On The Road: Cultural Diversity Forums Launched By Tessa Jowell

By Jon Pratty, Editor, 24 Hour Museum | 08 July 2002

Black and minority ethnic artists in the North East got a vote of support from Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell in Newcastle on July 9.

Cultural Diversity Forums for African, Asian and Chinese Arts were launched by the Secretary of State while she was visiting Tyneside.

After a sneak preview of the stunning new Baltic Galleries, she dined in the centre's restaurant with community arts, civic and business leaders before going to the headquarters of Northern Arts where the Cultural Diversity Forums are being co-ordinated.

The Forums were set up to promote culturally diverse arts and the work of minority ethnic artists in the region. Planned activities include: raising awareness of Black arts, creating links and partnerships with other communities, tackling inequalities of access to funding and setting up a Greater North Network for diversity arts.

"Art and music don't have any nationality or religion or race," said Aziz Zeria, special projects officer for Northern Arts. "These things are going to unite the community. Cultural diversity is not new to the North East - since Roman times people have been coming here!"

Although the forums have attracted substantial funding, including elements from local business sponsors, there's more to this initiative than money, explains Aziz Zeria: "what's important is everybody's effort. We've been doing this kind of thing for years, and now hopefully, we'll be able to do lots more."

According to Richard Bliss of Northern Arts, there's always been a vibrant black arts scene in the North East, but it needed pulling together: "We've not really had that before. The new forums and outreach workers will be making real a lot of what was just talked about in the past."

"In fact what we're doing is to champion the region's diversity," added Mr. Sajjad Shah, president of the Pakistan Cultural Association in the North East, and also co-chair of the South Asian Forum.

"This is a first step. It'll be difficult, but interesting. We've got to consolidate and strengthen the good work now being done. We want to make diversity more mainstream."

Click here to see the Northern Arts website.

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