The Foundation for Art and Creative Technology (FACT) has always been ahead of the curve.

When it first opened all the way back in 2003, the arts centre was an edgy newcomer on the scene. When Liverpool's museums and showrooms exhibited classic artwork and historic pieces, FACT presented a "punk" alternative with technology and experiences at its heart.

FACT, based on Wood Street, in Liverpool's Ropewalks, has been a cornerstone within the city for showcasing film, art, exhibitions and special events. Four cinemas showcase the latest arthouse films alongside more mainstream releases alongside three gallery spaces, a bar and a café.

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When it opened two decades ago, the unique appeal of FACT was how "cool" it was. Teenagers and young adults found it somewhat of an inclusive haven in the city and appreciated its social accessibility. Lesley Taker, 36, was one of the visitors who called FACT a regular home.

She told the ECHO: "FACT always had this different energy and I think that's why it was such a success early on. For a lot of people in Liverpool, it felt like the only place you could go and see art because art isn't accessible to everyone. There's a social idea that art and galleries are for higher-ups but FACT was a welcome alternative that felt for the people and still showcased great work - that resonated with people."

Lesley saw herself progress from visitor to a full-time staff member, hoping aboard the FACT family ship 12 years ago. Now a long-serving team member and Studio/Lab manager, a creative space that nurtures a vibrant community of artists, researchers and technologists, Lesley explained how there's always been so much more to experience than an exhibit.

Lesley Taker, Studio/Lab-Manager at FACT
Lesley Taker, Studio/Lab-Manager at FACT

She said: "It's this place where we went on dates and sat with friends in the café. When we didn't know what cool stuff was happening we were there anyways. Even before I started, in my experience, everyone from programming and curation was happy to speak to you. It's always been more of a community than another city company."

Lesley continues to manage Studio/Lab logistics and attributes FACT's longevity to continuously being ahead of the curve. When the world erupted with "fake news" in 2016 due to the American presidential election, FACT was already working on an exhibition on the topic two years prior. Lesley said: "Because we work in the digital tech space we often times do shows no one is expecting then a year later the topic will explode. We've been covering AI for years and now people are just getting onto it.

"We work in a space where we're ahead of the curve. 70s and 80s queer folk expressing themselves used to be so underground but what's nice now is digital art has been contemporised because it used to be this punky little sister but like queer art and similar topics, so much of it is now only hitting the masses, even though we've always had it covered."

Reflecting on her career, Lesley added: "I've been here for 12 years and no way did I think in my 20s I'd be here all these years later. It's always changing, always vibrant and a place you learn a lot. Seeing people affected and feeling something has been the most amazing thing in my career. That's what I'm most proud of."

Joan Burnett is one of FACT's founding team members
Joan Burnett is one of FACT's founding team members

FACT’s self-declared “fabulous” visitor service manager is also celebrating a major milestone. Joan Burnett, 57, is one of the business's founding team members having joined the crew back in 2003.

On her way to celebrating 20 years herself, Joan has witnessed FACT evolve in every way possible. She told the ECHO: “When it opened they advertised a role that didn't suit me but then it turned into a visitor service manager. I started in October 2003 but worked for FACT before as a temp when they were based in Bluecoat and knew the people who ran it in the 80s. It was somewhere I always wanted to work and I admired it so much.

"It was the art that drew me and it's been extraordinary the whole 20 years. People ask how you can do a job for 20 years but if you're happy and surrounded by the right people it'll be easy.

Joan has experienced some mesmerising displays and artworks from all over the world but a few "bonkers" pieces still stand out to her more than others. She added. "When the building was closed during lockdown we were about to launch an exhibition that had live ant colonies. it was there the whole time for around a year, me and my colleagues took turns feeding them. We were literally going in to feed the ants on a regular basis - which was weird but fun. We were paid ant feeders."

In the brief period between FACT opening and coming aboard as staff, Joan popped in to see the venue as a visitor. She said: "In the first week it was chocker. It always has been a busy pace and sometimes it can look much calmer than it is but we always knew that were just really good at hiding it on our faces."

Director Nicola Triscott poses with staff at FACT
Director Nicola Triscott poses with staff at FACT

Joan noted the FACT spark can still be felt from the opening days in equal parts due to the company's ability to keep up with the times and the wonderful people behind it. She added: "It's really different, it evolves not changes.

"What makes it so lovely to work with is because it's shaped by people. People think because we are a tech-based gallery we’ll be cold but we're not. We like to give a voice to art and we’ve always worked with local communities and artists to give back.

“It's such a family unit. [We’ve just hired] three new staff and I hope they feel like it’s a family too. The colleagues you work with and people and visitors make a place a family. I’ve seen people as children grow up and bring their children which is so special.

“If you do a job you love you’ll never do a day's work in your life and it really feels like that. Visitor services manager, 57,

On October 20 and 21, FACT will celebrate its 20th birthday by inviting guests to a weekend of free events. The celebrations include the unveiling of two new exhibitions, talks by contemporary artists and influential figures, family-friendly activities and a birthday after-party.

Once the dust has settled on the major milestone, the FACT family will continue preparing world-class exhibitions the mainstream won't touch for years to come.

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