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The Drum will beat again vows community

CLOSED: The Drum

THE DOORS of The Drum, Birmingham’s premier black-led arts centre, may have closed for now in a whisper-quiet way but the community is determined that the hub will beat loud and proud again for future generations.

This was the message following a wake held at the Aston-based centre, organised by its departing CEO Charles Small, who stressed that black-led arts could not be allowed to perish.

In a farewell message he said: “I sincerely hope that those people close to me and others I have yet to come into contact with will not permit black-led arts to die because you have a duty of care to shape the future and at the same time contribute to the diversity agenda.

“Please do not permit others to tell black-led stories and history because it will not be your story.”

The Drum, known as Newtown Cultural Project (NCP) was voluntarily liquidated at the end of March, with the building finally closing on 30th June. Twenty five full and part staff have lost their jobs.

HONOUR

Dr Robert Berkeley, former director of the Runnymede Trust, the race quality think-tank, who was keynote speaker at The Drum’s wake, quoted Mandela, saying “the greatest glory is rising every time we fail. I see failure as a badge of honour.”


DEPARTING: Charles Small

He said ethnic-run arts were the arts often ignored by Britain due to “a struggling sub-culture, neglect, lack of premises, lack of acceptance and lack of exposure”.

While Daniella Genus, director of the community interest company Aspire4U, spoke movingly of her personal experience of The Drum as a 19-year-old who came to Birmingham not knowing anyone.

“I had my first job here as an events steward. Without The Drum I would not know half the people I know in Birmingham,” she said.

“Now The Drum is closing, what happens to the next 19-year-old girl who arrives here and doesn’t know anyone? As a community we need to mobilise ourselves – there needs to be action.”

Bishop Dr Derek Webley, a former chair of The Drum, praised former CEO Dr Paul Udenze, saying he was “a fantastic advocate and someone who lived for the place”.

Dr Webley said everyone was determined for The Drum to “evolve into another creation”. He said: “We are certainly not burying you here tonight.”

Mukhtar Dar, The Drum’s former director of arts and marketing for 17 years until he left last September, said it was only right that its legacy should live on and flourish.

Rev Canon Eve Pitts, who is acting as a community spokesperson for a group hoping to resurrect The Drum, said: “There are many discussions going on behind the scenes within the community and decisions will be made regarding the next step for a credible alternative.


DISCUSSIONS: Rev Canon Eve Pitts

“It has to be recognised that every community should have a place where they can go and tell their stories. As a group, we are often a community under siege.

“Sometimes I think we have to stop being victims of other people’s decisions and start to make decisions for ourselves.”

Sharon Palmer, NCP’s outgoing chair, confirmed in a letter to board members on 20th June that The Drum Commercial Ltd had been placed in the hands of liquidators. A liquidation meeting will be held in Birmingham tomorrow (July 15).

She said: “Much has been said and, no doubt, will continue to be said about this period – however, what must not be missed out is the strength of the legacy that has been built by many, many dedicated board members, staff, artists, patrons and funders.”

A spokesperson for Birmingham City Council confirmed that the building and all contents had been handed back. They said the council would now be looking to market the building, ideally on a lease basis.”

DIFFICULT

Peter Knott, area director for Arts Council England (ACE) told The Voice: “We understand that the closure of The Drum is a difficult time for everyone involved with the organisation, its employees, the artists it has supported and the people in the local community.

“The Arts Council remains committed and has ring-fenced funding to support arts and culture for local people in Birmingham and the wider West Midlands.

“We are currently working with key partners, including Birmingham City Council and other stakeholders to help develop innovative and fundable ideas that involve and include these diverse communities.

“Some ideas are already emerging that have exciting potential for the city.”

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