What Happened - the cancellation itself
I had been booked to give a talk at Ceramic Art London, (CAL,) the annual flagship event of the Craft Potters Association, (CPA,) of which I am a member. It takes place at Central St. Martin's, (CSM,) part of the University of the Arts, London, (UAL.)
The original booking, in 2020, had included a plan to display my pots which formed part of a project with women@thewell, a women only service based in Kings Cross, that supports both women in prostitution and those at risk. It also helps them to find ways out. This last part is particularly controversial among students and academics, including senior academics who often call themselves 'sex positive,' or 'sex workers rights activists.' They are neither of these things. Rather they are supporters of the complete decriminalisation and deregulation of the sex trade which is an entirely different thing.
In February 2022, after a two year Covid gap, CAL was in its final stages of preparation. I got a phone call from Toby Brundin, Director of the CPA, to say that the CPA council had decided to cancel the booking: 'In the time since the talk was originally scheduled in 2020, we have been made aware that its inclusion in the programme may cause the event to be disrupted, leading to possible delay or even closure. ' This was the reason given over the phone and later that day by email.
What we Know and Don't Know
In 2022, I had no indication of who or what was threatening to cause disruption on such a scale that it could delay or close a major three day event. The potter and blogger, Marshall Colman, had a conversation with Brundin some days after my talk was cancelled and was told it was because of my Gender Critical beliefs. He reported this in his blog here.
I also saw a copy of a letter stating that just my presence in the building would be enough to incite a heated protest. I was subsequently told I could not come to the event or enter the building at all.
A petition calling for the restoration of my talk and a letter to the CPA signed by 74 members and associates made no difference. The support from other artists and potters was encouraging as were the many messages of sympathy but the CPA and CSM did not shift their position at all.
I took legal action. The claim was against the CPA for discrimination against my Gender Critical beliefs with a further claim against CSM/UAL. Levins Solicitors acted for me. Subject Access Requests, (SARs) were sent but to no avail. CSM did respond but their response was so heavily redacted that it revealed little. The CPA's response was to treat the SAR with contempt. We then moved forward to 'orders for disclosure.' These are the basics.
Additional statement added June 25th 2023 - legal action is now concluded. We have reached a settlement. Please see the statement from Levin's who represented me in this case. There is no gagging order so I am now free to say there was no verbal or written threat of any protest from anyone. The organiser at CSM/UAL feared there may be one based on 'past behaviour' among some students. There was absolutely no evidence of any sort to suggest it might happen in this case though.
Ends. Return to original text from 2022 now fully edited and updated in the light of the result.
I meanwhile must find a way to continue being an artist knowing that exhibiting in public spaces is almost impossible.
I know from the legal disclosures that Duncan Hooson, the ceramics lecturer at UAL/CSM who organised the lecture series, was the main protagonist in getting my talk cancelled and me banned from the event. He didn't do it alone, he summoned Prof Jeremy Till, the now ex-head of school, who was eager to support him, and seven more support staff including the Dean. They initially agreed the talk should go ahead with additional security, (for what?) but Hooson made it clear in conversation with Toby Brundin, the CPA director, that he needed to get the lecture cancelled altogether. Brundin then persuaded the CPA Council to vote to cancel my talk. He, together with the chair of the CPA Council, Peter Snowdon, agreed they should tell the council members that the threat was real, even though no evidence could be found. The entire thing came from Duncan Hooson's own over-anxious imagination and his fear of the one of his students in particular.
The legal disclosures reveal some truly unedifying plotting and shows the extent to which academic and support staff at UAL have lost control of their own PR. Cancelling my lecture and banning me was an exercise in appeasement in order to make a public statement to a particular audience - the gender lobby - which, in reality is small and is not inherently powerful. It's powerful only if allowed to be and if that power is facilitated by others - others who, perhaps, intend to benefit in some way from bestowing such favour. It is a perfect example of public scapegoating.
The press coverage was positive and helpful, from my point of view. You can read Ewan Somerville's piece for the Telegraph here, The Daily Mail's here, along with this piece in Unherd by Julie Bindel and this by Jo Bartosch in Spiked. Jo Bartosch also wrote an excellent piece, The Silencing of Feminist Artists in Spiked in 2019.
This kind of process can be repeated anywhere now - in any public space or private gallery showing my work or that of any other feminist artist. Activists have even succeeded in getting feminist artists removed from commercial selling sites such as Shopify, Etsy and even Stripe - one of the most common payment systems. As my earlier post on this subject shows, this is not the first time it has happened to me. I have become a target now - probably since 2019 although my cancelling history goes back to 2010. Even someone at Cardiff School of Art raised questions about my coming as a guest to the 2022 degree show - enough to require a meeting and an over-ruling by the Dean. My recent talk at Tate Modern has also had repercussions and I had a planned exhibition cancelled at Burgh House in Hampstead.
Moving on and a Call for Action
This is not an easy environment to work in. Now I know what did happen, that is clearer still. The artworld as a whole cannot move forward from this impasse without proper conversations, still less a small discipline like ceramics. The fear, anxiety, the look-the-other-way silence and, above all, the studied ignorance has to end. This is where ostracisation starts - with silence, then exclusion. The Forstater Judgement sets out, clearly and unequivocally, that both Gender Critical beliefs and Gender Ideology are 'worthy of respect in a democratic society.' BOTH of them. Not just one. Art worldists need to get a grip on this.
Art galleries and museums must learn to live within the law and democratic norms. The current situation, in which the artworld resembles a de facto state within a state, with its own laws and customs, is intolerable and cannot continue. Curators, gallerists and Museum staff must learn to work with differences of opinion and learn to deal with conflicting opinions, including those that some may find uncomfortable or offensive.
CAL has now been permanently removed from UAL/CSM. To date, to my knowledge, the CPA have not found an alternative venue for this event which is vitally important to potters. The head of school resigned and has been replaced. And Grayson Perry, - the 'fearless' according to Garth Clark and others - and Chancellor of UAL, still refuses to 'stand with JR Rowling,' because 'that's a hot button issue and I'm not going there.' Clear indication that he is, in fact a TERF but a cowardly one. Think what could follow if he just summoned up the required courage to say what he really thinks, for once.