Yesterday, we revealed how the Bluecoat is proposing to cut four posts from its live performance and literature programming – and mothball completely its curated year round programme of live events, festivals and workshops.

Today, as promised, we give CEO Alastair Upton the chance to respond. SevenStreets posed specific questions to Upton regarding the decisions outlined in our feature, the specifics of the Bluecoat’s funding expectations (either met or lost – we’ve heard so many conflicting figures bandied around it would have been instructive to have some clarity on what the real deal is), and their commitments for any ongoing performance and literature programme next year.

We didn’t get specific answers to these questions so, instead, we print in full Upton’s statement:

“As you note the number of visits to the Bluecoat  has risen year on year since our re-opening with people visiting the Bluecoat for a range of different cultural and creative activities. As you say ‘the Bluecoat is the North Star around which the city’s culture revolves’.

Amongst the huge range of activities here has been our programme of live performance and literature which sits within a long history of work put on in the building going back almost a century. The Bluecoat has no intention of turning its back on this tradition and becoming a purely visual arts venue.

These though are difficult and changing times particularly financially and the Bluecoat needs to respond to these so that it can continue as a vibrant Liverpool institution in the future. The 2011/12 financial year started in April and for a variety of reasons the total income the Bluecoat expected to receive in the year was to drop by £577,000 or over 30% (SS asked for clarity on this – we’ve not received any further information at time of posting).

We managed to make a whole collection of alterations, that included job losses from other teams across the organisation, in March prior to the new financial year and these allowed us to maintain our whole arts programme.

As you say a further £100,000 drop in income then became apparent after the start of the year and this has meant further changes. Equally importantly has been the information about our future funding from the Arts Council for 2012-2015.

After discussions with our major funders what we decided to do was:

Honour all our arts commitments already made. No event has been cancelled including the literature festival Chapter and Verse.

Ensure we have the capacity to put on events all through this year with partners who wish to use the Bluecoat. We have a great many of these partners and will continue to work with them. A new role has been created to support this.

To take some time to consider how we will maintain our mixed arts programme in the future.

This research time will take place later this year and, if funded, will involve us putting on either ourselves or in partnership a range of live events. This will then set the agenda for our full arts programme in 2012 and beyond.

During this period there is of course uncertainty about the arts programme of the Bluecoat. What isn’t uncertain is our commitment to producing live work in the future. Taking some time to consider how to make our work sustainable for the future seems a sensible course of action in times like this when so many things are changing so fast.

Unfortunately these changes do involve some staff roles being made redundant. The staff affected have done exceptionally good work for the Bluecoat and will be greatly missed. However the Bluecoat, a charity which also receives public money, has to make sure that it uses the funds it receives appropriately.

In summary, the change to the arts programme and team was the last not the first or only change the Bluecoat made and we intend to make sure it is temporary.”

We’d like to thank Alastair for his response.

Pic: Mark McNulty

12 Responses to “The Bluecoat Responds”

  1. This is an interesting and important article. Thank you for writing it.

    Here are my thoughts

    The Bluecoat has delivered a broad and amazing program of exhibitions, performances and art. This is what Liverpool needs! It does some amazing work with the community.

    I get the feeling the Bluecoat is no longer interested in fire fighting.
    Reduced opening hours, reduced bistro offer a soon to be empty performance space.
    This will not help the building to survive.

    Visitor number may have increased but the restaurant has changed its offer 3 times, why is that? I would love to know how many of the visitors pass through or spend quality time in the Bluecoat.

    The Bluecoat has a very narcissistic approach when comes to communicating its program and its offers. The Building itself requires a familiarity to help you understand what the Building has to offer. I wonder how often people peer through the gates and exclaim “What is it?”

    My fear the Bluecoat will be come a venue for private functions. the garden will be closed for a wedding, the bistro is being used for a conference.

    I think it is important that everybody remembers as Alastair Upton say

    “Bluecoat, a charity which also receives public money, has to make sure that it uses the funds it receives appropriately.”

    I hope the research provides the information to help the Bluecoat move forward, However I can’t help but feel cynical.

