Dreaming of a White Millennium?

By Glancey, Jonathan | The Independent (London, England), May 8, 1995 | Go to article overview
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Dreaming of a White Millennium?

Glancey, Jonathan, The Independent (London, England)

One of the disappointments facing the Millennium Commission is the apparent lack of interest in bids made for Millennium funding by minority groups in Britain. There is a danger (or is it an inevitability?) that the whole Millennium project is a way of realising white, middle-class dreams, particularly in the arts.

Well-organised and imaginative white, middle-class groups are inevitably, perhaps rightly in the circumstances, chasing as much money as they can for pet projects. Opera houses and museums are high on their list of priorities. But what are the concerns of some of the country's ethnic minorities? What of black Africans and West Indians - Afro-Caribbeans - living in south-east London?

"Many people here still feel excluded or marginalised", says Alister Harry, arts correspondent of the Voice, a newspaper serving the capital's black community and published in Brixton. "If you take the business of the Winston Churchill archives, you can see how blacks, many of them among the poorest people in London, think the Millennium Commission is irrelevant. To them, that incident looks like a group of well-heeled white men, all of whom seem to know one another, looking after Number One. For the black community, it's an indication of the way that nothing really changes in Britain. Why bother with the Millennium, if money is simply going to be channelled from one white lite to another?

"The black community can be a little too suspicious of the white establishment's motives at times. Yes, it can get a little withdrawn and distant. But it has plenty of reasons to be this way."

Ajani, a leading light in Brixton's cultural life for the past 30 years, runs Timbuktu Books, a shop, art gallery and meeting place at the Black Cultural Archives. He nurtures links between life lived by blacks in London today and their history and culture.

"Black people do often feel excluded. The Millennium Commission needs to think of how it can channel money into true community projects. The money is raised from the community and a large part of it from the people of poor, urban areas. What they need to see, to believe in the whole notion of the Millennium, is money going back into the community, to create harmony and understanding between people."

How? Robert Freeman, a furniture maker, speaks for the representatives of the second of the Independent's three alternative Millennium Commissions, a loose collective of black artists, writers and cultural activists living and working in south-east London. "We haven't been able to snap our fingers for you and say, 'here are five or 10 schemes, set in stone, that we believe in.' We think that approach is wrong. Racing towards the year 2000, with a number of heavy-duty, inflexible projects, seems like a bad idea, too single-track, too rigid. I think what we want to suggest for the Millennium is that the time between then and now should be used to draw up a list of ideas that can then be implemented from the year 2000. Instead of huge building projects or the Winston Churchill archives, we would like to see the money used thoughtfully."

"To do that", says Mary-Ann Wilding, an illustrator, "we have to balance what we would like to see as black people with what is best for the community as a whole. We don't want to be marginalised by appearing single-minded ourselves.

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