Many of the ideas Sir Paul McCartney committed to paper went on to change the course of history at the peak of his powers in The Beatles. As it turned out, his impact stretched further than ground-breaking music – he also made his mark on the academic world.
As far back as 1985, McCartney was concerned that the building which was previously home to his old school, the Liverpool Institute High School for Boys, was ageing badly following the school’s closure, and he wanted to find a new, practical use for it. His timing was ideal, because educator and entrepreneur Mark Featherstone-Witty had tasted success with his Brit School in London, and wanted to branch out.
Taking inspiration from the film Fame, Featherstone-Witty set his heart on replicating the movie’s New York High School for the Performing Arts, and it got him thinking about the kind of training that would have prepared him and others for meaningful work in the arts and entertainment industry. The film delivered the notion that aspiring artists should train in all three disciplines – acting, music and dance – simultaneously.
He put together a philosophy for a new kind of training regime, before asking industry insiders for their opinions and tweaking his approach. By 1985 he had brought together almost 50 entrepreneurs, choreographers, and directors to back him. Record producer Sir George Martin knew of McCartney and Featherstone-Witty’s ideas, and set up a meeting between the two men. Seven years and £20 million later, the school and facilities were put in place.
Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts was finally ready to open in the summer of 1996, when the Queen officially unveiled it, and its range of courses has increased with each passing academic year. The tenth anniversary in 2006 was marked by a new book written by Featherstone-Witty, called The First Ten Years in Pictures, as well as a special performance at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall.
At this point, the institute was determined to be the first new higher education provider of its kind to have been started from scratch. As a performing arts institute, more international students attend LIPA than anywhere else in the UK.
It has been awarded a Gold Standard from Investors in People, and has also boasted the most Fellows and Associates acknowledged by the Higher Education Academy.
March 2012 saw LIPA go down The Beatles route once again – buying John Lennon’s former art school building, the former Liverpool College of Art, for £3.7 million, in order to create more teaching accommodation. Two years later, building work got under way on the art school, which was finished in the summer of 2016, delivering state-of-the-art teaching and performance areas.
LIPA established its own Sixth Form College in September 2016, under the Free School programme, having formed its own primary school under the same scheme two years earlier.
Today, the institute offers up training in Acting, Music, Theatre and Performance Technology, Theatre and Performance Design, Applied Theatre & Community Drama, Dance, Management of Music, Entertainment, Theatre & Events, and Sound Technology. It runs 10 full-time B.A. Honours degrees, and two Foundation Certificate courses.
It has, in the past, been rated as the UK’s top university for several of its degree courses, in the Education Guardian, and has regularly featured in the top 10 rankings for specialist providers. It has also received a Gold in the government’s Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF).
Notable alumni include Hollyoaks star Leah Hackett, who played Tina Reilly on the soap, Mark Franks, singer in The Overtones, and television presenter and journalist Dawn O’Porter. Singer-songwriter Sandi Thom, and Life on Mars actress Liz White, also attended.