Windrush Culture is a series of short films exploring and celebrating the creative legacy of the Windrush generation on contemporary artists in Birmingham. The films were produced by Red Earth Collective in partnership with Birmingham Museums Trust and will be used by the museum as an educational resource shared with schools across the West Midlands.
Based in Birmingham, Red Earth Collective is a Black-led organisation that uses the arts to challenge mental health stigma and discrimination in racialised and marginalised communities.
It works in collaboration with individuals and ethnically diverse artists, many with lived experience of mental health issues, to create new work, events and workshops that stimulate debate about how statutory services, stakeholder and faith organisations can better understand and support the wellbeing of the communities that they work with.
Creating new platforms
Sandra Griffiths, the founder and director of Red Earth, has worked in the mental health sector for more than 30 years. She believes that working with museums and other mainstream organisations is key in creating new platforms where Black artists and producers can be heard and Black audiences can be seen.
“Many Black people do not access museums and arts venues, as they feel that they do not belong there,” she says. “We have worked closely with Birmingham Museums and the Midlands Arts Centre to create spaces where Black audiences feel welcome.
On a basic level, this has meant having more Black staff members stewarding our events alongside volunteers, ensuring that there are African and Caribbean options on the food menu, dressing the venue in a culturally appropriate way, and ensuring that our team is on hand to greet people and engage in conversations.
“All simple things, but I’ve attended many events where this lack of attention to detail has put Black audiences off coming back,” says Griffiths.
Windrush Culture was broadcast in June as a live stream from Thinktank, Birmingham Science Museum, and has been viewed more than 1,000 times online. The event was hosted by cultural and community researcher Garry Stewart, with performances by local musicians Call Me Unique and Ire-Ish, and performance poet Sue Brown.
The multi- disciplinary artist Joyce Treasure talked about how immigration and decolonial practice has influenced her work, and discussed the role museums can play by working with artists to move away from the dominant narrative and the “colonial matrix of power”.
“Museums have a responsibility to share and conserve our history,” she said. “Different histories told by indigenous cultures enable us to question and contest Eurocentric epistemologies. Art is an essential tool that can help segue ideas and help us understand our shared and different backgrounds.”
Lynsey Rutter, Birmingham Museum Trust’s learning and engagement manager, has worked with Red Earth since 2019. They have collaborated to produce Black History Month events at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, which have attracted capacity audiences, most of whom came from the city’s Caribbean and African communities.
Drawing on experience
Rutter recognises the importance of drawing on the experience of organisations intrinsically connected to communities, artists and audiences that may be beyond the museum’s usual reach.
“We have a long history of partnership work with organisations that are embedded within, or run by, communities local to our museums,” she says. “When planning our response to Windrush Day, it seemed fitting to approach Red Earth, as it is a partner that we have worked with before.
Its contacts and knowledge of individuals in the African-Caribbean community in Birmingham to work with for this event surpassed our own.
“Museums must know when to reach out to others – when to be the vocal leaders in a partnership and when to step aside and facilitate.
In this partnership, our role was the latter. Red Earth led in the creative planning for the event with great success. Community-engaged practice must seek to establish a partnership on equal terms, and I believe with Red Earth, we have that.”
Nick Schlittner is development director of the Red Earth Collective