Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the UK’s inaugural Gay Pride march, two cultural institutions focused on the LGBTQ+ community will launch in London this spring, the first of their kind in Britain.
Opening on 5 May is Queer Britain, founded by the eponymous charity, billed as “the UK’s first national LGBTQ+ museum”. It takes over the ground floor of a building in King’s Cross owned by the Art Fund charity, which has granted Queer Britain a two-year lease to deliver a programme of exhibitions. The free-entry space, which was previously occupied by the House of Illustration, includes four galleries, workshop and education spaces, a shop and offices. The organisers hope to move to a more permanent home after the first two years.
The inaugural show, Welcome to Queer Britain, displays works and artefacts from the museum’s growing collection, including photographs by Allie Crewe and Robert Taylor as well as portraits by Sadie Lee and Paul Hartfleet, winners of Queer Britain’s first Madame F Award for queer creativity. The exhibition’s curator, Matthew Storey, who currently serves as a curator at Historic Royal Palaces, says that he hopes the displays “reflect the rich diversity of the LGBTQ+ community past and present, as we look to the future of this important new museum”.
Then on 9 June the charity Queercircle will open a permanent venue dedicated to queer artists in the new Design District in Greenwich, south of the river. The organisation’s structure is “less traditional” than a museum, according to its founder Ashley Joiner, who instead describes it as “an LGBTQ art space”. Queercircle’s purpose-built space will have a main gallery, a library and project spaces.
The London-based artist Michaela Yearwood-Dan is making new works for her opening solo show, Let Me Hold You, with wall reliefs, ceramics and a painted environment welcoming visitors. An archival show, The Queens’ Jubilee, will run in parallel in the library, exploring “how drag evolved from performative gesture to a way of life”, Joiner says. He has curated the display in collaboration with the 82-year-old gay rights activist and author Stuart Feather. It will chart the history of the UK Gay Liberation Front (GLF) in the 1970s through documentary photography, press cuttings and issues of the movement’s newspaper Come Together.
Queercircle raised £40,000 from a crowdfunding campaign last year in support of its £500,000 annual budget. The remainder comes from trusts, foundations and the public sector, including the Greater London Authority and Arts Council England. The charity also plans to generate income by renting studio spaces and selling limited edition prints in partnership with queer artists. Another ambition is an artist-in-residency programme.
Queercircle’s five-year strategy foresees weekly arts workshops offering art, design and creative movement activities to treat mental health issues such as isolation that are prevalent among the queer community. Joiner says the initiative will culminate in a report—the first of its kind—on how the arts can help deliver a “socially prescribed model of healthcare in the UK”.