We Hope This Isn’t Goodbye: Liverpool Academy of Arts

George Harrison by Deirdre Foy, oil on Dutch metal.

Words by Sinead Nunes, Editor

As many of you have probably already heard, Liverpool Academy of Arts, a venue which has earned its place on the Liverpool art scene through 25 years hard work and devotion to local artists, is set to be closed down. For a brand new gallery for the city? No. For much-needed artist studios and performance spaces? No. The reason? For yet more student accommodation.

Sculptor Arthur Dooley dreamt of creating a ‘gallery of the people’ and opened Liverpool Academy of Arts at 36 Seel Street back in 1988 with its premiere exhibition of work by artist Mick Lawson. By 1989, recently retired theatrical costumier June Lornie had been persuaded to manage the gallery full time – an enterprise she has maintained tirelessly ever since. Meanwhile, Arthur continued to produce his own work, remaining President of the gallery until 1994 when he passed. In 2007 the gallery moved next door to a bigger space, installed a stage for performances and became a registered charity – a busy year for June and all involved! “We were offered the building next door to have just one exhibition but ended up staying!” June remembers. Run by volunteers, the gallery has since seen many more exhibitions, concerts and even operas.

Marie McGowan has been volunteering at the gallery for eight years and told me that “June has given so many artists their first opportunity to show their work. We’ve seen how they have progressed as they have gained confidence and gone on to build an artistic profile.” Marie has been exhibiting at the gallery herself since 2004 when her art class collaborated for a show, and after that formed art group Collidoscope, who have exhibited regularly ever since.

Cherie Grist, mixed media on wood.
Cherie Grist, mixed media on wood.

It is important to note that LAA is an independent, non-funded organisation and registered Charity, with a great respect for like-minded ventures. “We love Independents in this city, whether it’s coffee shops, bookshops, bars, bakeries or restaurants, so surely there is a place for an independent art gallery?” Marie asks. This gallery, thanks to June’s organisation and dedication, Dave Lornie’s behind-the-scenes input, and the hard work of a team of passionate, unpaid volunteers has produced over two decades of opportunities and memories for the artists of Merseyside, and it is crushing to think of all this being stripped away for the sake of commercial redevelopment.

The current exhibition Finale! is the last to be held at Liverpool Academy of Arts, and is crammed with works produced by artists from all over Liverpool and beyond. From music-inspired portraits to abstract art and costumes, this eclectic exhibition reflects a talented arts community who will surely miss this space when it is gone.

So how can you help? June is now seeking new premises for the gallery, and welcomes any suggestions. “I feel so sad to have to leave what has been my life for so many years and I have met so many people who have become close friends. 36 Seel Street has been a meeting place, and in my opinion there will never be any place like it again.”

Marie added “A recent comment on our Facebook page said it all, ‘A gift from June to all of Liverpool, I’m so very grateful.’ And so am I, for all the support and encouragement June has given me over the years.”

Liverpool Academy of Arts would like to thank all of the people who have made the gallery a success for the past 25 years; from the many loyal volunteers, to landlord and patron Allan Johnstone who let the building to Arthur and then June. On a personal note, June adds “I would like to wish Sue in the cafe John Cooper, English Rice Productions and the rest of the people who work at number 36 all the luck in the future.”

Finale will be on display at Liverpool Academy of Arts, 32 Seel Street until 28 August. The gallery is open Tuesday to Saturday 12-4pm.