The Bluecoat & University of Liverpool.

Philosopher in Residence.

In 2013 Dr Panayiota Vassilopoulou was appointed for two years as the Bluecoat’s Philosopher in Residence, the first of its kind in the country and a unique opportunity to integrate philosophical enquiry into one of the UK’s busiest arts centres.

We launched with a stimulating public lecture at the Bluecoat, exploring the meaning and value of art works and how they relate to our lives, followed by lively contributions from the audience. This was followed by several other activities for the public including an accessible series of talks, workshops and films, providing an opportunity to find out how philosophical ideas are relevant to daily life.An11-week course provided an overview of the key concepts and debates in the theory of art and aesthetics. Art and Philosophy workshops, for adults, children and families, ran in relation to changing exhibitions in the gallery, with valuable research outputs.

This activity sparked several talks by visiting philosophers on themes such as music and philosophy and artists revisiting their earlier work.

In establishing the residency the Bluecoat and University has many outcomes including:

Both the University of Liverpool and Bluecoat have felt the benefit of this productive relationship, both at a practical and conceptual level. We have been delighted for the public to engage with philosophy and its relevance to the world today. The Art & Aesthetics course was over-subscribed, the inaugural talk had a full house, and the exhibition workshops generated enthusiastic debate.

Alongside this public-facing work of the residency, the University’s input into the Bluecoat’s thinking about its arts programme, engagement with audiences and our wider social and cultural impact has been invaluable. We have increased reflection on how the arts can play a broader civic role; artists’ reflections of multiculturalism; art and popular/vernacular culture; contemporary approaches to interpreting heritage; reflecting on and reinvigorating artistic work; the possibilities opened up by digital technologies in artistic practice; breaking down barriers to the arts and increasing audiences’ pathways to access.

Having a philosopher’s perspectives on the work of a contemporary art centre in this way is challenged assumptions about what Bluecoat does beyond simply presenting exhibitions and promoting performances. Academic input has made the approach to planning future programmes more holistic, inclusive and connected to what is happening in different contexts outside of the arts.

The residency’s success has created the possibility of further collaborations with other academic disciplines. It has paved the way for a Sociologist in Residence in 2017, when the University’s Dr Paul Jones will be engaging Bluecoat and its audience throughout its 300th birthday.

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