Back in November, a group of artists got together to put on an art fair at the former Royal Seaman’s Orphanage in Newsham Park, and we loved it! So we couldn’t wait to get in touch with Angie McEvilly, one of the organisers, and find out what’s next for this exciting group.
Who or what is Art House Liverpool?
Art house Liverpool is a community of artists based in Liverpool, working in all mediums and at very different levels from emerging artists to professionals. The group includes students from universities, colleges and schools and every day more artists are joining. At present we have almost 200 members who are led by Jennifer Welch, Catherine Odita, Anna Louise Middleton and myself, Angie McEvilly.
Your first event took place at the Former Seaman’s Orphanage – what inspired you?
In the Summer of 2014, I volunteered with Liverpool Biennial’s Young Fellows. I was overwhelmed by The Old Blind School, as it was such a perfect space for artists to display their work and to open the doors of history to the public. I started to notice that artists in Liverpool were finding it difficult to have their work displayed, and as part of the programme, I chose to interview local artists. After a few weeks I unfortunately had to leave for work commitments, but I noticed an article on Newsham Park Seamen’s Orphanage in the Liverpool Echo one day and decided to contact the owner via Facebook. He got back in touch and we arranged a meeting.
Why did you feel it was important to reopen this historic building?
John McKenzie the owner could see the potential in my proposal, which was to help local artists put on an art festival and for those artists to help the building by charging a small entry fee for visitors to go towards repairs. I have always had a fascination with historical venues in Liverpool and I was taken aback when I entered this beautiful building. It is such a shame that these buildings are not open to the public but through Art House Liverpool we plan to seek these buildings out and bring life into them through art. The change in the building when all the art work was installed was just magical.
Can you describe the process of making it all happen?
As I had never worked on any such project before my faith was completely in the artists. Every day I see wonderful art being shared on social media, so I got straight to work by contacting all of them on Facebook. John McKenzie had been kind enough to set up our first meeting with a full tour of the building, which is known for being one of the most haunted in the UK. The tour was amazing and to learn about the past of the building was heartbreaking, so it felt good to know that we were bringing life and colour back into this empty place through art.
We had no funds going into this, and not a lot of time as John only had one slot available for us on 8 & 9 November. That gave us just six weeks to plan the event. I asked Anna Middleton (a fellow student at Hope University) and local artist Anna Di Scala to come on board, and each week more artists came to our meetings, so it didn’t take long for them to see our vision. We had strict rules to abide by as the building is a heritage site, and sometimes this proved difficult to explain and could cause tension. We had to respect the owner’s decisions throughout, but we all knew the event could be big and this spurred us on.
There is clearly a lot of local historical interest in the building, but journalists and visitors alike were prevented from taking photographs on the day – why do you think this was?
One of John’s rules was that no photographs could be taken without his permission due to copyrights on his building, but he did waver that rule near the end. It was hard without funding to actually get us noticed in the media; the Liverpool Echo did an article on myself and how I had approached John McKenzie, and of course Art in Liverpool’s support was great, but I do think if we had more media coverage at the time we would have had a lot more of the public visiting the festival – I had a lot of people say afterwards that they hadn’t heard any thing about it. We have learned a lot from Newsham Park and the Seamen’s Orphanage festival.
How did artists get involved and how did word spread about the event?
Social media played a big part in terms of contacting the artists. Once the events page was set up basically it was word of mouth and artists just started adding their work on there. Each Saturday leading up to the event, we would meet at the building and discuss our plans. We all agreed that we wanted to show every kind of media including performance art. Although we had further rules imposed on us by the owner, we respected his wishes at all times and the artists were incredible at working together in this way – especially the poets, who were amazing. I also had restrictions placed upon me by Hope University where I study, which at times was frustrating, but determination inspired us all to work together.
Have you had much feedback from visitors and do you think it was a success?
One of the things I regret was not putting feedback sheets out as we did have some amazing reviews. The public were inspirational; to get to meet them and talk about your art was nerve-wracking and exciting for us all. We had no interpretation installed in the building, as the whole point of the festival was to let the public get to know their Liverpool artists. One lady said to me “I now know that artist when I see their work again”. Most of our feedback has been online and has inspired us to carry on with future projects. This is just some of the ing to this feed back I’ve been able to collect:
“I unfortunately never pursued art as a professional thing until I met some of you by chance at Newsham Park. I had so much fun that weekend, and I managed to do something I had wanted to do for a while, put my art in the public… I’m so glad I did!” – Zoe Hyland
“A great building, great team and how everyone helped to pull it together was amazing – would love to be involved in the future” – Stephen Banning
“A fantastic event promoting the best young up and coming artists in Merseyside” – My Liverpool Life
Sounds like you’ve inspired a new generation of artists in the city! What are your plans as a collective going into 2015?
We plan to meet in January in The Gostins Building with Catherine Odita who runs the Gregson building, who has a few ideas on building creative projects involving artists and the community. The Gregson Building is also a Heritage site and Catherine has managed to build it up with a lot of love. This is the potential of what these buildings can become and I suggest people go and take a look at what Catherine has managed to do. Jenifer Welch, one of our project managers, has been able to bring in the structure we need as a small enterprise with her knowledge of exhibitions. Myself and Anna Middleton are being helped with the future of Art House Liverpool by our careers service in Hope University.
We have also been working up our proposal for a World Record in 2015. Although we cannot reveal too much yet, we are very pleased with the response we have had from galleries and interested parties as to what we do next. We are taking our time as we will need to build up funds and apply for an adjudicator from the world record association. We are currently in talks as to where the structure will be housed – I say structure as it is a very unique signature piece for all the artists who will be involved. At the moment our events page MEET THE LIVERPOOL ARTISTS has just a few little hints into what it is we are dong.
We are determined to produce more projects for Liverpool-based artists with Art House Liverpool, which includes contacting No. 10 and asking for permission to make use of some of the historical buildings in Liverpool. They are currently reviewing our application.
You are hoping to include more art students in what you do – tell us more.
It is so important to inspire and help each other, as this makes us stronger. Tomorrow’s art is right under our nose and if we don’t see this we will lose our creative people here in Liverpool. It has amazed me how many young people don’t think they will become professional artists, as they don’t think their dream will come true by staying in Liverpool. As a mature student who left my job and went into University, my advice is not to waste time, and live your dream. My team at Art House Liverpool is a strong one and we believe that as a collective, we can do a lot in Liverpool with our community. We have been noticed now and the public want to see more. We have been asked by the residents of Walton to help save Walton Hall Park. These projects will be great experiences for students to look back on, These times are happening and artists will always be part of them.
Do you have any more plans for the former Seaman’s Orphanage now that it has sparked such interest among the local art community?
I have kept in contact with John McKenzie. As of yet there are no plans to do any future projects with the Seamen’s Orphanage, but my motto is never say never. It’s ultimately up to the owner himself, but I do think the artists would love to return for another exhibition.
If you are interested in getting in taking part, joining the collective, or just want to find out more, you can contact Angie and the rest of the team at art.house.liverpool@groups.