In our second episode, we had a special conversation with a poet Hadisa Hussain.
Together we’ve explored the impact that our environment has on our potential and our comfort. Hadisa has also emphasised the importance of writing and keeping a record of the current events happening in society. Such records will impact the future and will help the future generation to understand all the events that people are experiencing in the current days. It’s such an interesting conversation!
In our podcast we explore migration, wealth of different cultures, different art forms and just have conversations with different interesting people.
Our first episode, we have a special guest Beena Nouri who is an architectural designer in Manchester. In 2019, she received a commission to create a painting for our Celebrating Diversity Festival. She then took part in our co-training programme and became a valuable member of Sheba Arts.
In our second episode, we had a special conversation with a poet Hadisa Hussain. Together we’ve explored the impact that our environment has on our potential and our comfort. Hadisa has also emphasised the importance of writing and keeping a record of the current events happening in society. Such records will impact the future and will help the future generation to understand all the events that people are experiencing in the current days. It’s such an interesting conversation!
Does Edinburgh Festival Fringe, as one of the largest festivals of arts and culture in the world, fully reflect the UK’s cultural and demographic diversity? This year, Sheba Arts offered three days of free accommodation in Edinburgh to eight female and non-binary performance artists and theatre makers from refugee and migrant backgrounds who could not afford to attend the festival otherwise. The call was made on the 26 July on social media and across our networks. We received emails and messages asking about the details of the offer. People asked if we could provide transport or travel expenses or allowances for food? We would have liked to have been able to offer travel allowances for each individual but, as a small arts organisation with a very limited reserves, we were unable to offer support with transportation and food. As a result, only four artists made it to Edinburgh. They all have jobs and a steady income. This is something we will reflect upon in case we make this offer again. I didn’t have a high expectation of the festival considering its re-emergence after two years of lockdown and with nearly twenty thousand daily cases of the virus still occurring. I had been to the festival in 2018-2019 and although I enjoyed it, the lack of diversity overshadowed that enjoyment. During our stay, we managed to see a few international shows including The Princess Pyunggang by the Bibimbad Theatre from South Korea. A play about Korean culture and history shown through folk music, puppetry, and dance. It was inspiring and made me want to learn more about Korean history. I loved the performer's personalities, their dedication and effort.
Of course, we all know it’s not easy to take your show to Edinburgh. Yet the fact is that some 4500 performers make it there not just from the UK but from all parts of the world. So, there must be other reasons for this lack of diversity. On our last day in Edinburgh while walking on the Royal Mile, we bumped into a group of young black artists from Nottingham who had brought their show, The Conversation. The young director, Syania Shaharuddin and her team had this amazing idea: they displayed a map of the world for the passers-by to pin their location on the map (I understood it as your place of origin, so I pinned on my country of birth). Within an hour or so of holding that map, this is what the picture looked like!
In 2020, we hosted five seminars on different subjects including the lack of diversity in the arts, where practitioners from BAME, or Global Majority, discussed the issues in arts and culture (https://www.shebaarts.com/research-learning.html). Lack of resources and development opportunities for the Global Majority artists and grassroots arts organisations were considered the two devils that caused the sector not to grow equally. When I started to make theatre in 2017, as an emerging performer, I found the industry far from nurturing and that’s the main reason Sheba Arts came into existence. During the pandemic, Arts Council England pushed the boat out and supported many Global Majority artists with R&D grants, including a few emerging theatre makers with whom we have a working relationship. However, the new changes in Grantium and the new application form, meant most of these artists were unable to apply for a second grant to tour their shows. Add to this the fact that venues closed their doors and the sum total was that the pandemic made it even harder to get into venues. Regardless of the pandemic, it is my impression that Global Majority artists even the most established ones are generally advised not to go for bigger grants as, the advice goes, it reduces our chances of success. A few years back, I saw a fabulous one-white-person show at HOME which used 3D technology. The show toured to many places including LA, Australia and Edinburgh. During an online workshop with the artist a few weeks later, when I asked how much her show cost, she gave me the unbelievable figure of 270k. One can easily comprehend the reason why Global Majority artists can’t go very far if 270K is what it takes! I am not sure if there are detailed statistics showing the number of theatre compamies or arts organisations that received grants during and immediately post-pandemic. However, according to Artsprofessional.co.uk, only 15% of Global Majority arts organisations across the UK received funding from the Cultural Recovery Fund. If true, this is disappointing. If the 15% statistic also applies to Manchester, then considering the fact that 33% of the Manchester population are non-white, this would be doubly disappointing. ‘These conversations have been happening since the 70s’ said one of our panellists in 2020. Well, I am not old enough to know about this and I was born in another country. But I feel there is an urgent need for change. The demand for change has become the driving force behind the growing cultural movement across the country that is asking for systemic change and I am hoping that by joining forces we will be able to create a more equitable and nurturing society.