  2. Garden ruined, Tyson Smiths Studio ruined.
    The three Bisson pictures that were always in the cafe destroyed in the fire.
    Its historic fabric restored to a mundane cafe with an art gallery instead of a Gallery with a cafe.
    Alistair Upstart & co should have understood what the Bluecoat was to us and instead of talking down to us with our own taxpayers money understood the essence of the place.
    Its really a case of the Emporers new clothes.
    Roger Philips of Radio Merseyside next door told me the most complaints they have ever had was over the destruction of the garden.
    When you call something a hub, it speaks volumes about the plasticity of the place…………Capital of Culcha and its binge build mentality ruined theis place. remember this in the guardian 2008.

    Basicly they give the Old lady plastic surgery, Botox it and now its all starting to sag.
    Somethings restored can be worse when you spend, and lets not forget £ 20 million on it.
    Our grand old lady punched below the waistline in the name of progress.

  3. LIVERPOOLPRESERVATIONTRUST, or Wayne O’Loon to give you your proper title, the reason SevenStreets is becoming a valuable alternative media voice in Liverpool is because of its search, difficult as it is, for truth and balance, meanwhile, you and and your fake trust battle it out only with Pete Price and Joe Riley for being Liverpool’s biggest crank. I am sick to death of you polluting every forum with your rambling extremist bile. You may be able to hoodwink a few national media outlets but around here we know your a nutcase. You’ll never be respected like Florence Gersten. Get a life. No one is listening.

    Oh, and before your start, I do NOT work for the Bluecoat, I’m just sick of seeing your crap every time I pick up an article about the city’s development.

    Hats off to SevenStreets again for another great bit of insight, guess you can’t choose your readers.

  4. Whatever your views on the garden, or the cafe, it’s churlish to say ‘mundane cafe with gallery attached’. The gallery is superb. The new wing it’s housed in is first class.
    David Lloyd

  5. FAO: Liverpoolpreservationtrust.

    I understand that you have issues with the restoration of the Bluecoat but I think you’ve failed to grasp a vital issue. Yes, there were changes made to the Bluecoat, the garden change may have not been the best but it can re-grow over time. It certainly isn’t just a cafe with a gallery attached. Have you actually been to see any of the exhibitions or have you just stood in the garden sobbing?

    I’ve spent a fair share of time working with the Bluecoat and while I may have some issues with some things I really think you can’t criticise the Bluecoat for it’s architectural decisions. It’s now the 21st Century and in order for an arts organisation to survive (and to maintain it’s ability to be at the forefront of experimental visual arts forms) you have to update the interior of the building in order to do so. There are many stipulations regarding accessibility that meant that the previous layout simply could not be revamped without making these changes.

    Liverpool is a progressive city, please keep your conservative bullshit to yourself. I understand maintaining beautiful spaces, certainly, but to keep everything the same as when it was built is detrimental to the city, it’s artistic community and the wider community itself.

    Regarding the move away from live programming, it’s gutting, the live space is beautiful and a wonderful space to work with (if any of you came to Rhys Chatham or Philip Jeck I hope you’d agree). I think there needs to be a huge shake-up in the way the space is dealt with however. There need to be changes made in order for it to become more welcoming for external promoters. Weddings and functions are all well and good, if the funds earned from these were used to support events befitting of the artistic pedigree of the space it would be amazing but it’s never going to be as simple as that.

    Let’s hope the future brings the Bluecoat back to it’s full glory but the formula now is not the one that’s going to bring it.

  6. £100.000 for research..? I’m available for the job and after fees and expenses will leave you £93.000 to pay for programming and events. For this you will get my time, part-time for 4 months, a report and status updates fortnightly. Voila! (sincere offer)

  7. thank you sevenstreets. I can see why you published the ‘speech; in full as it was a politicians answer which didn’t really address the questions. This does seem to be one of the bad cases of art council funding. Cutting doesn’t seem to be happening from the top down as it should and using critical funding for ‘research’ when they have obviously decided all ready does seem like jobs for the boys. they weren’t listening then they’re not listening still, perhaps they never will.

  8. Martin

    David Lloyd wrote:

    “We didn’t get specific answers to these questions so, instead, we print in full Upton’s statement:”

    Yeah… and that’s a familiar experience for anyone who has had dealings with Alasdair Upton. Never mind what you have to say. Here’s a statement. The Bluecoat has spoken.

    If the Bluecoat hopes to survive, then it will need to listen to some of the ideas, opinions and criticisms of visitors, partners, and its own staff, and will need to change some of its core attitudes.

