England said “Bluecoat has been a significant part of the visual arts scene not only in Liverpool but nationally and internationally for many years. In introducing new artists and celebrating those who are more established, it is committed to ensuring its visitors can enjoy the best of contemporary arts. The first exhibition in its celebratory year embodies this spirit and the Arts Council is delighted to have supported Bluecoat and its work.”

2 girls looking at artwork
Public View exhibition launch, 2017 © Brian Roberts

Exhibitions and events to look out for during 2017 include:

  • The showcasing of a composition by French composer Pierre Henry by his sound designer Thierry Balasse at Liverpool’s Metropolitan Cathedral on Saturday 13 May - performed 50 years after it was commissioned
  • A major solo exhibition by Palestinian artist Larissa Sansour
  • An ambitious new performance installation from Siobhan Davies Dance
  • Abacus - a group exhibition aimed at children - with artists Simon & Tom Bloor and Emily Speed
  • The appointment of Dr Paul Jones as 2017 sociologist-in-residence as part of a pioneering programme focusing on architecture, culture and society

The long running support of Arts Council England has been vital over the years in enabling us to succeed in our aim of bringing art to the widest possible audience. Bluecoat Chief Executive Mary Cloake

Bluecoat Chief Executive Mary Cloake said: “As the UK’s oldest arts centre, Bluecoat has been at the heart of Liverpool’s cultural life for many years. We have always strived to be at the forefront of developments in contemporary art in the UK, whether that is through showcasing the work of under-represented artists, exhibiting the work of major artists in Liverpool for the first time, or through our ground-breaking participation programmes. The long running support of Arts Council England has been vital over the years in enabling us to succeed in our aim of bringing art to the widest possible audience. We are delighted to be celebrating Bluecoat’s 300th anniversary in 2017, and look forward to an exciting year that showcases our achievements while also looking to our future.”

To find out more about Bluecoat’s history, you can follow its #300Facts on social media. Bluecoat’s actual birthday is Saturday 9 September so watch out for details of an extravaganza of celebrations on the day, including a birthday cake! Though it is yet to be confirmed if it will have 300 candles to blow out.

Bluecoat has always represented the forward thinking of the people of Liverpool. Yoko Ono


Yoko Ono with brush on stage
Yoko Ono,1967 performance at Bluecoat, courtesy of Sheridon Davies


Want to find out more?

Interested in finding out more about Bluecoat? Visit their website or follow them on Twitter @theBluecoat

Follow us @ace_thenorth for all the latest news from the Arts Council in the North.