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A new cross-continent cultural leadership programme provides a unique opportunity for artists and creative professionals to collaborate. Sophina Jagot tells the story.

Picture courtesy of GRAIN Projects commissioned as part of Transforming Narratives Digital Collaboration programme

Transforming Narratives is a four-year international Cultural Leadership Programme which opens a space for creative and cultural exchange between Birmingham and cities in Pakistan and Bangladesh. It supports practitioners to engage in exchanges with artists and cultural organisations. We’re interested in new artistic voices and narratives around contemporary lived experience across the three countries. The hope is to build meaningful and enduring relationships between the cultural sectors in Birmingham, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Comprising ten Birmingham-based partner organisations, it has commissioned 32 artistic projects to date. Four came early on as part of the programme launch, then seven exchange projects supported new and existing partnerships through international residences, exchanges and critical dialogue. An additional four collaborative projects supported artists and organisations in showcasing contemporary artistic work. And, in direct response to Covid-19, a Digital Collaborations strand was created which has seen 17 projects from across the three participating countries create new digital work spanning visual arts, music, dance, theatre and combined arts. 

These commissions, exchanges and collaborations have been focussed on contemporary narratives and seen the creation of new work giving previously unheard voices an international platform. Our ambitions for the creation of new contemporary work reflecting the three communities in the UK and internationally are becoming a reality, and we’re focussed on seeding projects and ideas, and supporting collaborations to encourage new work. We’re also working to develop mechanisms for grassroots artists to provide mutual support and encourage collaborations.

The programme

The Cultural Leadership Programme, delayed as a result of the pandemic, is born of our ambition to develop a new generation of artists and cultural leaders and we hope it will give a unique opportunity for artists and creative professionals in Birmingham, Pakistan and Bangladesh to meet and jointly contribute to the curation and delivery of new projects as part of this ground-breaking international partnership. In Birmingham, the leadership programme focuses specifically on artists and creatives who identify as of Pakistani, Bangladeshi or Kashmiri heritage, living and/or working in Birmingham.

Our aim is for both emerging and established cultural leaders to build skills, confidence and knowledge, to share their own expertise and to extend their professional networks enabling them to learn more about the challenges and opportunities in leading collaborative international cultural activity.

Culture in Flux

To deliver our Cultural Leadership Programme we are working with Culture in Flux, a bespoke arts and development consultancy, and their colleagues from the Institute of Cultural and Creative Entrepreneurship at Goldsmiths College, University of London. 24 participants from Birmingham, Bangladesh and Pakistan have been selected through an open application process with a mixture of disciplines, experience and locations. Our original plan was for participants to come together for in Birmingham during 2020, however with the ongoing pandemic we have moved the programme online.

Drawing on the experience and skills of the Culture in Flux team we have developed an iterative online programme that allows for participants to work in small groups, attend shared sessions and collaborate on a final project that will be presented to a group of industry specialists in November 2021. The aim is for participants to develop an understanding of the concepts of cultural leadership as well as exploring the challenges facing leaders today – with a specific focus on the development and delivery of international work across borders.

Later, our participants will engage in a programme of lectures, creative exercises and seminars with contributions from creative professionals and academics from across the globe. Finally, they will have the opportunity to work with Transforming Narratives’ Creative Producers to deliver artistic work and contribute to our conference in February 2022.

The programme is designed to be iterative; we don’t want to predetermine outcomes and hope to see lots of exciting, impactful and meaningful strategic initiatives that can be taken forward, as well as new ongoing networks and relationships.

It’s really important that Transforming Narratives works to create an environment where expertise and diversity of thought and approach is not only enabled but is given space to flourish. We have seen some incredible cross-cultural collaborations through our digital collaborative grants, and now with the leadership programme we’re really thinking about how this cross-cultural exchange can start making small steps towards a more equitable sector.

This work takes time, it needs space to allow for important nuances, space to develop and grow collaborations and networks. This is just the beginning!

We hope to be able to bring all the participants together in Birmingham in early 2022 for our Transforming Narratives major conference, the culmination of not only our entire programme but also a series of debates and dialogues that start later this year through our Critical Dialogues project.

You can follow our participants’ journeys across our various social platforms as well as finding out more about the projects, artists and organisations we have already supported in Birmingham, Pakistan and Bangladesh as part of Transforming Narratives.

Sophina Jagot is Project Director of Transforming Narratives.

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