Chinnar Najib is one of the amazing women with whom we had the pleasure of working since the beginning of the pandemic. Chinnar is based in Stockport and is originally from Kurdistan, Iraq. She has worked as a volunteer with many charities and advisory organisations and she has been managing Culture Bridge since 2018. In 2020, Culture Briidge joined Sheba Arts as an associate member and in 2021, became constituted as an unincorporated organisation. Read our brief interview with Chinnar about her experience working with us.
Please introduce Culture Bridge Culture Bridge was established in 2018 to support Kurdish community and promote Kurdish arts and culture in Greater Manchester. Our aims are to build trust, enable collaboration and create benefit. We work with people seeking asylum, refugees, and migrants; to ensure that their voices are heard, they can integrate, and feel included in the community. We want to bring all cultures together and create some amazing spaces.
When did you start working with Sheba Arts ? In April 2019, we participated in Sheba Art’s 'Garden of Babylon' project. Then the same year, we joined the celebration of the refugee week project, “ Celebrating Diversity festival,” in Stockport. We became a Sheba Arts associate group at the beginning of lockdown in 2020.
What projects did you do in partnership with Sheba Arts? What type of support did you receive? With mentoring support from Sheba Arts we received our first funding from Lankelly Chase Foundation and Stockport Local Fund for two pojects in 2021. We also received mentoring on project management throughout:
Sharing & Caring project on Zoom. 16 sessions of arts and crafts with 25 women from different backgrounds.
Women’s Cooking project, in collaboration with St Peter's Parish centre
As a community leader, I’ve learned how to improve my leadership skills and build my admin and community-collaboration skills . I really enjoyed working with Sheba Arts and I appreciate their support very much.
What is culture bridge doing now? What are your plans for future We currently have our Culture Bridge women’s multicultural workshop, “ Our Stories,” funded by the Stockport ARC & gallery Centre. The second project is “Connect” in partnership project with Hazel Grove St Peter’s Church, funded by All Churches Trust. We’ll start our new project funded by the Stockport CAN Local funds in early March. Our plan for future is to improve our skills and our community group through more training, and collaborations within the community groups in Stockport and in the wider community in Manchester area. We hope that we’ll be able to offer more support to the refugee, migrant, and asylum-seeking people to integrate into the community. At the same time, to build strong bridges of communication through sharing our multicultural art activities and experiences. Sheba Arts supported our work in the past two years; we appreciate their help and guidance very much and wish them All the Best for the future.
Cats On The Run is a participatory project funded by Lankelly Chase Foundation, produced by Sheba Arts and RAPAR, in collaboration with Culture Bridge, Kanlungan Concercium, and SWAN. Working with 22 undocumented people from Greater Manchester including migrant workers, asylum seekers, and those who fell through the cracks because of Covid-19 and the lockdown, a team of seven artists, community workers, and creative helpers, supported the participants to create a piece of work and express themselves using creative tools. This essay sheds lights on the process of the project, and the socio-economic challenges these people are facing in the UK. It is adapted from a report by Dr Rhetta Moran. 'No project activity takes place in a vacuum. On the contrary, outside of this project but coincident with its timeframe (August 2020 – March 2021), socioeconomic, cultural, political and legal developments, framed as reactions to the emergence of Covid-19 related directly to this projects’ participants: migrant communities most marginalised by Covid-19. The first lockdown began on 23rd March 2020. At this time, Minister Kevin Foster responded to a question about what measures had been taken to ensure those in the country would be able to seek medical help by asserting: “No one should fear accessing medical advice from our superb NHS due to an immigration reason.” In some places, hotels housing asylum seekers during the coronavirus pandemic were attacked and a few weeks later, the Home Affairs Committee published its report on Home Office preparedness for COVID-19. This report highlightedmany issues of concern relating to displaced people: the quality or levels of accommodation, personal allowances, safeguarding and risk assessments, impact on mental health, lack of provision of internet to enable people to access information, consult GPs etc, lack of provision of sanitising and other products and zero increase in allowances to enable people to buy these products themselves. It was during this period that Boris Johnson was compelled to intervene in the case of Mercy Baguma, who had lost her Leave to Remain status (visa) and job. She was found dead in a flat in Glasgow next to her one-year-old son. In that case, very widely reported, the asylum application had been pending for the child’s father who, following the mother’s death, was now the boy’s sole carer. A week later, the Home Office ‘work’ that directly interfered in the lives of hundreds of thousands of displaced people, including children in families, was condemned by the Public Accounts Committee.They revealed a myriad of humanity-denying actions authorised through Home Office powers and leaving major question marks over a multitude of migration related decisions. During the course of our third