Image copyright Inès Elsa Dalal

This evaluation report was commissioned by Lara Ratnaraja and Helga Henry as part of the ASTONish programme. ASTONish focused on transforming cultural leadership by selecting creative entrepreneurs and artists both living in Aston and Newtown and those in the wider city who wish to engage with the area culturally.

Courtesy International Curators Forum


Thursday 16th November 2017
6pm – 8pm
Birmingham Hippodrome, Thorp Street, B5 4TB
The masterclass will take place in the Pwc Room

Book your free ticket here


Courtesy International Curators Forum

David A Bailey

David A. Bailey MBE came to prominence as one of a new generation of Black photograpers in the UK in the mid to late 1980s. Since then, he has done much work as a writer and curator, working with institutions and organisations, as well as working independently. His projects, both curated and co-curated have included MirageICALondon, 2005; Rhapsodies in BlackArt of the Harlem RenaissanceHayward GalleryLondon, 1997; Black Moving CubeArnolfiniBristol, 2006, Back to BlackWhitechapel/The New Art Gallery Walsall, 2005. David A. Bailey was for a time Associate Senior Curator at the Institute of International Visual Arts (inIVA) in Londonand was subsequently Curator at AutographLondon. He edited, (with Ian Baucom and Sonia BoyceShades of Black, subtitled Assembling Black Arts in 1980s Britain. Likewise, Sonia Boyce and David A. Bailey’s collaborative work was included in the book Shades of Black: Assembling Black Arts in 1980s Britain. He chaired the “Curatorial Debates Since the 1980s” panel at the Shades of Black conference, 20 April 2001, Duke University.

David A. Bailey, ‘Curator and Founder, Autograph-Association of Black Photographers’ was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List 2007, for services to Photography.

International Curators Forum

International Curators Forum (ICF) is a network that meets to discuss emerging issues of curatorial practice in the context of key events in the international arts calendar. It offers bursaries and professional development opportunities to curators and works in partnership with key national and international bodies. This program has been conceived to promote opportunities for curators to visit and participate in several major international art events to enable them to network and gain experience for their career development.

International Curators Forum (ICF) and University of the Arts London (UAL) present Diaspora Pavilion, an exhibition to be held in Venice from May 13th until November 26th 2017 at the Palazzo Pisani S. Marina during the 57th Venice Biennale.

The Diaspora Pavilion is conceived as a challenge to the prevalence of national pavilions within the structure of an international biennale and takes its form from the coming-together of nineteen artists whose practices in many ways expand, complicate and even destabilise diaspora as term, whilst highlighting the continued relevance that diaspora as a lived reality holds today.

The pavilion also forms part of the 22-month, joint ICF and UAL project ‘Diaspora Platform’, which is designed to deliver mentoring and professional development by eleven selected mentors for twelve UK-based emerging artists whose work engages with the topic of the diaspora. During the length of the project, these practitioners will take part in group forum, one-on-one mentoring sessions and group masterclasses. The selected participants and eight of the mentors will all showcase their work in the Diaspora Pavilion, in an exhibition curated by David A. Bailey and Jessica Taylor.

Exhibiting artists:

Larry Achiampong | Barby Asante | Sokari Douglas Camp | Libita Clayton | Kimathi Donkor | Michael Forbes | Ellen Gallagher | Nicola Green | Joy Gregory | Isaac Julien | Dave Lewis | Hew Locke | susan pui san lok | Paul Maheke | Khadija Saye | Yinka Shonibare MBE | Erika Tan | Barbara Walker | Abbas Zahedi

The free Masterclasses spotlight the best of diverse cultural leadership as part of the innovative ASTONish programme to supporting  emergent and established cultural leaders in Aston and Newtown. 

This event is open to all and will include a drinks and canapé reception and networking opportunities.

This masterclass is in partnership with New Art West Midlands and CREATE>. 

ASTONish is produced by Birmingham Hippodrome and Lara Ratnaraja in partnership with Birmingham Museums Trust and Birmingham City University. It has been made possible through the A&N funding programme.

ASTONish presents the next Masterclass with David A Bailey MBE on Thursday 16 November at Birmingham Hippodrome in partnership with New Art West Midlands and CREATE.

