Bluecoat Is a Place for Working Artists - We Don't Want It Taken over by Wealthy Dilettantes; as Bluecoat Chambers Prepares for Its Most Ambitious Modernisation, David Charters Hears a Famous Artist Plead for Its Retention as a Place of Creative Excellence

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Byline: David Charters

JULIA Carter Preston, potter to royalty, stands in her studio, an apron around her waist and a little dust in t he vivid red of her hair. This is the artistic core of old Liverpool, a place where generations of men and women have painted, written, mademusic and shaped lumps of clay into s miles, breasts and limbs.

Her own father, who sculpted many of the figures in t he city's Anglican Cathedral, sometimes using the young Julie as his model, would have stood on th is very spot.

Now, though, Miss Carter Preston is worried about ne w plans for the Bluecoat Arts Centr e.

Shefears the commercial pressures behind those regenerating Liverpool may mean a sweeping away of the old atmosphere which she loves so much.

And, at the age of 75, she would like the security of kno wing t hat she has a few more uninterr upted years to practise her craft as one of Britain's leading ceramicists, whose work has been commissioned for the late Princess Margaret and the Princess Royal.

After all, she says,one of the greatest artistic colonies in western Europe was basedhere when Liverpool was agreat port.

You would even have caught a glimpse of that Augustus John, with his big beard and immense talent, whose lust for flesh matched his love of paint.

But if you missed him there was always her father, the reno wned Edward Carter Preston, and his pal Herbert Tyson Smith, whose international reputation was sealed by his bronze reliefs on the magnificent Cenotaph on St George's Plateau.

Times have chang ed a great deal, but the essential artistic integrity has remained in t he Bluecoat Chambers, built as acharity school in 1717.

Now the centr e inc ludes a craft shop and gallery at the back, abook shop, a cafe,a picture-framers, Miss Carter Preston's studio, an etching studio and rooms which can be hired out.

But it is in t he heart of the area to be transfo rmed as part of the pounds 470m Grosvenor Henderson r egeneration programme.

Although, the external appearance of the Bluecoat cannot be altered,its management team is soon t o unveil plans fo r its own pounds 8m modernisation. Miss Carter Preston, whose works inc ludes exquisite commemorative plaques and baptismal fonts finished in s graffito, says it is crucial that the scheme should be sympathetic to the original conce pt of the fine building, formerly home to the Bluecoat Society of Arts.

Bryan Biggs, director of the Bluecoat centr e, says the anxieties of Miss Carter Preston and some other tenants are unf ounded.

``We have got the architects on board,'' he says.

``We need t heir plans and drawings to go forward with any funding applications.''

They will then p ut in bids for funding based on the architects' plans, business plans and the work done at the centr e over the past few years.

``If those funding bodies respond we will havea decision by the beginning of the following y ear. …