Skip to main content
Dru6548 States Of Play Opening Credit Drew Forsyth

Remembering 18 Years on Wood Street

by FACT

Read

Share:  FacebookTwitter

As we begin plans to reopen, we're looking back to February 2003, when we opened our doors for the very first time on Wood Street, Liverpool.

FACT Liverpool Rob Battersby

FACT Liverpool. Image by Rob Battersby

At the time, we became Liverpool’s first new arts building in over 60 years since the Philharmonic Hall opened in 1939. This week, our award-winning building celebrates its 18th birthday. With three art galleries, a media and events space, a lab for learning and experimentation plus a Picturehouse cinema and bar, our building has provided many special moments to many people over the years. To celebrate, we spoke to some of our long term members of staff, who shared memories of their experiences at FACT.

Our Development Officer Julia Youngman originally joined FACT almost 15 years ago as a Gallery Assistant having moved from Newcastle to Liverpool. Reflecting on her first impressions of FACT, Julia recalls not being sure what to expect, “I’d never been anywhere like it before and I remember thinking during my first week that every city should have a FACT. It was such a unique place and I thought that my new boss (our very lovely Joan Burnett) was really great. She, along with Steve Talbot, who both managed Front of House, made me feel so welcome. Even though I was struggling to settle into a new city, I felt so lucky to be working with them.”

Pipilotti Rist, Gravity Be My Friend, 2007. Installtion view at Magasin 3, Stockholm/SE. Photo by Johan Warden.

Pipilotti Rist, Gravity Be My Friend, 2007. Installation view at Magasin 3, Stockholm/SE. Photo by Johan Warden.

Front of House Manager, Joan Burnett, has warmly welcomed visitors since the very first day our doors opened back in 2003. She remembers the early days of being caught up in the excitement of what artists could do with technology - The idea that the work we exhibited could observe our own condition in the world - it felt as though the strange tech world could be opened up by art and made more apparent to us and that we could take part in it and change it for our benefit.”

“There have been some really great moments at FACT. From when Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison visited during Liverpool Biennial in 2008 to the premiere of Kenny Dalglish’s film (and feeling totally star struck!) in 2017. The extraordinary writer and HIV campaigner Larry Kramer also received an official welcome to the City of Liverpool by Steve Rotherham, serving as Lord Mayor of Liverpool, at FACT in 2008. One of the most unforgettable moments was during the exhibition ‘Gravity Be My Friend’ when artist Pipilotti Rist publicly thanked all of the staff at her opening night. That was so touching and heartfelt. She took a pen and altered the text on the gallery boards to include everyone in a little moment of magic and kindness.”

Bernie Lubell, A Theory of Entanglement, 2007. Installation view at FACT.

Bernie Lubell, A Theory of Entanglement, 2007. Installation view at FACT.

Over the last 18 years we’ve presented over 350 media and digital artworks at FACT, reflecting on a visit to our 2007 exhibition A Theory of Entanglement, Julia recalls her interactions with the artist, Bernie Lubell...

When I was on maternity leave I remember visiting ‘A Theory of Entanglement’ and finding part of the ground floor filled with models of birds made out of recycled materials. Visitors were invited to make their own and the project was ridiculously popular. It was amazing to see the building brought to life in such a lovely, interactive way. I'd worked on some of the production of the exhibition before I'd gone on maternity leave and had met Bernie Lubell in person. He was one of the friendliest artists that I recall ever working with and I remember thinking at the time that my colleagues in the Learning team had come up with the perfect project to compliment his personality, as well as his work of course!”

Video Production Manager Carl Davies has worked at FACT for over 10 years and he too enjoys working with the Learning team.

For me FACT is a pretty unique place, right in the centre of Liverpool, where artists and filmmakers from all across the world come to share ideas and tell stories. I personally love working with the Learning team as they engage with so many people across the city and region. It’s great to be a part of and see that positive impact on Liverpool and it's communities.”

Some of Carl’s personal highlights include capturing a live musical performance by local school pupils inside Toxteth Reservoir in collaboration with artist collective Invisible Flock for their immersive water, laser and ice installation, Aurora, and Virtual Reality (VR) body swapping with BeAnotherLab and pupils of Holy Family Catholic Primary School and Academy of St. Francis Assisi.