month, alongside other long established migrant and human organisations, we became involved in vigils commemorating lives destroyed by the hostile environment. The government mooted the idea of putting floating barriers in the English Channel to stop asylum seekers crossing to the UK, and using nets to stop dinghies. Widely reported, these announcements induced panic and fear throughout our migrant populations and the participants in this project. It stimulated extensive discussions about the impact of such announcements on the mental health and well-being of our communities in general and in particular the most vulnerable: undocumented people. Reports of the Home Office attempts to hire a private risk management company to provide a rapid review of initial accommodation for single adult asylum seekers - effectively outsourcing the monitoring of compliance with public health guidelines to prevent the transmission of Covid 19 for people housed in the asylum system - contributed further to the overall impression that, as far as the government is concerned, migrant people without status in the UK can be exempted from the public health standards that should apply to all. By November 2020, organisations who had been working with us to secure the involvement of some of their undocumented contacts and through Status Now For All Campaing, spoke against the government intention to allow their private contractor SERCO to resume evictions into destitution during lockdown. At the same time, evidence was emerging of the alarming rise in backlog of asylum cases, even though the numbers of applications had been falling. For those who are undocumented, the knowledge that people were now waiting for over six months for an initial response to their applications to become regularised through the asylum system told them that, even when able to submit an application they may still be waiting for a further and extensive period before experiencing any real shift in their material circumstances or sense of safety. From December onwards, moving into the second half of the project’s timeframe, the media began to become dominated by the question of the imminent availability of vaccines against COVID. However, for undocumented people, the multiplicity of barriers to their access remained. Countless people have been turned away from their GP surgeries when they tried to register, being told they needed proof of ID, of status, of address, or “we don’t deal with illegal immigrants”. In early February Privacy International’s new report revealed the extent to which Britain is turning into a migration surveillance regime and, specifically, revealed that the current British Government is in the process of developing a ‘Status Checking’ Project which could result in any person on British soil being able to be assessed, presumably at the touch of a screen, for their status. This raised the fear that if people approached health systems for vaccination they might become detected for removal or deportation. Out of this realisation, an Early Day Motion #1442 was created through which, for the first time in British history and in direct response to the challenges posed by Covid, British Members of Parliament formalised a call for Indefinite Leave to Remain for all those undocumented and in legal process. Later in this penultimate project month, news reached our participants of the Government’s intention to remove Osime Brown, a 22 year old man with learning disabilities and a PTSD diagnosis, to Jamaica. This was followed closely by the revelation that a new network of immigration detention centres for women was being quietly planned by the Home Office. contrary to previous pledges to reform the system and reduce the number of vulnerable people held. Finally, as the last month of our project closed, the Government announcement of its intention to conduct “the biggest overhaul of the UK’s asylum system in decades” was met with widespread derision, summed up as: “based on false premises - particularly the actual availability of legal routes – and tears apart the principle of the right to claim asylum.”
For the past 12 months, and despite the pandemic, we have been able to demonstrate the delivery of excellent cultural experiences on a local and national level. With the lockdown restrictions continuing to put pressure on our communities, we have changed the way we work and we are adapting new strategies that make us more resilient and enable us to respond to new and future challenges: by moving online and by supporting smaller groups and individual artists by helping them design and deliver their projects. Through our mentoring support, our associate groups have received grants to deliver their projects. We consider this an outstanding achievement for the entire team. However, like many other organisations, we are limited in the number of future projects we are able to deliver due to the pandemic. Over the coming months, we will be providing support in kind for individual artists and organisations as we promised to deliver their projects. We will also develop a range of new projects and activity programmes that will help us to develop our practice and enable Sheba Arts to bring more opportunities to our communities. We are currently exploring ways to create our new Youth Digital Programme, designed to provide innovative practices in delivering digital art and up-skilling young people’s digital competencies. Our aim is to provide creative training to young people to develop sustainable digital knowledge with the hope of both inspiring and equipping participants with a broad range of digital skills such as film, media, computing and artistic performance. If you would like to support this project, please make a donation via this link.
