MERSEY ART BEAT
Homotopia takes over Liverpool for November
Since 2004 Homotopia has been promoting the best of queer art and culture across Liverpool. The festival has grown from a handful of events to a month of world premieres and exclusive commissions bringing audiences to the city from across the country.
In the beginning, Liverpool City Council was preparing its successful bid to become European Capital of Culture and wanted to ensure that it included the gay, lesbian and trans communities in its cultural planning. The council approached theatre director Graeme Phillips and local actor and promoter Gary Everett to programme a number of queer cultural events over a few nights in November.
“From the very start we wanted to programme high quality, exciting theatre, dance, comedy, music, literature and visual art that drew on the LGBT experience but engaged with everyone,” says Gary, currently Homotopia’s Artistic Director. “We believe culture experiences bring people together and challenge prejudice and I think that’s shown by our audience research. Our audiences are split equally between gay and straight and numbers and have grown every year so we must be doing something right!”
Homotopia continues to receive support from Liverpool City Council and in 2012 it became the only explicitly LGBT arts organisation to become regularly funded by the Arts Council of England. It is now the only annual queer arts festival in the north of the country.
So what can first time visitors to Homotopia expect?
“It’s hard to pick out a few examples from the last nine years,” Gary Everett continues, “because there have been so many highlights.
“We brought Tales of the City author Armistead Maupin to St George’s Hall in 2007 to read from the same stage as Charles Dickens had read from, which Armistead loved as he’s a big Dickens fan.
“In 2008 we staged a major retrospective of drawings by Tom of Finland which was so well received we were asked to tour it to Finland and Sweden and we also co-commissioned a wonderful piece of theatre about Carry On actor Charles Hawtrey called Jiggery Pokery. The mesmeric actress Amanda Lawrence was on stage alone for over an hour portraying Hawtrey and about 40 other characters. That was very special and wouldn’t have happened without Homotopia’s support.”
“Visitors this year can expect a number of treats – as it’s our tenth birthday we’re spoiling ourselves! Our big exclusive is John Waters appearing in his one man show This Filthy World. His appearance at the Liverpool
Philharmonic Hall is his only visit to the UK this year so all trash and filth lovers should book their tickets quickly.
“We’ve also been working for the last year on a major museum exhibition about the life of April Ashley which runs for a year from September 2013 in the Museum of Liverpool. April was born in Liverpool in 1935 as George Jamieson and went on to have a modelling career and an infamous divorce that set a legal precedent for anyone who wished to change sex.
“We won a large grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to present April’s archive of photographs and personal effects alongside a timeline of trans history and oral histories taken from members of the trans and gender queer community. I don’t believe there has been another exhibition like it ever before in this country.
“We have also exclusively commissioned Boy George to create his first visual art exhibition with artist Mark Wardel (aka TradeMark) and he will be coming to town to talk about his life and the themes of constructed identities that inspired the exhibition.
“Then there’s the David Hockney exhibition of his early sketches and the premiere of a show we have commissioned from the talented Lycra-wearing, award-winning Le Gateau Chocolat called Black... really, the list goes on and on!”
Gary is the only full-time employee and the small Homotopia team works from an office too small to swing any cats. However, they don’t just run the festival. Homotopia has also grown into a social justice organisation creating its own NUT-backed education programme against bullying and homophobia called Project Triangle and staging two Hate Crime Conferences, one with young people’s groups and the other specifically targeting staff in the social housing sector.
LGBT artists have been programmed to take their work out into the community and, through Homotopia’s Lavender Days schedule, several sheltered housing schemes have welcomed afternoons of comedy and music.
Bev Ayre who has developed Homotopia’s relationships with Merseyside Police and the social housing sector explains:
“As a gay organisation we knew it was important to challenge homophobia and transphobia in our community. The festival does this just by presenting queer work but we wanted to build on this throughout the year.
“Merseyside Police have been very supportive from the start. We both want people to understand when they have been victims of Hate Crime and feel confident in reporting that to the Police and the Police want to show that they are an inclusive organisation. We also know that many people suffer abuse in or around their homes which is why we started working with housing associations. The conferences are a way of raising the issue of homophobia alongside transphobia and getting people to start thinking about fairness and equality and how that might influence their lives and jobs.”
The first ten years has seen Homotopia grow phenomenally into a vital component of
“It’s our tenth birthday so we’re spoiling ourselves with a number of treats!”
Liverpool’s cultural calendar and it’s that diverse cultural offer that has helped bring more weekend visitors to the city than any other in England outside London.
So pack your overnight bag and book your hotel and if you come to Liverpool in November expect queer culture you won’t see anywhere else including much that’s free - the David Hockney, Boy George and April Ashley exhibitions for a start).
TRANSFORMER TRANSFORMED BY TRADEMARK 2013
BOY GEORGE PICTURE DEAN STOCKINGS