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ju90 blogs from the Clocktower in Croydon... / 18 February 2011

two wheelchairs users in amongst rows of poles

Ju Gosling installing a kinetic sculpture by Sharmanka

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I've spent the past two weeks at Croydon Clocktower, working with Fittings Multimedia Arts on the second stage of their Sputnik project. This would have been a happy occasion - and in fact has been for most of the time - were it not for the fact that the Clocktower's arts programme is about to be terminated. Yes, the Clocktower is yet another victim of local government cuts.

As many DAO readers will know, the Clocktower has long been a supporter of Disability Arts. Back in the days when London had a proper Disability Arts festival, the month-long Xposure Festival, the Clocktower was a key venue. On an ongoing basis, it runs ‘Club Soda’ for people with learning difficulties, and a range of other disability specific activities.

However, the Clocktower has always included disabled artists and organizations within its main commissioning and programming, not waiting for 'special' occasions to do so, and there are few national tours by disabled artists which have not stopped there.

This has not just benefited audiences within south London and the surrounding area, but disabled people from further afield who find that the lack of parking and accessible tubes in central London means that venues like Soho Theatre are impossible to get to.

The Fittings residency underlines just what a loss the Clocktower will be. David ‘Stickman’ Higgins and I have been working with a wide range of groups, from final year BTEC art students, to Scouts, to performing art students with learning difficulties. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, and where students have been involved, it has been obvious that their education has been enhanced as a result.

I’ve also been making a film, ‘Fellow Traveller’ (the Russian meaning of ‘Sputnik’), about the kinetic sculpture by Sharmanka that is at the centre of the residency. The story goes that a magic machine was created by a watchmaker for a girl who wanted to leave this world for a new one. Now it is waiting for someone new to bond with it before it can fly again. The sculpture is situated in the foyer of the Clocktower, and has attracted a wide range of people of all ages and backgrounds since we installed it at the beginning of the month.

This is the second time in recent years that I've been one of the last artists to work at a 'mainstream' venue which is particularly good at inclusion. In 2009 my Abnormal exhibition toured to Theatre Workshop Scotland (TWS), as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. TWS was the first Scottish theatre - indeed the first UK theatre - to introduce integrated casting as the norm, but as a venue it closed that September, having lost the local authority funding that it needed to continue.

Can it be that, simply by including disabled artists and audiences, venues are seen as less deserving of public support than otherwise? And if so, surely the opposite should apply instead if we apply any of the criteria relating to the Public Sector Equality Duty or the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People?

The Arts Council may have a policy of ‘mainstreaming’ disabled artists, but on the current evidence it is hard to see just where those opportunities are going to exist after the end of next month.