ASTONish presents a masterclass with Zoe Whitley Co-curator of critically acclaimed exhibition ‘Soul Of A Nation’, Tate Modern.

Wednesday 1 November, 6-8pm
Hippodrome Theatre, B5 4TB

Following a series of powerful masterclasses from its sister programme RE:Present, Birmingham Hippodrome and Lara Ratnaraja welcome you to attend the third edition of ASTONish Masterclass with Zoe Whitley, Curator – Tate Modern.

Spaces are FREE but limited and we anticipate that spaces will fill up fast!

Book via Eventbrite 

About Zoe Whitley

Zoe Whitley works as part of the team of curators and assistant curators responsible for the development of and research into Tate’s collection of artworks post-1980. She oversees the development of the artists’ film programme at Tate Britain, such as Transform: Artists’ Film, Artists Beyond Film (2014). Since 2014 her role also has included work at Tate Modern, where she co-wrote Tate’s revised Africa acquisitions strategy and researches contemporary artists and art practices from the African continent and the African diaspora.

Research interests

Zoe Whitley’s research has centred on contemporary art of the African diaspora and twentieth-century and contemporary works on paper. She has a particular interest in the ways in which artists engage in institutional critique, and since joining Tate her research interests have extended into artists’ film and video. Zoe Whitley has lectured at undergraduate and MA levels throughout the UK on visual culture, cultural studies and exhibiting contemporary African art in the West. At Tate’s London sites she has led public lectures, screenings and conversations on the work of Ellen Gallagher, Lis Rhodes, Black Audio Film Collective, Wangechi Mutu, Theo Eshetu and Ian Forsyth and Jane Pollard, among others. Her curatorial practice frequently returns to questions of museological categorisation and how artists assert their identities within art museum frameworks. Zoe Whitley has also lectured on the historiography of museum collections of African art in Britain. From 2013 to 2015 she is a research curator member of the Institute for Black Atlantic Research and the Making Histories Visible project with the University of Central Lancashire. In 2015 she was awarded a grant from SAUK and the British Council to co-curate a series of screenings on South African artists’ film.



Latest Work: Soul of A Nation – Art In the Age of Black Power

Image courtesy of Andrew Dunkley, Tate Photography

This masterclass is in partnership with New Art West Midlands and CREATE.

ASTONish presents a masterclass with Zoe Whitley, Co-curator of ‘Soul Of A Nation’, Tate Modern. In partnership with New Art West Midlands and CREATE.

Image copyright Inès Elsa Dalal

“Cultural identities come from somewhere. But, like everything which is historical, they undergo constant transformation. Far from being eternally fixed in some essentialised past, they are subject to the continuous play of history, culture and power.”*

Image copyright Inès Elsa Dalal

The narrative on diversity in the cultural sector is a well heard one: under-representation, social mobility, exclusion, ethnicity, gender, disability, class, sexuality; all have come under the microscope recently in the laudable aim of a far more diverse arts workforce that represents and engages with a far more diverse audience that is representative of the world we live in. The subsidised arts sector is more aware than ever of the relationship between the public money it receives and the relatively narrow segment of the public who traditionally partake of their activities.

This means the cultural sector is led by cultural leaders who do not on the whole represent the audiences who wish to engage with culture. A lack of visible diverse leadership has a direct correlation with a lack of cultural participation by diverse communities. As the 2013 Consilium Report for Arts Council England states “It is also vital that the arts and cultural workforce becomes more representative of the society it serves. In particular, we need to do more to ensure that entry routes into employment, and opportunities for people to further their careers, are fairer and more accessible to all. This is as true for the leadership and governance of the sector as it is for those entering the workforce”.

Recently, through our work on programmes such as RE:Present and ASTONish – both schemes aimed at transforming the diversity of cultural leadership in Birmingham (and Aston and Newtown respectively), we (Lara Ratnaraja and Birmingham Hippodrome) have been committed to developing and nurturing diverse cultural leaders. We have noticed while delivering these programmes that the barriers we and they face is a slow-moving sector that has yet to embrace diversity as a creative opportunity and move beyond the permissions culture that is endemic in the arts.