    The big question is whether there really is the will to remain as a combined arts venue, and whether there is any kind of plan to achieve this. Neither is in evidence. He says they want to keep going, but the direction of travel has been one way only for three years.

    If they don’t want to be an arts centre any more they should admit it, so that the Arts Council can stop chucking good taxpayers money after bad.

  9. Just for clarity – I sent Alastair a set of questions, but also suggested he might want to respond directly to the feature as it stood. In the end, he chose the latter – and my comment was merely to explain why we ran an extended quote/statement (not a usual SS editorial policy), it wasn’t meant to imply anything more than that.

  10. The whole space needs to reclaimed by people that actually give a shit. Currently it’s a bunch of pointless departments filled with people who are happy just to let everything tick by. 100k for research, give it to the Don’t Drop the Dumbells guys instead, they’d be able to program 10 years of amazing events. In 6 months they managed to achieve more artistically for the city than the Bluecoat since it’s relaunch.

  11. I’m newish to the city, though have had a fair few dealings with the Bluecoat in my time here, and have repeatedly encountered a great deal of unnecessary aggression and difficulty as an artist at the Bluecoat. Sections of the Bluecoat staff seem to feel that artists are a hindrance to the real business of the Bluecoat (and I do mean only sections, some people have been incredibly supportive). That real business has never been made clear to me, but it rarely has felt like it’s to be a coherent, innovative and supportive environment for the arts.
    Unfortunately, the mothballing of these incredibly important and vibrant sections has shown where the priorities of the Bluecoat lie. If there’s a £100,000 shortfall, then why only the performance, music and literature sections that suffer? This is the question that has been blandly avoided in the statement above.
    How about making some cuts to the marketing, or to visual arts alongside thse ones.
    The cuts imposed on the Arts Council by Labour, and Liverpool Council by the coalition are miserable and wretched; though when they’re concentrated in the way that we see happening here, then that suggests that a deliberate choice is being made.
    A justification of that choice would have been nice Mr Upton.

    Thank you for a really well researched and thought provoking article.

  12. Tom Rea Smith

    I have been thinking about what to say since the first article, and I think this is it:

    As one of the people whose role has been affected (I was, and to much lesser extent still am) the Technical Manager) I obviously have opinions – I’m sad that the performance programme has been suspended, and a bit annoyed that, despite working hard, really caring about the Bluecoat, and doing my job well, I have to carry the can for the fact that Gordon Brown spent too much on nurses, or something. But that’s the way the cookie crumbles, isn’t it? And at the end of the day when one door closes, that’s just the motivation to break open another.

    Sadder is the potential for the loss of the country’s oldest arts centre, a legacy more valuable than the garden (incidentally, since they cut that down, a conservative estimate of 25,000 people have attended concerts in the same space. I’d say it’s a fair trade).

    When my mum was 15, the art department of her school brought her out of London for the first time for a trip to “the North”. They went to two places, the Blackie and the Bluecoat. When I first started freelancing at the Bluey, a design professor based in Bremen who has given me career advice from time to time (can’t help himself!) told me: “That’s the break – that’s the chance you have to make pay.” He was right. Thanks to the opportunities the Bluecoat has given me, even though I’m freelance again, I’m in an immeasurably stronger position now than I was before. So although I’m saddened and annoyed, I’m grateful above all. Also grateful that in the last three years I’ve had the opportunity to be involved in some brilliant, inspiring and beautiful events. I now know what live art is, have seen Franco B naked, along with two dead pigs and a dead goat, and the Orkestra del Sol and the Destroyers. Not only thirty or fifty years ago. Now, still.

    That’s the legacy we’re fighting for, and the inheritance we need to preserve to hand down to the future kids of Liverpool, and, fuck it, the rest of the country, coming after us. It’s important. It’s still here, just about. We have to keep it here. If we do anything other than come back from this hiatus with a bang, it will be difficult to get the fire going again. For what it’s worth, this is what I believe the Bluecoat intends to do.

    It is important that we should have this discussion, and it is important that, having had it, we should be prepared to make whatever changes it calls for. An important part of doing things well is learning from your mistakes (for which you need to first, acknowledge them). We need to have a good look at why the last time we came back from a hiatus with a bang, we had difficulty keeping the fire going. Figure out why. And change it.

    Well, it’s 2.30am and I’m in work tomorrow, and I’ve rambled on long enough, so I’ll go to bed.

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