19 NOVEMBER 2014 JU GOSLING AKA ju90 WRITES: Last year I ended with a list of thank-yous, and this year I’m beginning with another long list. First, I want to thank all of the artists and art clubs who’ve supported this year’s Together! Open Exhibition at the Old Town Hall in Stratford. The Open Exhibition is unique in that we charge no entry fee, and it’s not competitive. Instead, every artist who identifies as being disabled and having a Newham connection – be it living, working, studying or volunteering in the borough – is invited to submit one piece of work. We guarantee that, so long as it’s suitable for a family audience, we will include it in the show (and find a way to hang it!).
This year we have more artists represented in the exhibition than ever before, of all ages. One aspect of the exhibition I enjoy so much – apart from the vibrant mixture of work created by the criteria – is the resulting ambiguity. A catalogue is there so that visitors can indeed find out more about the artists and their background. But from viewing the work alone, it is impossible to say for sure who is the professional, who the amateur or community artist? Nor the age of the artist – and most certainly not the cultural background, though this reflects the Newham connection of the artists and is therefore extremely diverse. Similarly the subjects – are they portraits or self-portraits? Is the subject disabled? Does it matter?
The Exhibition epitomizes the values of the late David Morris, who inspired Together! David believed in bringing together people of all ages and abilities around the same table to share and celebrate their creativity. David was the Mayor of London’s Disability Adviser, and the head of External Inclusion for London 2012. He understood that the underlying values of the Games are not elitism, but celebrating aspiring for excellence, the triumph of the human spirit, and friendship between people from all backgrounds and cultures.
Particular thanks go to the Art Recovery Group, East End Hamlets, Flying Angel Art Club, the Discover Centre’s Mighty Mega Saturday Club, the Powerhouse women and Rosetta Arts for coordinating submissions and deliveries. And of course to my co-Curator, our Programme Director Sarah Hughes, who’s put a huge amount of hard work into the show as well as leading the Together! Art Club and the Art Recovery Group.
Thanks as well to the Newham artists who performed at the launch of the festival and Open Exhibition at the Old Town Hall on 19 November. Act Up bring powerful devised productions based on the life experiences of the company’s members to pop-up venues and theatres. We were thrilled to begin the evening with a preview of a scene from their 2015 production, ‘Party’. Set in the classroom, the scene looks at the exclusion created when ‘inclusion’ is done badly. With adults dressed as school students, Black characters bullying a white student, and disabled actors playing non-disabled characters, there were multiple readings in addition to a tense cliff-hanger to their preview. Meanwhile Starpad DJs create an exuberant atmosphere which means that there will inevitably be a great deal of dancing before the end of any event they play at, however ‘cultured’ the event may be. Particular thanks to Ella and Richard from the McGrath Centre for all they contributed to the evening’s success.
As I said in my festival blog last year, I am truly blessed to work with such a wonderful team. I’m inevitably going to miss out someone important, but today I’d particularly like to thank our volunteers Carla, Marina and Dawn, my PA Andrea and our Chair Julie Newman, who between them spent the last couple of days helping Sarah and I to get the exhibition up and running, and will continue to be spending the major part of the next few weeks ensuring that everyone else has a good time. We can always use more volunteers, so if you’d like to be involved more actively in the festival, just contact us.
I’d like to thank Sasha, who organizes our Sign Language Interpreters – and of course Jason, who in addition to interpreting for us at our launch party was happy to lend a hand to set up, and who has become familiar to our audiences for his hard work for us over the past 12 months. I’d also like to thank Cliff Segree and Tae Catford, our Project Workers, who are getting ready to install our Recycled Band project into the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park next week. Cliff heads up our technical team, and Tae has also been leading our Awards for All-funded women’s course ‘My Body, My Relationships’ over the autumn. Tae and Cliff ask me to say they would very much welcome anyone who wants to assist with completing 12 giant musical instruments made from recycled construction materials over the next week. On Sunday 14 December at 2pm, please join them and the rest of us for an improvised concert with the Recycled Band. The instruments are then being redistributed to community groups in time for the holidays – let us know if you are interested in having one.
We’d also like to thank Alison Davenport, Olaiya and the rest of the team at the Old Town Hall, who’ve made us so welcome again, and who continue to provide a huge amount of help and support. It’s always heartening when staff are genuinely pleased to see you back. The building may not have the most modern access facilities in the borough, but as we say in the disabled people’s movement, Attitude is Everything. We’re therefore delighted that the Old Town Hall is one of our main venues this year.
We’d like to thank our principal funder, Arts Council England, who are supporting the festival for the second year. The Arts Council also supported our summer programme for the first time in 2014. Arts Council support is critical in enabling us to develop locally based disabled artists, and to bring disabled artists to show work in the borough from the rest of the UK and beyond. We very much appreciate their support, as we do of our other funders, People’s Health Trust, the Community Foundation and London Borough of Newham. Festival sponsorship has come from Channel 4, Countryside Properties and Trinity Buoy Wharf. The Recycled Band project has been funded by the London Legacy Development Corporation, and we’d like to thank Adriana, Anna and Emily for their ongoing support. All of these organizations have made a huge contribution to the fact that this will be the best Together! festival yet.