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Being Black Allies: How Community Arts Organisations Can Empower Others…

Yesterday, myself and Liam had the amazing opportunity to meet up and network with other creatives from across the city for the first time since lockdown began. With all of us socially distanced at Assembly House, we had an amazing five hour conversation, facilitated by the incredible Marvina Newton, Founder and CEO of Angel of Youths, and a lead organiser for BLM Leeds.

Socially distanced Creatives from across Leeds coming together at Assembly House to discuss the Black Lives Matter Movement and how to improve our practices and projects.

We’ve both seen our fair share of racism, both online and in the streets, and whilst we have both called out and intervened, there always seems to be this persistent hatred towards people, purely because of their skin pigmentation. It’s such a strange, violent and closed hatred, that it can make you feel numb, like nothing you can do is going to stop racism in its tracks.

Both of us have actively avoided engaging in conversations around race recently, too embarrassed by our whiteness, like its not our place to do or say anything. We’ve been afraid of being called out ourselves, as white saviours and virtue signallers, performative protestors or Marxist terrorists. But we cannot avoid taking a stance any longer, because whilst we are on the sides watching this mess, afraid to take action, so many young people are being failed, and having their futures erased, because they are seen as Black and Black only.

Both of us are privileged. We’ve both gone through so much adversity and had to fight for who we are, but despite all the issues we’ve faced, we’ve never once been discriminated against because we are white. We have to acknowledge this, but we also have to do something about it. We were so inspired by Marvina, who helped us reinforce our passion for empowering others, and using our position of power, however small, to share the wealth, share skills and share platforms with others who don’t have any power.

We talked a lot about how we can use our loves and passions to create works, projects and ideas that can tackle the things we hate and wish to change. We love this ethos, and use it all the time. Liam hated seeing young people in schools afraid of the lockdown and seeing teachers worrying about them. So they created a free activity pack of them with local artists. I hated the negative attitudes some people had in my community of Armley, so I created a project celebrating all the good stuff I could see, to change their view. If more creatives did this, and supported each other, imagine the changes we could make!

We also looked at breaking down invisible barriers, such as the lack of diversity in funding opportunities, by working together to make sure that anyone, especially young people, have a community, diverse, fierce, committed, that they can use and share it.

This community needs to ensure that collectively and collaboratively we achieve the following in all our projects and practices:

  • Listen to Black Voices and Narratives, empowering their stories and making sure they’re heard by a diverse audience.
  • Take active steps to endorse anti-racist views and practices, being leaders and not expecting racism and inequality issues to be solved by Black creatives only.
  • Work in partnership with organisations, charities and community leaders to call out discrimination across the creative sector, making sure access to opportunities is equal for all.

These are steps we are currently trying to aim towards, and will continue to actively review our practices making sure we achieve these goals in everything we do. The community of creatives across the U.K. and abroad need to do the same.

We want to be an active part of that community, and help build for the next generation of creatives, empowering them to keep finding solutions, overcoming hate and making our world a safer, freer, happier place to exist in.

Here is our commitment and promise:

Graft Collaborative CIC is a community-interest-company, that means we have a duty to the communities we serve, with all of our profits going back into the company, making more and more opportunities for engagement. We are not here to make a fortune, or profit of the creativity of others, just to make work sustainable.

Graft Collaborative CIC is yours as much as it is ours, and we are here to share our skills and knowledge with anyone who wants them. For £1, you can become a member of our organisation. You will have access to our structure, including our business account, our social media channels, and our other members. You can freely use our name, articles of association and policies to help find funding opportunities for your projects. We will help you to access training, network with others, find spaces, volunteers, partners, and work through funding applications. The more members we have, the more opportunities we can create, the more finances open up to us, and we can grow together.

We will never discriminate or turn away any inspiring creative. We will always do our best to help you, even if its just an introduction to the right person. We will be honest with you at every stage, and always admit our faults and failures publicly. We will always make sure that your work is properly funded, to the best of our abilities, even if that’s a time bank, where we share our skills together.

We make this promise to all, but we especially make this to the young Black creatives out there, whether you’re a painter, a musician, a story-teller, a photographer, a leader, or still trying to figure out who you are, we are here for you. Black Allies who will make sure that our privilege and power doesn’t just serve us, but anyone who needs a helping hand, a friendly face or just someone to stand and fight in their corner.

Get in touch with us, drop an email, DM us on social media, or visit the contact page up top, and let us know if you need assistance with anything. You don’t have to be a member, just go for it, and let us see if we can do anything to get your ideas up and running. We especially want to hear from those of you living, like us, in South Leeds.

All Black Lives Matter, all communities matter, and each and everyone of us as creatives matter, so let’s put in the hard graft, collaborate, and take a stance! Let’s change!


Published by graftcollaborativecic

Graft Collaborative is a non-profit Community Interest Company established to support emerging creative practitioners from a range of artistic and performative disciplines through the development of engaging projects involving Leeds-based communities to highlight and engage residents with important social issues. This will be achieved by creating and developing opportunities for communities to engage and participate in artistic projects from emerging artistic and performative practitioners.

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