This article originally appeared in the Museum X Takeover of Museums Journal in September/October 2021.
Aspire Black Suffolk: Celebrating local African-Caribbean culture and our stories
Aspire Black Suffolk was a six-month initiative which launched alongside Power of Stories in June. The programme ran in association with and responded to the pioneering exhibition produced by Colchester + Ipswich Museums Service (CIMS). We aimed to create a long-lasting, positive legacy in Suffolk, predominantly among young Black people, and to send positive ripples across the broader community.
Way more than ‘just’ a cultural programme, Aspire Black Suffolk was a network of passionate individuals and grassroots organisations who have pooled our collective intelligence, skillset and lived experience.
Furthermore, it was a platform, used to elevate the profile of and celebrate the county’s Black community, who have been historically underrepresented across all areas of life, despite their contribution to the local economy and culture. It was an unmissable opportunity for us to re-invigorate the community’s sense of pride and belonging.
Power of Stories in Ipswich was the catalyst for this activity, and it just so happens that planning was already in full swing when a succession of events occurred – events which added weight and poignancy.
First, Covid struck the UK in March 2020 and revealed the depth of social injustice long-suffered by Black people. Then came the murder of George Floyd, which triggered the global resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement. In August 2020, Chadwick Boseman passed away much too young, leaving an astonishing legacy of performances including his Black Panther role.
Although tragic, each of these events brought with them moments for reflection and re-evaluation – and opportunity for Britain to face its demons and engage in uncomfortable but necessary conversations. Aspire Black Suffolk and Power of Stories happened to be in the making already, ready to support such activity, and giving people a focal point for dialogue. The practicalities of organising Aspire Black Suffolk were heavily impacted by the pandemic. Nonetheless with the commitment of many people and the constant support of CIMS, we secured around £25,000 in funding from Arts Council England and local donors – from local county councillors, a large corporate and DanceEast. Thanks to the hard work of the museum, additional funding was secured from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
Aspire Black Suffolk events spanned education, arts, culture, heritage and personal development, with events being led by local community leaders such the Suffolk Black Community Forum and Karibu – an organisation supporting African women. Our network also included artists, performers, musicians, and businesses. Some were financed by the above-mentioned backers, while others were self-funded.
Furthermore, our first logo was created by local further education students at West Suffolk College and Suffolk One, and we have had welcome support and interest from key local cultural bodies such as Ipswich Film Theatre, Primadonna Festival, Suffolk Archives, Art Eat Events and Woodbridge Festival.
Our work will continue with the creation of Aspire Black Suffolk CIC and all four highly experienced directors working across diversity and inclusion, social justice, policing, community development, arts, heritage and culture.
Find out more below and follow us for updates on our exciting projects: