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Guest Blog: New Artistic Director Abdul Shayek On Leading Tara Arts

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The organisation aims to set an example at this crucial moment

Guest Blog: New Artistic Director Abdul Shayek On Leading Tara Arts
Abdul Shayek

What a year so far. My plans and aims for go into full production for The Orchard of Lost Souls with Fio, a novel adapted for the stage about the Somali civil war which has been three years in the making. Work on Migrations, a new opera with Welsh National Opera. Develop a virtual reality project with Bangladeshi women and their stories of the 1971 War of Independence.

Not quite how things have worked out. As lockdown happened and funders pulled up the emergency brakes, we repurposed funding, rethought projects and re-engaged with communities through online platforms. Conversations around the inequality within our society resurfaced as people have quite literally been dying due to their economic and ethnic background. This conversation gathered further force and momentum as, across the Atlantic, the unlawful killing of a black man brought in to sharp focus the reality of a white-dominated world.

Many questions were posed and much soul-searching took place, with many agreeing the need for a cultural reset was inevitable. In Zoom conversation after Zoom conversation, the importance of our cultural institutions to lead the change was identified. The volume was turned up on the need to test new ways of working. Placing our communities at the heart of our work became ever more pertinent as cultural organisations became ever reliant on their 'outreach and education' departments to stay active and relevant during the lockdown.

As I take up my position with Tara, there is much to consider and understand in making sense of an increasingly fractured world. However, to engage and respond to some of these challenges with an institution like Tara Arts gives me great hope. The company has a track record within this space, and those that came before have worked tirelessly around these issues.

I plan to listen to what the sector needs - in particular, our freelance workforce - coming out of this significant moment of disruption. What do our community/ audiences need from us, how do we rebuild trust and make them feel safe about re-entering our buildings? I want to continue to develop these conversations and work with larger institutions, offering our expertise and support in delivering new ways of working and ultimately create the change we want. All whilst making sure Tara Arts presents unique and interesting work which pushes boundaries of what theatre can be, where it's presented and who is making this work.

The recent announcement of the £1.57 billion rescue package from Westminster has come with the proviso that the UK's cultural 'crown jewels' are saved. I would propose to our Government that our crown jewels are our amazing creative freelance workforce. From designers to backstage crew, dancers to poets, performers to directors, writers to producers and the many more freelancers who are the precious commodities in desperate need of support. These are the people who will be at the forefront of how we make sense of our new normal. How we as a sector and wider society re-emerge from this crisis.

Although much work has taken place to create a more inclusive sector, it is still divided along class, ethnicity and disability. The dominant cultural sector is the first to say it understands the issues, yet often the slowest in bringing about meaningful change. However, the dominant culture has very little option but to change. It has to become more equitable in how, who, where and why it is creating work.

Throughout my career, I have worked tirelessly to develop conversations around equity, equality and representation. Through the professional work I have made, the engagement projects I have delivered, the artists I have supported, I have placed social justice front and centre. The last decade in Wales, and the arduous task of trying to change a monocultural Welsh sector, has been exhausting but also rewarding, and has enabled great learning.

I plan to take all of the knowledge, ideas and networks gleaned during this process into my stewardship of Tara Arts. From a creative perspective, we will endeavour to present unique and interesting work, identifying and developing new talent and of course, working with experienced and mid-career artists. From a business and sustainability perspective, working with Helen our ED and the rest of the Tara team, we will test and try new commercial initiatives. We will work hard to make Tara Arts and our home a uniquely creative and cultural hub, open and accessible to all.

Re-entering the English arts sector at this pivotal time with such an important cultural organisation gives me a real sense of optimism that we can lead the charge to help instigate the change that is needed.

Find out more about Tara Arts here

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