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Inclusive Censorship: Art on the Underground TriFLes with our lives

There’s nothing new in patrons of the Arts censoring the work of artists they employ. Transport for London is no exception. During the summer TfL commissioned two community arts projects through its cultural arm, Art on the Underground. In keeping with current platitudes Tamsin Dillon, Head of AotU, pronounced ‘From the beginning, Art on the Underground was certain that the artwork produced for this station should involve the individuals and groups who live in, work in and visit Stratford. Central to the lives of so many people in the area, the station should embody something about the community that use it.’ The projects would have ‘the Olympic agendas of inclusion and celebration at their heart.’

One of these would involve the production of a newspaper by an artist who was ‘working closely with local communities, businesses and individuals to “navigate and reveal” the formal and informal social networks that operate in and around the station and the nearby town’. ‘Attention will be devoted to artworks of a social nature or that involve communities directly in their development and production’ (see attachment for publicity handout). Well that all sounded pretty socially embodied inclusive community involvement kind of stuff.

The navigator, Lucy Harrison, approached me about a year ago. She said she was keen to represent all parts of the community and wanted to include contributions from those being evicted for the Olympics. Obviously being kicked out of one’s home is not everyone’s idea of a fun event and I did point out that I might have some critical things to say. Lucy seemed to have the impression that her patrons were not about to censor expression by one of the individuals or groups who live in, work in or visit Stratford and who is directly involved in an inclusive artwork of a social nature revealing the formal and informal networks embodied and operating in and around Stratford Station. So I said ‘yes’ and wrote a draft for the first edition of the Grapevine due out in May. I also sent in some pictures.

AotL seemed to be aware that important changes were occurring in Stratford as they had referred to the newspaper, the Grapevine, depicting ‘the minutiae of daily life in the area as it experiences the first waves of epic change’. Of course, the first and possibly most epic wave of change had already struck with the eviction of residents, businesses, travellers and allotment holders. Maybe this emphasis on the ‘minutiae’ of daily life and the failure to observe this first tsunami should have set off alarm bells.

Anyway, a while after I sent in my epistle (see attachment) Lucy emailed me referring to ‘difficulties’ followed by a more straightforward message telling me that AotU would not use what I had written as everything had to be approved by the Head of Transport for London. I had been indelicate enough to include some direct criticism of public figures and organisations which was considered unacceptable. Lucy was not allowed to promote a particular point of view. Later, after further contact with Lucy I did try to write an acceptable version but found I lacked the motivation and ability to string together sensible sentences, so I emailed AotU to let them know I couldn’t participate in their inclusive community involved artwork of a social nature. I received an automated reply saying they would reply as soon as possible. They didn’t.

Tamsin Dillon said she couldn’t think of two projects that could better demonstrate the Olympic agendas of inclusion and celebration than the AotU Stratford Arts Projects. Plainly she and AotU consider these agendas are their measure of artwork and an article including criticism of public figures involved in an Olympic eviction offends these vital measures and fails to conform to the high artistic standards set by this leading arts organisation. Who am I to disagree? After all, what else could art be for?

Clays Lane, the demolition of a community.doc49.5 KB
Art on the Underground Stratford Station Arts Project.doc28 KB

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