From Melbourne to San Francisco, the world’s major cities are home to vibrant, dedicated LGBTQ+ community spaces. So why isn’t London? Filmmaker Ashley Joiner — whose detailed and insightful Are You Proud? made the Guardian's top ten documentaries of 2019 — is determined to rectify the situation with Queercircle, a LGBTQ+ led charity working at the intersection of arts, culture and social action. As the organisation prepares to open its new premises, we speak with Ashley about queer history, choosing Design District and the value of physical space.
Design District (DD): Hello Ashley, it’s great to be able to welcome you and Queercircle to the neighbourhood. Tell us how you first conceived of the idea for creating this much needed organisation?
Ashley Joiner (AJ): I became politically active in the making of Are You Proud?. The process gave me the great honour and privilege to meet and work with some of the most prominent LGBTQ+ leaders in the UK from the past five decades. The major lesson I took from those discussions is that you have to identify what’s missing and just try something out. Without this mentality we wouldn’t have had Gay Liberation Front, Stonewall, Switchboard or Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners… the list is endless.
I decided to throw a five day event that championed LGBTQ+ artists, creating a space for the community to come together. We had an exhibition, performances, a queer history tour and film screenings. It was a simple idea that resonated with people — a space made by us, for us.
DD: Did you envision finding a permanent home for Queercircle right from the beginning?
AJ: We held a series of exploratory workshops with artists, curators, organisers and other LGBTQ+ groups to discuss what Queercircle needed to be. These workshops were similar to those used by the women’s and gay liberation movements to understand their oppression and develop strategies for social change. From these discussions we were able to develop a programme and came to recognise the need for a permanent space.
In the last decade, over 50% of LGBTQ+ spaces have closed in London. These spaces are vital — they’re where we discover ourselves and our place in the world, where we learn to love, share our pain and our joy. In a society of oppression, these spaces are where we can come to rest, relax, share ideas and develop ways of coping and creating change.
DD: What led you to choosing Design District as your permanent headquarters for Queercirlce?
AJ: When looking for a space there were a number of key criteria. Firstly, it had to be wheelchair accessible (which manys spaces across London aren’t). North Greenwich station is on our doorstep and is completely step-free, as are our new spaces. Also, it was important not to contribute to people losing their homes as a result of gentrification. And we wanted to be public facing to show our pride.
Design District is the perfect place for Queercircle as it places us at the heart of a creative community. Collaboration is central to our programme so to share in Design District’s ethos is extremely exciting — it opens up boundless opportunities for us as an organisation.
DD: As well as being the founder and director of Queercircle, you’re also a filmmaker. Do you consider these to be different facets of one creative practice or quite separate activities?
AJ: My practice is rooted in listening, learning and taking action. Whether it be filmmaking or Queercircle, the participation of the community is central to understanding what’s needed and then finding ways in which to meet those needs. The purpose of Are You Proud? was to spark much needed conversations. Queercircle provides the opportunity to have these conversations all year round in a creative, holistic environment that supports mental health and wellbeing.
DD: There’s a perception that the arts and creative industries tend to foster more tolerant and inclusive work environments for queer people. What are your feelings about this?
AJ: I’m always cautious of this argument to be honest. Do people of colour feel welcomed and safe within the creative industries? Do people with disabilities? Do trans* people? It’s important to understand that the LGBTQ+ community is rich with intersectional identities that don’t feel safe and welcomed within the arts and creative industries; and society at large. We still have a lot of work to do before we can make such claims.
DD: How will Queercircle be making the most of its Design District spaces?
AJ: We have three spaces in the B4 building designed by David Kohn Architects. There will be a gallery and community space, a project/learning space and a private studio space for our artist residencies. The ground floor will be open to the public free of charge, seven days a week. There will be co-working spaces, cosy seating areas and a library. We want it to be a place where LGBTQ+ people feel comfortable enough to just drop in and hang out.
We’ve developed a dynamic programme which supports LGBTQ+ artists at pivotal stages in their careers and a year-long learning and participation programme that provides weekly opportunities for the local and LGBTQ+ communities to come together.
DD: Can you give us a taste of what you have lined up for the launch?
AJ: Haha, the question on everybody’s lips! We’ll be announcing the programme soon!
DD: How can people find out more about Queercircle and get involved?
AJ: We’ve just launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise £40,000. We raised over 30% in the first 24 hours but we still have a long way to go so I would kindly encourage people to donate if they can. Any donation is much appreciated and will go a long way in helping us open this vital space for the community. You can follow us on social media and sign up to our newsletter for future updates.
Find out more on https://queercircle.org.
Watch the Instagram Live with our director Helen Arvanitakis and Queercircle founder Ashley Joiner - discussing the importance of community, collaboration and safe space for the lGBTQ+ creative community on our IGTV series.