BWW Interview: Chrystal Genesis Discusses The Southbank Centre's VIOLET NIGHTS
Chrystal Genesis is a journalist and arts and culture programmer. She runs and hosts the award-winning Stance Podcast, and has presented on the BBC Podcast Radio Hour and BBC Front Row.
Chrystal leads on creating courses, workshops and performance programmes for young people at Southbank Centre, and is the executive producer of Southbank Centre's Violet Nights initiative and podcast - providing a space for young people to socialise and express their views on, and explore, topical issues with music, performance and discussion.
Did you do much drama when you were young, or youth programmes like Violet Nights?
My mum is a musician and artist, so we always took part in plays and created music or dance pieces. As a child, I did a lot of local performance or movement classes in Brixton at the Rec or The Abeng Centre, which I loved. At home and more broadly, I was probably the one who had the least performative flare and was more likely to spend my time critiquing or directing from the sidelines!
How did you first get involved with Violet Nights, and what were the main aims of the programme?
Violet Nights is a monthly event showcasing online culture offline. It is curated by and for young people, and we have a two-day podcasting course alongside it - so we train and teach podcasting too with our Violet Nights podcast. It was created originally by former Southbank Centre apprentices Kaya La Bonte-Hurst and Melissa Kains, so I was lucky to be able to take it forward and develop it further. Melissa still works for us now and then, which is always really special (she also DJs with collective Sisu at the Southbank Centre's Concrete Lates).
Can you tell us a bit about how Violet Nights works logistically?
It's an informal panel discussion with performance, chats and music. It is always solutions-focused, as we want people to leave feeling armed with some useful steps to learn more or participate. It is always free. We've worked with Novelist the rapper to curate one on DIY culture - which ended in a gig - Fitness Collective Food and Lycra curated an event, and Cardboard Citizens worked with us on a forum theatre piece discussing youth homelessness.
It is flexible and never the same. In the future, we'll be working with other great collectives or people who are tapping into youth culture right now. We want it to feel like a mix of being in your nan's front room and a club. Relaxed but exciting!
What sort of issues and ideas has Violet Nights addressed?
Queer activism now, Black women and dating, wellness and body politics - with a live performance by Katie Greenall of an extract from her play, FATTY FAT FAT... - and many others! We've documented most of them here.
Do you try to get a range of participants in terms of gender, background, ethnicity, LGBTQ+ representation...?
These all come from our curators or guest curators. It is led by the global voices in London, or the wider UK, that we have. They are who they are, so they automatically represent themselves or people they know through their arts. We have a hugely diverse Creative Learning team with heritages across many continents, and this really helps create great ideas that appeal to our audience. It also brings an authentic level of expertise and experience. Most of all, we all have our ears to the ground and love connecting to exciting, forward-thinking people who create amazing arts and culture.
What's the response been like from participants, and also those listening to the podcast?
Just brilliant - many have started their own! They didn't know they'd make a podcast at the end of it and be credited as a producer, so they always love that. We support them afterwards too. This isn't just about the Southbank Centre as a space, it is about creating a community or many communities, and we are good at doing that at the Southbank Centre.
Why do you think this format is particularly effective in terms of listening to young voices?
It feels new and fresh, but we also make it a priority to bring other people in and not be the experts. We also remember who our audience is and research and nurture relationships.
Young people's views are often disparaged in the media, or not taken seriously. Do you think something like Violet Nights helps correct that?
For sure. Young people reimagine the future every day. That is exciting to me and my team. They also bring a level of realness that's hard to find as you get older! Uniquely, everything the youth programme does at the Southbank Centre is free. So you'll get a quality learning experience with sector-leading artists, or the opportunity to take part in a six-week course without a barrier to entry.
Any favourite moments, or things you're particularly proud of achieving with Violet Nights?
Seeing Food and Lycra with Queer Bruk do a workout session to dancehall at the Southbank Centre, as well as discussing the problematic nature of race and gender in the fitness and wellness scene. It was great because we love to use spaces here in an unconventional way; we had leading fitness speakers who are opening up the space and, most importantly, it was excellent to see so many new faces at the Southbank Centre who then come back month after month to our Violet Nights event.
Can we access the podcasts now? If so, which do you think people should start with?
Yep, on all podcasting platforms including Spotify, iTunes and Soundcloud. I'd start at the beginning! They're short - only 20 minutes!
What other youth engagement initiatives does the Southbank Centre have?
The Southbank Centre's young people's programme champions young voices through our courses, workshops and performances in visual arts, dance, music, literature and poetry. From one-day workshops to six-week courses, we provide opportunities for young people to work with artists, makers and creatives, build on existing networks and develop skills for the future.
This shutdown leaves a lot of young people isolated, even potentially in harmful environments. Are you/the Southbank able to reach out in some way?
We know the current health crisis has left so many people in very desperate situations, and we are so grateful to those on the frontlines and social care workers who are taking care of all of us - especially the vulnerable and those without safety nets. While Southbank Centre can't change people's circumstances, we hope to bring a little bit of joy through our online resources, with the ambition of providing a virtual community of all those sharing in the same content at the same time.
Our 'Culture Fix' emails provide tips and recommendations for great content online, and Creative Learning and our Public Programming Team are pulling together a weekly blog for families with children under the age of 11. We're hoping to broaden that reach to include content geared specifically for secondary school-aged children and welcome collaborations from partners who deliver content for these young people.
What do you think the arts should be doing right now to engage with young audiences and creatives? Is this shutdown (terrible though it is) perhaps an opportunity to find new forms of communication?
The Southbank Centre has launched a weekly email called 'Culture Fix', which includes blogs, videos, playlists and insights to keep audiences reading and experiencing art online - access to art, music and creativity is more important than ever now. Online communities and speaking to people on video or over the phone will help too. Keeping fit and actually just trying to move will also be key. Good food if you can afford it, and music and arts to escape. Meditation has been helping me a lot. Reach out to charities or organisations if you're feeling low or struggling financially. There are resources out there to help.
Finally, if people want to support places like the Southbank Centre, or vulnerable young people, can you recommend some ways for us to do that?
The Southbank Centre stands with all artists, musicians, and friends from across the industry who have been affected by COVID-19, as well as all those left particularly vulnerable at this time. We would encourage everyone out there who feels alone to engage with the vast array of digital content that has been popping up online over the past few weeks and to find comfort in the knowledge that art really can help at this time.
As for the Southbank Centre itself, we - like many other arts organisations - are dealing with the very real challenges that closure has brought. As a charity, it is bringing a massive financial risk for us and for those we work with, so we continue to welcome donations from any of our followers, fans or loyal audience who feel they are in a position to do so.
And to leave us on a cheery note - can you recall a moment from Violet Nights that was particularly funny or just made you smile?
So, so many! We had a discussion called Whose earth is it anyway, and every person who left told me or a team member how much they loved it. They felt the event provided depth and imagination and showcased voices they didn't know existed. Lots of practical things to take away too! It was a great event.
Photo credit: Grace Gelder, Pete Woodhead