Exhibition Review: Celebrating Blackpool’s LGBTQ+ history

As part of Blackpool’s Winter Pride Rainbow Weekend, HIVEArts delivered a decade-spanning exhibition of photographs and memorabilia celebrating the town’s LGBTQIA+ culture. David Simper nipped down to the Church Street gallery to catch the display.

Entering the HIVEArts gallery through an arch of appropriately brightly coloured balloons, the walls were covered in photographs of people, usually in a social or performance situation. These were complemented by memorabilia – mainly posters for evenings featuring local artists and national stars, including Mark Almond and Toyah Wilcox. It’s all smiles from the photos’ subjects – I can imagine people spending a long time looking for their younger selves and friends. These are not studio photographs and might be disparaged as mere snapshots, but they are compelling – in some, one is looking back into a lost world.

It was good to see a strong contingent of our elected representatives, a sign that the voluntary efforts of the HIVEArts team are recognised. I asked leader of the council and cabinet member for tourism, arts and culture, councillor Lynn Williams, her impressions of the show.

“I think it’s wonderful,” she said. “I think it’s great for people to come and reminisce. It just shows doesn’t it, the history and the commitment to Blackpool, the nightlife and the people and the community. It’s a really lovely display.”

A steady flow of people passed through the balloon arch and went to the photographs with smiles on their faces. There followed lively conversations, including reminiscences of glad times gone by.

Kate Yates curated the show and has clearly put an awful lot of personal effort in. I asked Kate what the exhibition’s origins were and what the process to assemble the photographs had been.

“The material spans 40 years of the presence of an LGBTQ+ community in Blackpool. It’s been a very spontaneous curation – we started just over two weeks ago with a request to participate in Rainbow Weekend, part of the LGBTQIA history month. We’re showing the venues, the people and the performers of the last few decades.

When I moved here I couldn’t get on with the cold weather, but I loved the warmth of the people. There’s an honesty, a genuineness, and that’s one of the reasons the LGBTQ+ community here is as strong as it is.

“I sat at my computer night after night choosing tonight’s selection. Then I had them printed and found a way to display them, while creating a sense of balance and order. It was finished at about 11.10am,” she smiled at what had obviously been a close run thing.

“It’s been very well received, with some supportive and interesting comments. Lots of people revisiting their wild, youthful days and remembering people and places, and times long gone.

“In Blackpool there’s always been a total acceptance of people regardless of whether they were LGBTQ+ or not; if they like you they like you, if they don’t, they tell you. There’s that genuine but brutal honesty about Blackpool folk. When I moved here I couldn’t get on with the cold weather, but I loved the warmth of the people. There’s an honesty, a genuineness, and that’s one of the reasons the LGBTQ+ community here is as strong as it is.”

I took another pass round and sipped an orange juice from the refreshments that the HIVE cafe team had put together. Then it was a good time to slip away and catch the service 3 bus home.

This exhibition might not have presented the best art photography ever, but what it did do was present an awful lot of joy. And it highlighted the important cultural contribution that the LGBTQ+ community has made to Blackpool for many years.


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    I have worked in the housing and transport professions for several local authorities, specialising in policy, strategy preparation and bid writing. Having always had an interest in film, the visual arts in general, theatre, music and lterature, I thought it would be good to combine the writing experience with these interests to contribute to altBlackpool. In addition to writing, my hobbies include watercolour and pastel painting, photography, woodwork, cycling and vegetable gardening.

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