Website: My Bluecoat
Danny Birchall follows the history of an iconic building from boarding school to arts centre through this fascinating site
This website celebrates the 300th anniversary of the Bluecoat, the UK’s longest-standing arts centre and the oldest building in the centre of Liverpool. It was founded in 1717 as a charitable boarding school for poor children and, since 1927, has hosted exhibitions and performances, and supported artists.
The site tells the story of the school and arts centre, and presents the memories of those who have used the building, whether as artists or visitors. Testimonies and videos celebrate the diversity of the Bluecoat’s community, alongside a gallery of 300 facts about the building and its history.
But the meat of the site is the archive: works and documents from three centuries have been digitised, annotated and made accessible through a simple search tied to a timeline and a series of curated selections of material.
One section explores the Bluecoat’s relationship with slavery. Ledger accounts show subscriptions to the school from Liverpool merchants involved in the slave trade and documentation from more recent artistic events involves explorations of the building’s colonial legacy.
Event brochures and exhibition posters from the past 40 years offer a fascinating glimpse into the changing cultural landscape of Liverpool and the UK.
It’s an enticing combination of the global and the local. Visual artist Yoko Ono rubs shoulders in the archive with poet and painter Adrian Henri; artist and musician Captain Beefheart with the Liverpool Mozart Orchestra.
Digitised ephemera doesn’t always make for compelling web content, but the Bluecoat has used it to open up more than just its own history.
From Brexit Britain to right-wing Hungary, migration across and into Europe is being challenged in ugly ways. So what better time for Europeana, the portal that brings together 50m digitised items from Europe, to launch an online exhibition on migration.
People On the Move draws from Europeana’s constituent collections to show how the face of Europe has been changed by migrants and how everything from music to cuisine has been enriched by people from beyond Europe’s borders. The presentation is clean, with a good balance of image and text.
The idea of an online exhibition is always problematic: why try to mimic a something made for physical buildings in a medium made of browsers and links? Europeana’s template, used across all its online exhibitions, eschews the showy digital son et lumière of Google Arts and Culture’s online exhibits for something that just works.
But the exhibition lacks a narrative, with some sections reading like a list. Perhaps choosing representative samples from across its collections has cast the net too wide to say anything interesting or provocative.
App: Arotahi | Focus
Plenty of museums have their collections online, but how often do you use your browser to really look at a photograph or painting, let alone get lost in one, the way you might in a gallery?
Arotahi | Focus is a “mindful viewing experience” that invites you to slow down and use the art and objects from the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa to aid reflection. Pick a theme, image and ambient soundtrack, and the app will slowly zoom and pan across your selection. It is surprisingly easy to get lost in what’s on offer, from the shape of a tree to scratches on a photograph.
It has been built to demonstrate the power of Te Papa’s API – a tool that lets software developers access collections data directly – and is the kind of small but effective digital intervention we should see more of from museums.