Following on from our Forum in 2018, we invited the speakers and artists from the day to respond to the current situation – to see what has changed, and what can still be done.
Malú Ansaldo is an international arts leader, curator and producer originally from Argentina. She is currently the Interim Director of Live and Digital at Battersea Arts Centre, having worked at the Roundhouse as Head of Performing Arts and National Theatre Wales as Executive Producer, where she oversaw the 2018 Love Letters to the NHS season and line produced Tide Whisperer. She is a board member for Counterpoints Arts.
As the pandemic remains and evolves and we slowly walk into the winter months, the world starts feeling a bit smaller, contained. Even more so than the first few months of adaptation. Most of us had to drastically change our daily routines, stop going to offices, rehearsal studios and venues. We found new chairs and corners in the house where we could set up our home office, gym and dining room. Home became a place from which we had to re-learn how to observe and engage with the world: through our screens.
The world did become smaller in that sense because all of a sudden it was at our fingertips too. People started realising that long distance connections, impossible meetings - and let’s be honest: unimaginable creative collaborations that you could not afford against time and budgets - were now a possibility. Wasn’t that mind-blowing?
But, as much as this can be seen as an opportunity there is also a catch: in this digital-cyber world of inspiring and amazing artists who you can now connect, work with, and programme... how do you actually find the ones that are the right ones?
I have been in many calls and meetings where I’ve heard people saying how they spent hours researching and navigating websites, social media, programmes in foreign languages - unexpected and frustrating dead ends of the web - trying to find the one artist that was the right partner for them on the other side of the world... but they forgot to ask their friends! Their actual physical friends living and working in the UK today who perhaps came from that place. The peers and colleagues who work in your same field and who are there, at your fingertips too…
Since before the pandemic a strong movement has been developing in London through the amazing team behind Migrants in Culture, unifying voices in the arts against the hostile environment created by Brexit. You can find more about this movement and what their aims are, their programs and resources here http://migrantsinculture.com/
I remember filling their first survey last year and thinking WOW - no one ever asked me these things! How is that possible? When I went to the first meeting I attended in January this year, I was taken aback by the diversity in the room: from different sectors of the cultural world, to ages and career paths, so many visions, backgrounds and stories gathered under the one same roof against a common threat. I felt alive.
Parallel to this, but also taking part in Migrants in Culture, another group started emerging called Migrants in Theatre - you can find them on twitter @MigrantsTheatre or here https://mailchi.mp/1a914a8fdbc0/migrants-in-theatre.
Similar objectives and causes pushing theatre workers to align their visions. Some come from more formal organisations like Global Voices and Cut the Cord, some are individuals taking the movement forward.
Lockdown created a gap in the system and they started arranging meetings online to talk about what is faced by migrants in this sector. As many people struggled to access any government support due to various reasons - some of them being the invisibility of certain communities and the marginalization that some visa categories impose on individuals. This group grew as an advocacy group, a strong lobbying and support network and a fantastic resource of connections and collaborations which have already started happening.
Most of us came to the UK to study or work here, and we still have strong bonds and connections with the artistic communities of our home countries and regions. We talk to our friends back home and understand what is happening there. We speak their language.
Not so long ago, in another dimension called Edinburgh festival, I remember talking to a group of programmers who were saying that there was only one Latinamerican company that year presenting work on the Fringe: I was shocked. How could they say that? There were three more amazing artists who are Latinamerican but living in the UK presenting work too. I know it doesn’t sound like a lot, but for us in the Latinamerican community it’s a high number. Why were they not acknowledged? Why had they fallen into a crack? Are you only international if you got on a plane to present work there? Luckily, we had met through our own collective movement which is only 2 years old: LAIPA (Latin Americans in the Performing Arts). I was able to champion them and organise a meeting during the festival where all programmers from Latinamerica visiting here were able to meet the people representing their countries in the programme. We also held LAIPA fortnightly meetings during the first stages of lockdown and supported each other with funding applications and opportunities. Having a more formalised community within the sector has empowered us, strengthened bonds and raised awareness: a lot of major theatres now reach out to our group when looking for Latinx artists or cultural workers and we have managed to get ACE to commit to including a Latinamerican box in all monitoring forms moving forward. This is a historical achievement: with data, we gain visibility, traction and a voice.
For years there has been mis-representation on and off stage, there have been less opportunities and harder paths for many who have chosen the UK as a place to work. Opportunities are rare: especially to do work that represents and engages your own background and heritage. This is usually solo produced and financed. These stories are true, relevant and needed if we want our stages to represent the places where we live and work.
So why not engage with us, the Migrants in Theatre and in Culture, when you need a bridge or connection with far away lands and makers? Why not believe that those of us working here might have the right connection or established bridge to those places where we come from? The world is indeed at our fingertips ... perhaps it’s just that the way there is not getting on a plane anymore. Perhaps THIS is the time when we celebrate the internationalism that breathes and beats in the UK. This is the time to truly value the opportunity and the value that diversity brings to our sector.
So next time you want to programme an international company or you want to reach a foreign playwright or composer ... why not look at the world around you? Work with us, develop with us, invite us to your venues and spaces, talk to us to find out more about that far away place that we call home.
We are here. We always have been.
Migrants In Theatre Town Hall is happening this Friday 16th https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/migrants-in-theatre-london-town-hall-tickets-121926504457
supported by many London organisations it is open to migrants living and working all across the UK.