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The Power of Holly Johnson

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Holly Johnson © Trevor Leighton
Holly Johnson © Trevor Leighton

National Lottery Grant to fund “The Power of Holly” – a new exhibition exploring the life and art of the Frankie Goes to Hollywood star

Liverpool arts organisations Homotopia and DuoVision today announce a grant of £142,000 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund for The Power of Holly – a new exhibition documenting the life and work of pioneering LGBTQIA+ musician, songwriter and artist Holly Johnson (Frankie Goes To Hollywood.)

The project will explore Johnson’s personal archive and work with Merseyside based LGBTQIA+ sexual health and wellness charity Sahir House, to capture the stories of local LGBTQIA+ people in community workshops and oral history sessions over the next year.

The research will conclude with a unique exhibition celebrating the 40th anniversary of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s meteoric rise to global fame, and explore Holly’s amazing story from Liverpool’s punk scene to international stardom. National Museums Liverpool will support the research and development of this landmark exhibition.

In a direct response to the outreach work, Homotopia and DuoVision will commission local artists to creatively contribute to the project and showcase Liverpool’s rich artistic LGBTQIA+ heritage and talent.

Homotopia is the UK’s longest running LGBTQIA+ arts festival, now in its twentieth year. This year’s festival, themed Gods and Monsters, will include a series of oral history workshops for World AIDs Day – also in conjunction with National Museums Liverpool and Sahir House. Between 29 November and 1 December 2023, a series of oral history sessions will tackle topics including living with HIV, Liverpool’s 80s music and culture, and remembering those we have lost through HIV and AIDS. Stories captured during these sessions will feature in the forthcoming exhibition.

Holly Johnson said: “The opportunity to mount this exhibition is actually like winning the National Lottery for me! As a teenager, music and art were my passion – reading Jean Genet, William Burroughs and listening to the music of The Beatles, Marc Bolan, David Bowie and The Velvet Underground – seeing the films of Derek Jarman and Andy Warhol along with his super-charged colour paintings. Pondering over Peter Blake’s Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band artwork as a child led me ultimately to Hollywood and back again. Everything I was ever drawn to, through the lens of Queerness and controversy, I have brought with me into the future we live in now.”

Kevin McManus, Head of UNESCO City of Music, Culture Liverpool said:“Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s importance in British music should not be underestimated: they changed the world with their music in the 1980s and achieved the rare feat of their first three singles all reaching Number One in the charts.”

Liverpool is renowned as a city of music and Holly Johnson has played a huge part in building our magnificent musical heritage. He could only have come from Liverpool and it is fitting that this exhibition is taking place in his home city.”

James Lawler, Curator at DuoVision said: “We are excited to carry out this project focusing on the life and work of trailblazing singer, musician and artist Holly Johnson. To see a performer be so open and positive about their sexuality was an affirming and influential experience at a time when homophobia was endemic. In the 80’s, Holly was one of the musicians whose unapologetic approach to their own sexuality helped shift mainstream understanding and acceptance.”

Holly’s story spans a career of over 40 years from his Punk days, to global pop stardom, and as a spokesperson for the LGBTQ community, we hope to bring this history to light and celebrate the work and life of one of Liverpool’s brightest stars.”

Helen Featherstone, Director of England, North at The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: “We are very proud to be supporting this transformative project that will record and preserve the important stories of LGBTQIA+ people and the significant influence Holly Johnson had on Liverpool’s unique musical heritage, and beyond. This grant, made possible by National Lottery players, ensures that the voices and memories of the community can be heard for generations to come.”

Olivia Graham, Marketing & Development Manager at Homotopia said: “Homotopia is proud to be working with DuoVision on presenting this monumental Liverpool LGBTQIA+ icon’s life and influence in an exhibition. This project will be embedded in Liverpool, but have a national and international outlook, and we are thankful to HLF for all their support.

The queer fashion and culture pioneered by Holly in the 80s is of huge relevance now, and we hope that as we look back on LGBTQIA heritage, it gives us an opportunity to look towards the future.”

For further information on the festival, visit www.homotopia.net

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