The New Art Exchange was formed in September 2003 as a new partnership between APNA Arts and EMACA Visual Arts to steer and manage the development of Nottingham’s first dedicated cultural facility for African, Caribbean and South Asian arts practice. In 2006 the organisation was awarded Arts Council capital funding to create a new centre, and in September 2008 the award-winning building opened its doors to the public. It is the largest and only dedicated venue for Black and minority ethnic visual arts outside London. On the 5th Anniversary of the building opening we met up with the Chief Executive, Skinder Hundal to reflect on the journey so far.
The first thing to say is congratulations for getting through the first five years, how has the journey been for you?
I think it’s an important time to recognize where we came from, and acknowledge that the Board and previous teams were visionary to see a future for Black and Asian arts in the way they did. The 1980’s was a moment of confidence for the Black and Asian communities, it was the time when we heard the voice of a new younger generation taking on ‘the system’ and creating their own vision and artistic voice. We have evolved since where the confidence is now about leading and redefining. We are now living within a culturally hybrid existence, a hybridity representative of the 3rd, 4th or 5th generation of minority communities, and for that we need somewhere like the New Art Exchange.
Over the past 5 years what we have achieved really is considerable..… the New Art Exchange is a black box cube, a portal for change. Over the past 5 years there has been much progress. The building won a RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) national and regional award for design in 2009, this was a wonderful beginning. Our first commission ‘Floating Coffins’ by Zineb Zedira was very successful and toured internationally.,. It was eventually bought by the Tatethen featured at Tate’s Migration show in 2011.
Another highlight was the NESTA Research and Development fund, which enabled us to create and present Culture Cloud. Culture Cloud helped us to redefine how we engaged with broader communities, and we saw whole communities engage with digital art and work with our curators to curate the space here. YARD, our youth programme is a success story too. It has been twinned with groups in Thailand and has contributed to the emergence of professional artists such as Karl Futers, Mia Johnson, Yuves McKenzie, and Rachel Young and Alison Garner the previous YARD Artistic leads. Rachael and Alison set up ‘First Floor’, and are doing really well. Mela 21 was very exciting and how Mela has experimented and evolved over the past 5 years. The Nottingham Mela remains pioneering as it was the first ever Mela nationally. The Google Cultural Institute has been a great achievement, and we are now one of Google’s main cultural partners. We have proud to support John Akomfrah’s film, the Unfinished Conversation, also supporting the work and launch of Primary Artist Studios has been significant. Finally we presented Hetain Patel at a TED Global talk in Edinburgh recently, and artists like Hetain Patel, and Nadim Chaudry are great local success stories.
How do you think New Art Exchanges now fits into the local community?
An example of our work is to introduce art to communities who would not normally engage with arts places, institutions and careers. Recently we did a project called ‘A Mighty Fine Idea’ where we employed a specialist artist, Tasawar Bashir. He went to different local faith based community groups starting with the statement ‘I am an artist’ where he shared his life story. Many of the young people wanted to know how much he earned. The discussion about Art as a career became very pertinent. There is a need to discuss art and cultures as careers in the community. I do think things are changing compared to when I was young when parents only wanted their children to enter traditional safe careers, Black and Asian families do now think about art and culture as a career, and the work we both do shows, although it may not be risk free, it can be a wonderfully rewarding career. Our work is about connecting the community to the arts and cultural sector. It is about making art an everyday part of our existence, connecting the local with the international and vice versa.
The development of the Creative Quarter is important. Sir Peter Bazalgette (Chair of the Arts Council) recently talked about Nottingham. I think the work we do reconnecting our marginalised communities through art and culture is vital for the city. I think we in Hyson Green need to connect more with the city. The tram helps and I also think the recognition of Hyson Green as an international quarter is long overdue. On Radford Road diverse cultures are running businesses here, with very few boarded up shops. It is the only place in Nottingham where you can get Portuguese, Pakistani, Indian, Polish, Kurdish, Afghan and African and Caribbean food all I the same place. ..indeed the local global trade is all about creativity and enterprise … we would like the NAE to develop as a space which encourages local cultural enterprises owned by the local community to grow. The NAE is rooted in the local community, it is born from here. The articulation of the artist has become more refined or conceptualized over time – their articulations and conceptions are shifting and contributing to new waves in the contemporary art world breaking stereotypes of traditional ‘common cultures’ we have previously presented and engaged with. This venue, because of its history, its location and the people who use it, has a natural gravitational pull for a discussion and dialogue about art and its role in society.
Why did you choose Common Culture to mark the 5th Anniversary ?
New Art was in the beginning an outsider in the art world, an outsider looking in. Common Culture are a group of artists 3 white males, rebellious and witty in nature and are outsiders challenging the status quo of the art scene, and so the 5th birthday and working with Common Culture just seemed to naturally come together. What they explore is the hybridity of cultures, what it means to be British in the 21st century. Their work reflects on the Mela, Carnival, Goose Fair and other local festivals which have history, harmony, and particular social function. They take this as their starting point, and explore what is human, social and humorous. Commenting on cultural diversity is often perceived as something diverse cultures comment on i.e. seen only as a domain for black people, other may pay lip services to it, these guys are genuinely interested, which is one of the reasons they call themselves Common Culture. It’s a challenge for them to come into this space, but the space is about making people challenge themselves artistically, it also asks about commonly held assumptions that we have in society Sometimes we are too polite in the UK about what we don’t know I believe we need to be more truthful and if the truth is constructively presented, there is a lot we can learn about each other. At the same time the work aesthetically is great, when you see their work on these large screens, really large screen, you will be taken aback I hope. Art can look at the transition between what we know and don’t know, between the yes and no and this work is quite intriguing in terms of how it aims to do this. The issues of inequality and the talent that doesn’t come through because of class, place, circumstance and wider issues are important to us. There was a wonderful quote I read recently, “If culture is what is done to us, and art is who we are, then what would culture do to us if art was taken away”. The artistic intervention is all about disrupting yet evolving culture, as we know it or thought we knew it. The past five years at New Art Exchange has really been about helping art and culture develop in this way.
NOT NECESSARILY IN THE RIGHT ORDER, AN EXHIBITION BY COMMON CULTURE
27 SEPTEMBER 2013 – 12 JANUARY 2014
Open 7 Days a week
Mon to Friday 10.30 am to 6pm
Saturday 9.30am to 5pm
Sunday 11.30 am to 5pm
New Art Exchange, 39-41 Gregory Boulevard, Nottingham, NG7 6BE