Since leaving Indonesia, I’ve thought a lot about the concept of community arts centers. What interested me there was how they exist to preserve and promote traditional art forms, such as gamelan and ludruk (in Surabaya, at least). In particular, though, is the fact that these institutions are highly accessible to most of the population. This contrasts with the more prominent arts groups in the States (ballets, orchestras, etc.), which seem to have a relatively high threshold for participation, either regarding socioeconomics or capacity.
I’m not knocking these institutions; I think they’re equally wonderful and valuable, but somewhat inaccessible.
Consequently, I’ve pondered how one can make art, and intellectual collaboration in general, more open to the community at large. I was thrilled, then, to discover the Bluecoat center here in Liverpool. As it describes itself, it is the city’s creative hub, opening itself up to the populace in mostly free, (or sometimes low cost) programming and exhibition.
The Bluecoat provides an opportunity for aspiring artists to find a foothold in the city, for hobbyists to develop their skills and for people to generally come together. Arts and engagement are essential to a community’s health. Building off of the ideals of the Speakers’ Corner, creating a space that brings minds together fosters progress and wellbeing. Essential to this success is openness to everybody who is interested, as well as stoking such involvement.
My fascination with Bluecoat comes from this “come one, come all” mentality. They’ve posted versions of the philosophy throughout the spaces, beginning right at the entrance.
|Create, Grow, Connect, Relax, Join In, Explore, Inspire, Shop, Play, Eat, Discover, View, Think, Be|
It even extends to their operation throughout the city. What they do not directly run, they cooperate with seemingly every other organization in Liverpool. I couldn’t help but pick up dozens of flyers for events that I would never be able to keep up with. Bluecoat connects residents and visitors with performances, exhibitions, workshops and meetings ranging from musical to visual and even philosophical (my favorite, which I unfortunately missed, was the Philosophy in Pubs group).
Encouraging people to gather in so many forms with such openness, like in the Speakers’ Corner, is a pillar of a thriving community. Wandering around for a day, as well as attending a “How to Tell a Story” workshop (I don’t think I got better), was wonderfully insightful. It showed me that it is possible to build up inclusive and connected institutions such as this. More importantly, it showed the power such spaces can have on fostering a prolific and communal scene, preserving classics and advancing them simultaneously. The key, though, is that it benefits everybody, therefore supporting a culture and ensuring its longevity.
|It’s also in the city center’s oldest building|
After writing this, I came across a photo space named the Open Eye Gallery. I chatted with the deputy director, who also works at Bluecoat. She expressed great pride in Liverpool’s art scene and how its openness has led to something exciting around almost every corner.