Like many 18th century Liverpool institutions, Bluecoat - founded as a charity school for the town's orphans - was built to a large extent with funds generated from the expanding port. Recent research suggests that at least 65% of regular subscriptions were derived directly from the trade in enslaved Africans or slavery-related commodities like sugar, tobacco and cotton.
While slavery is often presumed to be counter to, or distant from, the ‘virtuous realm’ of philanthropy, Bluecoat represents a more contradictory history. Transatlantic slavery filtered through and shaped charity, education and culture. Merchants sailing from Old Dock, the revolutionary commercial wet dock nearby that opened in 1715, gave generously to the charity school, but saw no contradiction between this and their work enslaving and selling Africans.
This collection reflects some of the research into the Bluecoat building's relationship to Transatlantic slavery. It also features artists who have interrogated this history. Since the 1980s the arts centre has worked with contemporary artists, both visual and performing. These include Keith Piper and other artists in the exhibition Trophies of Empire (1992) and, more recently, Elaine Mitchener's SWEET TOOTH performance (2017).
Image above: Cuban artist María Magdalena Campos-Pons' Bluecoat installation for the first Liverpool Biennial,1999.
Subscriptions, Schooling and Slavery brochure
Mapp of all the streets lanes and alleys within the town of Liverpool
Elaine Mitchener, SWEET TOOTH performance at Bluecoat
Bluecoat 300: Charity, Philanthropy and the Black Atlantic flyer
Ledger Accounts of the Charity School in Liverpool
James Lonsdale (1777–1839), portrait of George Brown, with Liverpool Blue Coat School in the background.
Albin Roberts Burt (1783-1842), painting of Captain Hugh Crow (1765-1829)
Richard Ansdell (1815–1885), The Boardroom of the Liverpool Blue Coat Hospital
Andrew Robarts, Bluecoat courtyard installation
Visual Stress, Urban Vimbuza: Death by Free Enterprise, performance at Bluecoat
Trophies of Empire publication
Trophies of Empire: Keith Piper, Trade Winds brochure
Public View exhibition, with The Trophy Cabinet (1992) by South Atlantic Souvenirs and Trouble
Trophies of Empire: The Trophy Cabinet by South Atlantic Souvenirs and Trouble
Trophies of Empire: Rita Keegan, Cycles
Trophies of Empire: Ring A Ring O' Roses, A Pocket Full of Posies, Atishoo, Atishoo … by Veena Stephenson
Trophies of Empire: Paul Clarkson, Black Star Window (detail)
Trophies of Empire: Verbal Images
Trophies of Empire: Visual Stress, Mobile Auto Mission
Trophies of Empire: Juginder Lamba, The Cry
María Magdalena Campos-Pons, The Seven Powers by the Sea (1992-99)