Social responsibility is part of Bluecoat’s core purpose. We have survived many challenges and the basis of our resilience has always been a deep sense of responsibility to our civic role.
We are a working arts centre with a community of artists, creative businesses, a public garden, galleries and performance spaces.
We engage offsite with communities, care homes and historic buildings.
And all our projects orbit around our building as a kind of ‘mothership’, a tangible, material space in the city centre.
So when the world locked down, how could we continue? How could we socially distance projects where connection, relationship building, and communication were key?
The challenges were considerable but not unsurmountable – here’s how we tackled some of them.
For more than ten years Blue Room has helped adults with learning disabilities develop their artistic practice. When lockdown hit, our weekly face to face sessions had to stop. But it was vital we kept connection with members – so we developed ‘Blue Room @ Home’.
Taking Blue Room online meant Blue Zoom sessions, home deliveries of materials and worksheets, WhatsApp groups and monthly welfare calls. We also secured funding for devices and connectivity (Wi-Fi hubs and data) to engage with digitally excluded members.
Digital exclusion is a major issue in learning disabled communities, so welcoming an average of 16 members to each Zoom session was a big success!
Where the Arts Belong
The Centre for Collaborative Innovation on Dementia at Liverpool John Moores University told us that our partnership with Belong villages on dementia and the arts, Where the Arts Belong ‘helped to arrest decline and perhaps stabilise the quality of life of recipients of the intervention’. So we had to keep the programme live through lockdown.
So Instead we trained care staff to deliver small arts sessions as part of their daily contact with residents. It was an intensive process, but the staff are really embracing the challenge of arts facilitation; as you can see from the clip below:
Developing ideas, connecting with peers and testing work is a huge part of artist development and we’ve done everything we can to keep our onsite studios open in a safe way.
Before Covid, we were looking to create a new artist development scheme in partnership with Castlefield Gallery in Manchester. The challenges we’ve seen artists face over the past 12 months has brought into even sharper focus, the need for the scheme.
With a specific focus on mid-career contemporary artists, PIVOT will provide bursaries and a programme that supports their practice.
During lockdown we had to take applications, conversations and exchange online but have continued to mentor and support the first five PIVOT artists.
Bluecoat @ home
When our doors have been closed we’ve been committed to keeping open opportunities to engage with the arts. Weekly newsletters have connected audiences with new digital artwork, music playlists, and film premieres. We’ve also produced weekly activities for children and families to inspire creativity and help with learning at home.
It’s been a difficult year to lead an organisation where social responsibility is part of who we are, but it’s been difficult to do. But we’ve found new ways to connect and continued to reach the communities where our impact is felt the most. Post pandemic this will be more important than ever. Bluecoat will have an important role in supporting Liverpool to tackle the many different costs of the virus and the arts in navigating the challenging months and years ahead.
Mary Cloake is the CEO of Liverpool Bluecoat and a member of the ISR External Advisory Board.
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Photo by Arthur John Picton