Nestled in the heart of the city’s busy retail district is Liverpool’s centre for the contemporary arts.
As one of the UK’s oldest arts centres, for the last 15 years the Bluecoat has been giving adults with learning disabilities the opportunity to access contemporary arts through a variety of groundbreaking, inclusive participation programmes both in-house and within local communities.
Blue Room is a weekly programme that supports a membership of 30 local adults with learning disabilities to develop their creative and social skills. Increasing independence of thought and action is at the heart of this project and this summer, ten members have been involved in helping to run children’s art activities in their own communities through the ‘Out of the Blue’ initiative.
Head of engagement, Bec Fearon explains: “Blue Room typifies the Bluecoat’s approach to creative engagement; it is person-centred and user-led, but supported by artistic expertise and excellence.
“We often use the exhibitions in our gallery as a catalyst for individuals to start their own creative journey. Our job is to facilitate the realisation of their ideas, and we have a very skilled and sensitive team of artists and support staff who support this process.
Out of the Blue is an innovative new project run by the Bluecoat with support from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and Liverpool City Council. Following a successful pilot back in 2012, the programme was awarded a three-year grant from the Foundation to fund the development of five new clubs. Since January 2014, the team has been running arts clubs for children across the city in local day centres and schools, with trips to the Bluecoat in the school holidays. The programme also includes popular family days that take place three times a year.
The clubs are run by an artist facilitator with support from artists with learning disabilities who are members of the Blue Room project.
“One of the main aims of the clubs is to support children and families to develop positive attitudes towards people with learning disabilities.“ Bec explains.
“We achieve this through collaborative working on a high quality programme of arts activities linked to our exhibitions. Our Out of the Blue volunteers had little, or no experience of working with children before the project began, so for some it was a huge step, if not a little daunting, but the feedback from our members and participants was fantastic – each agreeing they wanted to work with the children again and to ‘share more of their artistic skills’.
Veronica has been a member of Blue Room since 2008, developing her creative skills and becoming an exhibiting artist in the process. She has worked with the Out of the Blue children as a volunteer since the project began.
She describes her summer Out of the Blue experience: “If I had been asked to work with children before the Out of the Blue project, I probably would have said no! Now though, I like working with them. I wasn’t ever confident with children. The ones in my local area used to shout stuff at me, I didn’t like it. I thought Out of the Blue was going to be hard work, but I really enjoyed it in the end.
“In the sessions I shared my skills as an artist. I showed them drawing and painting and they looked at exhibitions with us at the Bluecoat. The children are good to get along with and volunteering has given me more confidence working with them. I would like to make more artwork with them in the future.”
The last of the five clubs will be starting in October and will involve children with learning disabilities from Princes Primary in the Granby area of Liverpool. This will be a new venture for our Blue Room members enabling them to become positive role models for the children.
The Bluecoat is also looking to develop a Blue Room initiative for young people aged 16 – 25 in which some of our current Blue Room members will play a role.
Anyone with an interest in joining Blue Room can contact Laura Yates, Participation Manager for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org