Read NAE’s CEO Skinder Hundal’s speech, delivered at the Arts Marketing Conference 2015 which was held in Birmingham in July.
It was not curiosity that gave birth to New Art Exchange it was ‘urgency’ and when the dust settled and consolidated curiosity flourished.
Today I would like to share our journey, our journey and quest to seek, share and create knowledge from a point of view that is often described as minority Britain.
I will explore and contextualise the following for you:
History and who we were and are
Our Philosophy and vision
And our ‘curious’ Model
HISTORY PHILOSOPHY AND VISION
At the heart of NAE is a framework where passion and love is at the heart of our core, and this meaning is crystalised through a multitude of creative ventures. Connecting people and places are key and the notion that a community, curator, an artist and institution have an eco system and symbiotic resonance is recognised. In the end we are all Audiences to one another.
New Art Exchange, launched in 2008 it is a contemporary art space and RIBA award winning Architectural design, a black cubed building designed by Hawkins Brown – it is black in brick amongst its red bricked neighbours – it stands out symbolically representng the struggle and strength of Black people – where ‘the street never lies’.
We are a charity and not for profit company based in the inner city neighbourhood of Hyson Green, an area defined by media for all the wrong reasons, but we know the right reasons in that it is a vibrant international and trading quarter for Nottingham, where people are working hard to survive.
NAE was born from ‘roots communities, audiences and organisations in Apna Arts and Emaca’ who in the 80’s found a new wave of rebellious confidence… rejecting the submissive, painfully polite and accepting nature of our parents. The urgency was based on several challenges born out of inequality, racism and a society riddled with prejudice. These pioneering voices included people like Pabinder Singh and Charles Washington and later Sukhy Johal and Edwin Maxwell to name a few.
The pioneers were challenging structures and systems, so ‘who made decisions about what was programmed and produced? Why did it not reflect the communities they were from? The communities who were actually the growing majority of these neighbourhoods and cities.
The pioneers, were part of a national wave of second generation immigrant communities or you could argue the ‘anti audience’ who found a strong and determined voice – this manifested in the first ever national Mela in Europe/Britain, launching with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan Sahib and radical creative activists such as the Black Art Movement.
I always remember a letter from PM Margaret Thatcher congratulating the mela organisers when Nottingham mela launched in the summer of 1988. Interestingly the leader of the opposition Neil Kinnock also wrote a supportive letter soon after. The politicians knew the power of people and audiences and that new voices also needed feeding and being included.
The name professor Stuart Hall may come to mind as I recount our history and vision, that is not surprising as it frames and informs much of the work we do in attempting to open what seems a closed door by the contemporary art world to communities about whom, ironically, the contemporary arts references in their texts and sub texts.
Today the new building sits on a demolished space that was and still is a magnet for creative nests, transferring ownership from mods, rockers, punks to reggae, & bhangra to TODAY – inter-cultural global contemporary arts and culture focussing on the unfinished and infinite conversations that surround cultural diversity and identity. The original space although it has affectionate memories, could not realise the communities vision and rather than do up a breaking body, why not create a magnificent heart and soul and a portal for change and create a black bricked shimmering diamond. A jewel that pays respect to the communities soul.
This history laid the foundations for the birth of NAE and today we aim to flip the idea that the work commissioned or produced in such a space represents a ghetto or is at the fringe of British creative expression and only from and for minorities – we believe in culturally diverse arts for all. And actually our work is at the heart of what we are all experiencing globally…. But also locally in a place that has the highest proportion of multiple heritage outside of London.
Key to our work is unravelling and platforming the missing narratives that challenge the dominance of mediocracy. By that I mean the contingent within certain segments of our society that are self-satisfying in their fat bellied status quo, that unconsciously yet smugly deny and stifle equality, diversity and the emergence.
The quest to exchange art in new ways or engender new models in terms of how art is designed, delivered and consumed means sometime having to confront the impossible, experiment and fail, we know this, so knowing this our intent and method is to offer hope and vision to ‘think and deliver the new’ and create a multitude of ‘possibility spaces’ that appeal to a multi-value driven society.
NAE curiously has a parallel world of international perspectives residing in the community. It is this community that help define our vision and mission. It is their potential energy that manifests in new kinetics and pragmatic action birthing a clear vision and mission in…
‘Stimulating new perspectives about the value of diversity in art and society’ – so art is not a self satisfying bubble it is a live and interactive experience where the case for diversity lie many solutions, opportunities for radical discoveries and exchanges between many people, communities and structures.
