Leading disabled artists and campaigners have raised concerns about the decision to move London’s annual disability arts festival from its home in Trafalgar Square.
This year’s Liberty festival will instead take place on London’s South Bank – home to the National Theatre and the Southbank Centre – on Saturday 3 September.
The eight previous Liberty festivals have all been held in Trafalgar Square, since the first event in 2003 was created by London’s then mayor Ken Livingstone and the now defunct disabled people’s organisation, Greater London Action on Disability.
Since 2003, Liberty has established itself as a vital date on the capital’s disability arts calendar, and has become a tourist attraction in its own right, playing a major part in raising awareness of disability rights and boosting the profile of some of the country’s most talented disabled artists.
But the announcement that Liberty was moving to the South Bank, still part of London’s tourist heartland but much less central than Trafalgar Square, was slipped out quietly this week.
The news was included in a press release issued by the organisers of London 2012, announcing that Bradley Hemmings, who curates and produces Liberty, had been appointed as one of two artistic directors for the 2012 Paralympics opening ceremony.
Leading disabled figures raised concerns this week about the decision to move Liberty to the South Bank.
Michael Shamash, a disability researcher and lecturer, said there were “real issues” about relocating Liberty.
He said: “The beauty of Trafalgar Square is it is so central and as such it makes such a statement about the visibility of disabled people.”
Shamash said he also felt the access at the Southbank Centre was “bitty”, although the problems were probably “manageable”.
But he said: “I think there is an issue of visibility and making a statement. Trafalgar Square on a sunny day, there is nowhere like it, with the fountains and the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery, Nelson’s Column…
“It is a super setting and it gives pre-eminence to disabled people and their culture and the contribution they make to London.”
The disabled artist Ju Gosling aka ju90 said she had concerns about the accessibility of the South Bank, and raised particular concerns about parking, the availability of accessible toilets and access to the venues from nearby public transport routes.
She said: “If I was producing something there, I wouldn’t see it as a suitable place.”
The film-maker Liz Crow said parking was a “significant issue”, as was the distance between venues, but she said she thought such problems were probably “solvable”, while she believed there was “a status attached” to having the event on the South Bank.
No-one from the office of London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, was able to provide any information about why the decision had been taken to move Liberty, or about access at the new venue.