A few of Carl’s exhibition highlights include Ryoichi Kurokawa showing us how stars are formed in the 2016 exhibition unfold, Tehching Hsieh documenting every hour of his life for a whole year in One Year Performance (1980 - 1981), and Agnès Varda bringing her light and energy to FACT during the Liverpool Biennial in 2018.

FACT Team

If you’ve visited our building at any point over the past 18 years, chances are, you’ll have been greeted by Joan and the Front of House team, she admits that spending time with visitors is the most enjoyable part of her day.

“For an organisation that has technology at its heart, people are actually our life blood. Not in a vampiric way I hasten to add! Be it our regulars, who are like family to us or people coming in for the first time who are surprised and pleased with what they find. The conversations we have are so enriching and I learn from our visitors every day. Whether you are an artist, visitor, speaker, quiet person, child, writer, singer, dancer - everyone can come in and make something of this space and we are here to help you if you need us.”

For Julia there are many enjoyable aspects of working at FACT, but similarly to Joan, the stand out is the people - “Over 15 years at FACT I’ve worked with so many talented and genuinely lovely people. I've experienced a lot of life's major moments while working here - got married, had two babies, bought a house, lived through a pandemic - and the love and support that I've had from my colleagues at FACT has always been truly amazing. I can count many colleagues past and present as some of my closest friends.“

“On top of that, I really enjoy how unexpected some of the work can be. I've had to arrange the shipping of an iPad scrolling, taxidermy dog; buy a yellow VW Polo from a second hand car dealer in Essex; hand-deliver letters to local residents warning them that we'd be setting off fireworks indoors and that the building may appear, but won't actually be, on fire; and watch as Gallery 1 was transformed into a fracking site for ‘Turning FACT Inside Out’ in 2013 - (more fire). Where else could you work with such variety?!"

The Liverpool Complaints Choir

“FACT has changed and developed in many ways over the years, but I think the most important change is the way that it has slowly grown into its role as a hub for visitors, participants and artists to explore their own, greater understanding of the world. FACT has always been forward-thinking and our exhibitions and learning programmes present today’s most pressing issues in a way that encourages people to really ponder and shape their personal understanding and passions. I feel so proud to work for an organisation that addresses such important issues, has an enormous impact on its audiences, supports artists and young talent, and delivers learning projects that have the potential to improve the lives of the people they engage.”

Though the past year has proven difficult for many of us, we’re determined to come back strong when it is safe to do so and carry on providing spaces for people, art and technology to meet. When cultural organisations reopen their doors and art inevitably returns to our buildings, we’ll be there continuing to nurture and develop innovative minds, inspiring creativity, supporting emergent talent and transforming people’s lives.

Joan believes that there are some key takeaways from the past year, “People have stopped taking tech for granted - our isolation in lockdown has been alleviated by technology and we have grasped just exactly how powerful and important it is, but also how it has to be our servant, not our puppet-master. We also know now just what creativity and culture mean to us - everything - its what brings us together even online. All cities will be facing challenges and changes in the future, and having organisations like FACT to be a home for those conversations and actions will be essential, always remembering that technology can be beautiful as well as useful, soulful as well as utilitarian.”

And if you were wondering what the next 18 years would look like? Well, “It's a paradox - FACT is constantly changing and making new work, but has a strange stasis at its heart. The building is one of the calmest places in Liverpool and feels as though it never changes but in truth, it has undergone plenty of physical upheaval over the years. When you come back into the building we'll have three brand new exhibitions, 'Liverpool Biennial 2021', 'Soft Boys' and 'FACT Together', and a new cafe and bakery by The Wild Loaf will be up and running. The place will be buzzing again with a new energy. That feeling of calm is so important as the backdrop to people’s exploration of the work we show. The building itself is so beautiful that, especially on a sunny day, it is a blank canvas ready for anything to happen.”

Thank you to every single person who has visited us over the last 18 years. We can’t wait to see you again soon. Be the first to find out about our reopening by signing up to our newsletter here.