Our Model: we present 15-20 exhibitions per year, 90 live events and performances, 3 festivals per year, Tour nationally and internationally, deliver major partnership initiatives including a pavilion at Venice Biennale, artist development initiatives and host several artist and academic residencies. We also have a strong café culture, where international cuisine and gastronomy plays an important part of our entry point to communities. Other entry points include our digital and virtual presence through various significant portals.
Our audiences are diverse with 48% from BME communities, including families, young people, students, artists, curators, activists, arts consumers, investors, funders, traders and the accidental audience who stumbles upon us!
We have four major exhibitions per year through four seasons of time. The exhibitions set the thematic tonic for each season.
The Main exhibition: this involves major and international commissions that resonate with local contexts, the contemporary art world and residents in the neighbourhood.
Our shows are driven by our mission which pays homage to the multitude of diverse voices and contexts from the community – much of the presentation explores pertinent issues but also offer new and hidden insights challenging the art world but also communities, recent exhibitors include:
Faiza Butt who explores Pakistani Diaspora, taboo subject matter, challenges religious dogma and the institution but also the media.
Michael McMillan later in October unravels the legacy and historical impact of the Sound System, something that resonates with pride and passion for the Caribbean and in particular the Jamaican community.
Zarin Bhimji, CURRENTLY SHOWING, explores the haunting nature of memory, displacement and migration of Ugandan Asians bringing a high quality 4K beautiful and extraordinary film installation – Zarina says the film pays homage to her people and their journey hence the highest quality and depth of research behind the film.
I is AnOther a show that explored and reflected on a new emerging Jamaica 50 years on from independence – the show was not about reggae and sunshine but more about the changing context of the Caribbean and Jamaica and the impact on diaspora, especially in Nottingham.
Main exhibitors have included major international names to the emergence never compromising on the idea, quality and form.
The main exhibition drives the public programme made up of many strands and themes, feeding an audience with multiple values and expectations – so the programme is inclusive of films screenings, live performance, gastronomy, pop up libraries, community, family and youth workshops as well as community and artist occupations.
Key to our public programme is to create dialogue and rich learning and exchange stimulating new conversations and perspectives.
By giving a space for challenging conversations to unravel the complexities within our society our dialogues include either major symposia, film screenings with QA or local debates driven by what is a hot topic.
Where and how we present also opens up new audiences and buy in for example, Digital International platforms such as TED, Google and our NESTA RD Culture Cloud platform have surpassed 5 Million audiences between them.
Our work with Young People is about showing and sharing the relevance of art as a means of communicating ideas to understand and communicate in our world – this is by no means a top down relationship but a conversation expressed through art, in its various media leading to new audiences, curators and artists.
Our community partnerships – yield new relationships between organisations and audiences, demystifying process, showing art working in new contexts in holistic ways, where art plays a central role in exploring ‘key points of action’.
A recent project Get Up Stand Up, entered the dungeons and court rooms of the Galleries of Justice museum. We worked with young people and communities contemporising the history of global civil rights in the creation of an immersive audio-visual tour with a professional team of artists from South Africa, Austria and Birmingham! This project was driven by a need for a museum to represent the identities of culturally diverse audiences, often absent in the venue but from the city.
We also have a strong focus on Artist development – our space is not only about artistic expression but about building profile and a voice for new audiences through the artists’ work. We have numerous models such as Real Creative Futures, ExperiMentor, Artist and Academic’s in residence.
We see our festivals as a culminating call for action in a non-threatening and informal way and an opportunity to celebrate and reflect the mere possibility to eat, dance, think, debate and interact. Where artists, audiences and curator come together in a festive yet reflective way to look ahead.
As we believe that the street never lies, so our Café Culture is really important – as you enter NAE you smell food, this is a place for ideas, meetings, style sharing, politics and debate… very important is great international cuisine to satisfy our core needs.
Put simply NAE is about how art defines people and place and how people and place define Art.
And as Deluze would say, let’s:
“Bring something incomprehensible into the world!”
For it is here, in what seems the incomprehensible the ideas and solutions sit, and collectively, as artists, curators, audiences and institutions we enter the uncomfortable – to reject, reconstruct and then re-invent our structures, systems and processes – and it will also be here that our quest to seek our deeper depths of dark matter imagination will be unravelled to express the unexplored and missing narratives of the ‘anti audience’ in this constantly shifting GRAVITATIONAL CONSTANT.
Thanks for listening…