Bluecoat celebrates its 300th birthday by digitising its archive

What are you doing for Black History Month?

The Bluecoat Gallery in Liverpool has chosen to celebrate the building’s 300th birthday by digitising its archive. They’ve highlighted 15 particular items that tell the history of the building and the artistic milestones at the gallery. One of these is their contribution to the multi-venue project Trophies of Empire (1992-92), curated by Keith Piper and Bryan Biggs in collaboration with the Arnolfini in Bristol and Time Based Arts in Hull.


Trophies of Empire invited 16 artists and artist collectives to make new site-specific works in response to the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ so-called ‘discovery’ of the Americas in 1492. They explored the legacies of colonialism and imperialism in three English port cities, Liverpool, Bristol and Hull, each having a particular historical connection to the Atlantic Slave Trade. Piper himself showed Trade Winds, a video installation that examined Liverpool’s significant role in Transatlantic slavery, at Merseyside Maritime Museum.

He would have drawn on material in the Bluecoat’s own collection of material relating to its history. Originally founded as a charity school for the town’s orphans, the building was largely funded by donations from those profiting from the trade generated from the expanding port. At least 65% of regular subscriptions were derived directly from the trade in enslaved Africans or slavery-related commodities like sugar, tobacco and cotton. The archive also includes material about contemporary artists’ responses to the historical material on slavery. Now that it’s digitised and readily available, perhaps you might view it as a spur to your own creative work?