Queercircle: Discover Greenwich’s dynamic new arts and cultural hub
Queercircle has been working at the intersection of arts, culture and social action since 2016. Last month the LGBTQ+ charity threw open the doors to its new permanent home in the Design District, at the heart of Greenwich Peninsula. The multidisciplinary space promises a packed programme that celebrates queer identity, champions LGBTQ+ talent and provides support for the wider community. Founder of Queercircle Ashley Joiner tells us more…
Last month, artists, creatives and members of the local community spilled out onto the pavement of Soames Walk in Greenwich’s Design District. The buzz on that warm summer’s evening was palpable, for this was the highly-anticipated opening of Queercircle’s new dedicated LGBTQ+ cultural space (coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the UK’s inaugural Gay Pride march). It was, as declared on Twitter, a night of love, dancing and pride.
Queercircle is the brainchild of film-maker Ashley Joiner, whose 2019 feature-length documentary Are You Proud? about the LGBTQ+ community was much lauded. The charity works at the intersection of arts, culture and social action, collaborating with artists and curators, writers and thinkers, community organisers and grassroots groups to support the LGBTQ+ community.
“When directing Are You Proud? I had the great pleasure of interviewing Andrew Lumsden of the Gay Liberation Front,” Ashley tells The Glossary. “Formed in 1970, the GLF was the first public facing LGBTQ+ group in the UK. He said, ‘We didn’t know what we were doing, we just had to try stuff out. And with that energy I set about building a space that celebrated LGBTQ+ people and provided an alternative way for us as a community to come together.”
The idea behind opening the Queercircle premises in SE10 was to give the charity’s community-focused programme a base, providing a new permanent home for LGBTQ+ artists and a free-to-enter, safe and creative space for the community. Not least in a city where artist studios are being swallowed up by development at an alarming rate and over 50% of dedicated LGBTQ+ spaces have closed in the past decade.
“With increasing cuts being made to arts education and vital mental health services, it is necessary for us to reimagine the role cultural spaces play in society,” explains Ashley. “We now have an opportunity to collaboratively design community-informed programmes that push the boundaries of arts and culture, learning, and health and wellbeing in a holistic environment that recognises the impact each has on the other.”
Designed by the award-winning David Kohn Architects, behind the brick facade with its bright green doors and windows, the purpose-built space is bright and airy with a reading room-archival exhibition space combined; a project space for workshops; and a sizable main gallery for LGBTQ+ artists and creators to share their work. The latter is the perfect setting for Queercircle’s inaugural exhibition, Let Me Hold You, by South London-based artist Michaela Yearwood-Dan. A three-metre-high curved mural installation – bright, bold and dotted with Yearwood-Dan’s signature botanical motifs – is the star of the show, alongside new ceramic works, planters, vases and re-appropriated furniture.
In the reading room The Queens’ Jubilee, an archive-based show, hangs on the walls. It comprises rare documentary photographs documenting the radical drag queens of the GLF, who marched through central London in 1972 for the UK’s first ever Pride. The images are incredibly emotive, capturing seminal moments of the social protest including hitherto unseen photos from the first public demonstration by LGBT people, a candlelit rally which took place at Highbury Fields in November 1970.
Both shows are a sign of the great things to come. Queercircle plans to programme three seasons a year, each comprising an exhibition by an LGBTQ+ contemporary artist, an archive exhibition and a participatory residency. The first artist-in-residence will be multi-disciplinary artist Jacob V Joyce, whose work ranges from mural painting and illustration to workshops, poetry and punk music, while Autumn sees a new exhibition in the main gallery space of work by Bones Tan Jones
The overarching aim of the programming is “to strengthen the link between culture, health and wellbeing,” says Joiner. Each year, there’ll be a theme – 2022 is ‘ecology’ and topical concerns around the world, hence why Yearwood-Dan’s bold botanical works are so apt. “The more specific themes of our programming are universal; what Queercircle is doing is giving space to add queer voices into these wider conversations,” says Joiner. “Lots of major institutions engage with queer artists through programming that focus on their marginalisation but for us queerness is a given so we can, and want to, explore themes and programming that go beyond that foundation.”
While arts and culture are very much on the agenda at Queercircle, so too is health and wellbeing – and the space will host holistic, inclusive events throughout the year, focusing on social isolation, stress and anxiety by encouraging the development of friendships, social networks and local community participation. “Our hope is that when people visit the space, they not only come to see the exhibitions, but feel seen themselves too,” concludes Joiner.
‘Let Me Hold You’ and ‘The Queens’ Jubilee’ will run until 8 September.
Queercircle, Soames Walk, Design District, Greenwich, London SE10 0BN