Working life | 'We must get comfortable with the uncomfortable' - Museums Association

Working life | ‘We must get comfortable with the uncomfortable’

Carolyn Baguma talks about her role leading The World Reimagined – a national arts education project that aims to transform how people understand the transatlantic slave trade
Black history Slavery
Carolyn Baguma, senior community programme manager, The World Reimagined
Carolyn Baguma, senior community programme manager, The World Reimagined

The World Reimagined is a national art education project taking place this summer to transform how people understand the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans. The project is launching sculpture trails featuring 103 unique Globes in seven cities across the UK this August. Carolyn Baguma tells us about her role leading the initiative’s community programme.

How did you become involved in the World Reimagined project?

Carolyn Baguma: I was forwarded the consultant role by my professor after becoming an accredited community researcher and publishing my first independent research paper on the women’s identity within the African diaspora. I joined the consultant team researching and developing the community strategy, then came on board as senior community programme manager.

We have seven cities involved in the project, so you can imagine the labyrinth of elements that is involved, so my days are incredibly busy - but so fulfilling! The cities involved are across the UK including Bristol, Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool City Region, London, Swansea and Leicester. Each city has a dedicated community coordinator who works as an ambassador for the project. My role entails supporting the coordinators to deliver the community programme, as well as having the honour of curating and facilitating our Inspire sessions.

What are the community programme’s main goals?

CB: The ultimate aim is to engage all members of communities in learning about our shared history. We want to connect and showcase community organisations, and to portray that they have been working tirelessly on racial justice for years. Thanks to funding from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, we have created grant pots for each host city to support community organisations, to deliver events and activities, as part of our Inspire events. These events will run throughout the Globe trail period (13 August - 31 October) so we really hope to engage with as many people as we can.

The World Reimagined has worked with community groups to share skills and knowledge

Many of the organisations have been working towards racial justice for some time. What insights have they brought?

CB: Many are underfunded and unrecognised. We wanted to create a programme that will not only allow us to showcase their work, but to connect with different audiences and build capacity. The Inspire sessions are an opportunity to share skills and knowledge, and create a space where people can connect with organisations and individuals to which they may not otherwise have access. We also wanted to make sure any space that is created is a safe one - for everyone to feel comfortable about sharing and talking about things that aren’t necessarily always easy.

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How have communities responded to the themes?

CB: Certain themes have excited them, but we are conscious that some themes might be a trigger to some people. Care and wellbeing are a priority, and we have resources available for this. The themes expose uncomfortable truths, but we must get comfortable with the uncomfortable. We are living in a key moment for racial justice, and it calls on us all to courageously face this history. We need to be honest, and to have empathy and grace, so we can create a new future in which all can say “I am seen”.

What's the most important thing to bear in mind about undertaking this type of community work?

We are aware that there are a lot of community partners that have already been doing the work of racial justice, but with limited funds, capacity or support. We had to reassure the communities that this programme is not about us, but about the work they are already doing. We deliberately named the community programme Inspire for this reason! It’s for them; and their hard work, and that is one of the legacies of the project we hope to fulfil. 

In what ways has the discourse about racial justice evolved since the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020?

CB: When we saw the extraordinary outpouring of emotion after the murder of George Floyd, we realised that a significant portion of the public wanted to understand this history. Without knowing about our full history, we risk having a distorted and sanitised view of the country. We need to make sense of our history, including its dark chapters.

It's great to see that there is a willingness, more than ever, to try and better understand the issues of the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans and engage in the process of self-education, using the power of art to tell stories and engage people in this history.

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