Blog Entry – Abid Hussain
Ten days is a long time in the arts. Ten days ago I was still sitting at my favourite hot desk at Granville Street working in my capacity as Relationship Manager, Diversity in Arts Practice. Ten years is an even longer time in the arts and that’s the amount of time I have spent working at Arts Council England, a job I have found to be rewarding, enjoyable, exciting and challenging in equal measures!
Ten years later I find myself in the fortunate position of taking a six month sabbatical from my work at the Arts Council to explore, experience and engage in a range of activities both within the arts and the non arts sector with a view to aiding my personal and professional development with the intention of sharing my learning, experiences and interactions over the coming months when I return to the Arts Council in October.
Part of my sabbatical will be spent at Soul City Arts based in Sparkbrook, Birmingham established by internationally acclaimed and award winning visual artist and producer Mohammed Ali. Soul City Arts was established with a view to delivering high quality artistic interventions promoting social change and community participation in the arts. The organisation recognises the value and the power of the arts to inspire and engage people and communities that have historically been under represented in the arts.
Soul City Arts has delivered a range of interventions over the last five years from local content presented at the Hubb Arts Centre affectionately known as the Big Blue Building in the Aldi Car Park to large scale productions at the Birmingham Rep as well as international arts projects across Europe, the Middle East, North America and Australia. I literally couldn’t wait to get started!
My first opportunity to get involved in programme delivery arrived immediately with the arrival of the American comedian Aman Ali who was delivering a comedy set and presentation on his 30 Mosques in 30 Days project on Bank Holiday Monday.
The Hubb was literally packed to the rafters for Aman’s event on Monday night with a wonderfully diverse audience reflecting the diversity of the local neighbourhood. It was great to see so many families come and share their bank holiday evening with us at the Hubb. In the wrestling industry the space just behind the entrance curtain is known as the Gorilla position well at the Hubb we have our own equivalent which is the IT Desk at the back of the space which houses the live social media platform for all Hubb events and this is where I positioned myself for the evening as I took charge of sharing the event across Twitter and Facebook. It’s a great position to connect with the audience and feel the energy of a space.
Aman has a wonderfully relaxed approach to engaging with his audience mixing his comedy set with a really rich and unique presentation sharing stories from his time on the road documenting the 30 Mosques, 30 Days project. Only Aman Ali could deliver a night’s entertainment that involved female wrestlers, outrageous moustaches, truck stops, tattooed Muslim converts and a whole range of wonderfully eclectic stories.
Tuesday provided an opportunity to visit the Edge, the home studio of Friction Arts as I attended a meeting with Mohammed in relation to the recently launched Creative People and Places initiative. This was a surreal experience as only a few weeks earlier I was having similar conversations albeit from an internal Arts Council perspective. It was great to touch base with Noel Dunne, Sandra Hall, Deidre Figueredo, Matt Daniels and others to experience a sector based response to the opportunity which aimed to bring the third sector, smaller independent arts organisations and the larger arts institutions in Birmingham together as part of a consortium application. Members of the consortium at the meeting shared their thoughts on the proposed framework and it was a great opportunity for Soul City Arts to engage and meet with some of Birmingham’s leading arts organisations and raise the profile of the work the organisation has been doing.
The week came to a close with an opportunity to visit the old British Small Arms (BSA) factory on Armoury Road an opportunity that emerged through the unlikely connection with the owners of the building through a viral short video Aman Ali produced of his travels in Birmingham which include a drive down to the Armoury Road estate to share the history of the building.
The video blog from Aman Ali:
The opportunity to visit the factory was too good to be missed and we were warmly received by the current owners of the building who gave us a tour of the building which included the opportunity to survey the city landscape from the rooftop of the building which provides a wonderful panoramic view of the city meshing together the familiar skyline of the city centre with the familiar features of the surround inner city areas. We were also given a glimpse of the old gun testing tunnels at the back of the building which required some challenging physical manoeuvres that brought memories of childhood adventures flooding back! The site visit provided a great opportunity to discuss both the history and heritage of the building with the current owners as well as exploring the possibilities for developing some on site artistic commissions which could be truly groundbreaking.
It’s been an amazing first week which has been a catalyst for lots of discussion around future planning, artistic interventions and potential collaborations. The coming week will be focused more on the practical aspects of getting to know the organisations and understanding what the key aspirations of the organisation are with a view to developing the artistic vision further as well as beginning work on a new business plan over the coming months.
In addition to this we will also be hosting another international delegation this time from Detroit, Michigan which includes the entire American Football team from Fordson High School! The team were filmed for a documentary entitled Fordson – Faith, Fasting, Football and the American Dream, which we will be screening at Golden Hillock and Small Heath Secondary schools in addition to facilitating a discussion with students and staff. More on that next week!
Fordson High Trailer: