Tell us a little bit about you. Your work, when you started working with culture, health and wellbeing, and how?
I was always drawn to culture from an early age. Pop music in the early 80s was my portal into art, film, literature, and theatre. It was also an escape from growing up in a complex kinship care arrangement and being ‘obviously’ queer in the schoolyard during the times of public hysteria during the AIDS crisis.
Lucky enough to be at the end of student grants there is no way a working class kid like me would have studied music now. I was doing pretty well as a composer for theatre and club entrepreneur in London in the 90s, but I messed that up with an increasing dependence on alcohol and drugs. That said, I still worked in the field throughout this time, being a fundraiser through my 30s and 40s for projects with disabled musicians, regional theatres, and social wellbeing of young people.
Beginning addiction recovery five years ago, in 2020 I came back to my own creative practice as a transdisciplinary artist. That has been the cornerstone to the success of my recovery. My starting point has been to explore lived trauma, or grief and loss as I prefer to term what happened, as I think those terms help situate experiences as things that are past rather than dominant of my present. Through arts practice, I create and deliver personal and socially engaged projects of all shapes and sizes.
What have you been doing today?
I went to an AA meeting first thing. A good friend of mine is leaving the country, and I wanted to see her before she left. She is a writer who I know from AA recovery rooms. Through my involvement in ‘Performing Recovery’ magazine and my PhD practice research study I am developing many links with other artists in recovery.
As I have only just finished two back-to-back residencies yesterday, and have half-heartedly been trying to get through a backlog of admin. In truth I left most of it went to the gym and for a swim instead I couldn’t do much. The residencies were exciting and productive, but neither was easy. One was with a live artist where we are beginning to explore difficult material around our families of origin. The second was with a musician and an actor making contrasting disco, electronic and folk songs (quite a combination) using the amazing studio facilities at London College of Music.
Is that a typical day for you?
Avoiding admin is, yes. But I do more as an individual artist than I did as a salaried administrator! I’m doing more and more residencies and collaborations too as my confidence builds as a practitioner. I go to AA fellowship and recovery-related meetings regularly too. Being in recovery is an ongoing practice much like being an artist is.
We’re excited to host you for the Making Change national conference. What does that phrase mean to you in your work?
Being in active addiction for nearly thirty years, I might be 53 but I have a lot of finding myself to do still. Adulting in still pretty new to me. So the change starts with me. If I can regulate and look after myself, I can be of use to others.
On the other side of that coin, it’s very exciting being a new artist at this age, and challenging people’s expectations of what people might think is possible.
What have you been curious about / inspired by lately?
I’m really drawn to the work of zack mennell, who I’m just beginning to collaborate with. Their background is in queer live arts practice and I have a lot to learn from them.
You can read more about leons work at www.leonclowes.com
Making Change; The Culture, Health and Wellbeing alliance national conference is happening in Barnsley from 11-13 October.