For the past three months here at Sheba Arts we have run weekly workshops - some for the public and some just internally. All of which have been attended by a core training team. The workshops have covered a real range of skills, from working with communities to digital marketing, live streaming your show to building your first website, it's been a real journey of learning. Our core training team are an incredible group from diverse backgrounds and practices - they are artists, entrepreneurs, community workers and advocates. Together we have learnt, discussed and shared skills and experience. It's been a pleasure to be a part of a process of learning which has been so sustained. Often as freelancers we go to online workshops where we are an anonymous face on a screen, we don't have the chance or don't feel comfortable to share or enter discussions and when it's over we never hear from anyone again. I find these can be challenging spaces to learn in and intimidating places to ask questions. The Sheba Arts training gave us an opportunity to learn in a way which was far more discursive, the workshops were inclusive and welcoming. We also held regular meetings to reflect on what we’d learnt and what we’d found challenging. All the workshops also gave time to share, as our core training team have a wealth of experience and we learnt alot from listening to each other. I'm really excited to see the work that our core training team will continue to do, as artists and community workers in their own right and hopefully in future collaborations with Sheba Arts. We have created a real sense of community as a group, supporting and celebrating each other. Too often arts spaces become competitive and exclusive. It is easy to get caught up in that, to constantly compare yourself to other artists, companies or organisations. Art is not a competitive sport. And the community around the arts should not be making a wall around spaces and resources but should instead be welcoming people in. We need the arts to become a prefiguration of the world we want and need - a world of mutual support and radical inclusivity. We want to be inspired by others, not fired into competition. We want to work with, collaborate and co-create.
Black History Month provides an opportunity for us to recognize the outstanding contributions people of African and Caribbean descent have made to the UK over many generations. From business, law and education to technology, sport and creative arts. Although we believe that every month should be black history month, and we should stop seasoning communities, we invited three amazing black artists and entrepreneus from Manchester to discuss a few topics: diversity, use of words such as black, BAME and minority and the future of arts. This is the 5th event of a series of seminars on diverity, and grassroots arts we have organised since June 2020. they have been really successful and attracted thousands of audience members from across the country. In the wake of the BLM movement it's been really important to have a way to reflect on issues of race, representation and equality within the world of arts. Watch the full video here:
An online event on Sheba Arts Facebook page on the 11th of June celebrated the lives of Kurdish and Iranian people in Greater Manchester and launched a digital exhibition created to document their history and culture. The exhibition is available to the public after the lockdow. Gardens of Babylon, created by Sheba Arts and supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Education Trust, documents the oral histories of first-generation Kurdish and Iranian immigrants to help second generation family members connect with their heritage. The project, which has been archived by the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Education Trust at Manchester Central Library, collects cultural memories, oral histories, poetry, songs and images of Iranian and Kurdish people in Greater Manchester. Fereshteh Mozaffari, the coordinator of the project, decided to produce the oral history project after a performance about the Babylon goddess Ishtar sparked positive feedback from children and parents in Kurdish and Iranian communities. “During the performance, which was commissioned by Journeys Festival in 2017, I spoke in Farsi and Arabic, as well as English,” she explains. “The children in the audience had such an excited reaction when they heard their native language. After the show, parents brought their children to me because they had so many questions. From then, I realised these children didn’t know about their history. These issues become more obvious as they grow up and they tend to hide their identity to fit in, so I wanted to create something that would help them to learn about and celebrate their history and their culture.” Gardens of Babylon also produced 5 children’s workshops , two physical and 3 online. At the physical sessions, children and their parents heard the life stories of the interviewees and learned the poems and songs they’d shared during the interviews for the project. Now the pilot stage of the project is complete and the oral histories are available to the public, Fereshteh and Sheba Arts plan to document more histories and create more workshops for Iranian and Kurdish children. “It’s really ignited something,” says Fereshteh. “We still need to evaluate the project and be realistic about what we can go on to produce, but there’s a lot of potential. We didn’t get to interview those Iranian communities who speak a different language, such as Lori, Azari, Gilaki, or people who came from different parts of the country with different heritage and background. “But there’s a growing demand in the Iranian and Kurdish communities for creative workshops for children, so we’d like this project to have a bigger impact. We want to create a legacy for future generations of UK-born Iranians and Kurds.” For further information about the project, visit www.shebaarts.com/projects.html Gardens of Babylon oral history archives are available to access on the ground floor at Manchester Central Library. Watch the documentary made by Amang Madrokhy;