Ju Gosling: ‘Support for disability arts is essential’


Having trained as a dancer, Ju Gosling works across performance and digital arts. She tells Georgia Snow about running disability arts festival Together!, set up after London 2012…

Describe the role of the Together! Festival…

The festival ties in with UK Disability History Month, a national project that’s been going for seven years. We’ve been running a festival alongside it pretty much from the start. Over a four or five-week period, we try to cover the whole range of art forms during the festival. We run workshops for disabled people led by national artists and companies such as Stopgap. The festival is our real ‘production period’ but we work all year round. It was supposed to be a one-off after 2012, when the official cultural offering tied to the Olympics did not come to Newham, the main host borough – all the cultural facilities were in Stratford.

How has your location affected the work you do?

At the start of 2012, Newham had the lowest level of cultural engagement in the UK. Whereas Stratford’s residents engage at the national average level, the vast majority in Newham weren’t engaging in any cultural activity. What surprised me was that people wanted us to carry on. The festival is an opportunity to look at the locally based artists we have developed. I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved and we have now been given Arts Council England funding to build capacity and create new income streams. Now we’re applying to be a national portfolio organisation.

What is your primary focus as an artist?

I like to think of myself as a multimedia storyteller, working mainly with digital but also with performance, text and sound. I started off training as a dancer, but an underlying genetic condition meant I developed a spinal curvature, so I couldn’t dance – in any case, I wouldn’t have had the energy levels. Now I do a whole range of things as an artist, alongside my work with Together!

How has support for disability arts made a difference?

It’s not just essential for the arts world, where disabled artists are so under-represented, but also for other disabled people. Sometimes I look at the journey of some of our local artists – one in particular has done an awful lot of drama and dance in the past. He developed a neurological condition and ended up in a day centre. Though the day centre has now closed, he has met other people in similar circumstances with careers – he’s restarted his career, so I think our support has a big impact. Live performance can be better than the visual arts, but disabled artists, and audiences, are incredibly under-served. As an artist myself it’s been a huge pleasure to be able to support the career of other artists and to showcase those talents, whether it’s bringing national artists to Newham or showcasing the work that’s being produced here. The progress that has been made with just a bit of support and attention is incredible.

Source – The Stage – https://www.thestage.co.uk/features/interviews/2016/ju-gosling-support-for-disability-arts-is-essential/