The use of language in culture continues to exclude and “tag”: ‘diverse’, ‘marginalised’, ‘disadvantaged’ ‘hard to reach’ are words used to seek inclusion but also by default achieve exclusion. The language we have heard around programmes such as RE:Present and ASTONish has othered participants; the words “them” and “they” are used liberally, as is the implication that artists of colour are in some way “less,” (less relevant, lower quality or amateur) only relevant for community engagement contexts whereby the quality of creative work is in some way of less of value than it would be in main stream programming.

But with workforce data showing little change, it is evident that whilst policies such as Arts Council’s Creative Case, Race Equality Action plans and initiatives such as Changemakers and Evolve are making incremental changes, within the sector itself there is little change or perceived inclination to self-examine why the arts sector is so unrepresentative.

From data submitted by National Portfolio Organisations (NPOs) and Major Partner Museums (MPM) in 2015/16, 17% of the NPO workforce is Black and minority ethnic and 7% of MPMs (against the working age population average of 15 %). However, at senior levels just 8% of Chief Executives, 10% of Artistic Directors and 9% of Chairs of Boards are BME (Equality, Diversity and the Creative Case 2015-2016, Arts Council England, 2016) Birmingham, is under-served in terms of support for next stage leadership development in an area where 42% of the population self-identifies as non-white. The leadership of cultural organisations doesn’t reflect its audiences and this is reflected across the West Midlands.

As a result of this, in 2016, supported by Birmingham City Council and Arts Council England we ran RE:Present, a pilot initiative which was aimed at cultural leaders/producers and artist/leaders from diverse backgrounds who are currently under-represented in Birmingham and the wider Midlands region. This led to a network of over 40 artists, curators and producers who continue to reach new achievements, create new collaborations but also crucially are transforming the way cultural leadership is evolving in the city. From this we developed ASTONish. ASTONish is a programme of cultural leadership and creative entrepreneur training and development aimed at emergent and established artists, musicians and creative entrepreneurs in Aston and Newtown who have the ambition and potential to transform both themselves and the sector.

The regional art frameworks that seek to promote diversity are interventionist and generate from a cultural model of production that emanates from the centre. The arts in general uses distribution models that are based on an invitation “in”; a permission to view culture on their terms as regards location, timing and context. These frameworks don’t allow for a reframing of cultural identities and willfully ignore the “continuous play of history, culture and power.” In doing so they continue to disseminate a cultural picture that can be irrelevant or even hostile to diverse audiences.

Mark Sealy MBE, Director of Autograph, speaking at ASTONish event. Image copyright Inès Elsa Dalal

The othering of artists of colour means their practice is labelled as marginalised. It is either ignored, or presented as coming from outside the frameworks of culture that stem from white, hetero-normative patriarchal constructs. It is exoticised, or used instrumentally to engage with audiences of colour, (Bhangra and samosa nights for Asian people and spoken word, Windrush reminiscences and Hip Hop for African-Caribbean people). The medium might change but the song remains the same.

Inclusion narratives on diversity allow artists of colour in, giving them permission to participate. As well as doing artists of colour a disservice, this only perpetuates a huge cultural divide which alienates and divorces the arts from the socio-political transformations that are affecting society at large. Equally it muffles instead of amplifing a plurality of artistic voices to wider audiences.

But ignoring these voices isn’t silencing them. Artists of colour are creating new dialogues and communities and modes of practice. They are reframing their cultural identities on their terms and refusing to adhere to the colonial identities ascribed to them.

The time is now to co-create a new narrative on diversity and cultural creation and engagement. This narrative destroys the traditional permission and invitation-based inclusion model and provides a new cultural and creative dialogue which is based on collaboration, equality of discourse and equity of diverse cultural value to allow for a fluidity and intersectional cultural ecology.

“…identities are the names we give to the different ways we are positioned by, and position ourselves within, the narratives of the past.”*

Let’s change the song: instead of singing it “at” people, “reaching out” and “doing” singing to people, let’s listen for the songs we all carry with us, and figure out a way to make that music anew.

*HALL, STUART. (1990). Cultural Identity and Diaspora. Identity: Community, culture, difference. 2.

Lara Ratnaraja Cultural Consultant @lararatnaraja Helga Henry, Director of Organisational Development Birmingham Hippodrome @helgahenry Co-Producers ASTONish

Lara Ratnaraja and Helga Henry give their opinions on the narrative surrounding diversity in the cultural sector.