Two Northern Ireland Arts projects have secured funding through British Council’s new Digital Collaboration Fund - which aims to support virtual international partnerships during Covid-19.
Music collective Bounce Culture, working with Arts venue Black Box Belfast, and Outburst Arts, Northern Ireland’s annual Queer Arts Festival, have been awarded grants of up to £50,000 through this new pilot fund.
They were named today (Thursday, January 14) alongside 25 other successful projects from across the UK, having been invited to apply in partnership for small grants of between £10,000 to £20,000 or larger grants of £40,000 to £50,000 with partners in selected Official Development Assistance (ODA) recipient countries.
The fund aims to keep international organisations connected during Covid-19 – and is in response to global travel restrictions and the need for more sustainable approaches to future ways of working.
Bounce Culture received a research grant of £20,000 to work alongside Black Box Belfast to develop a digital project with Curator & Researcher Jepkorir Rose Kiptum, based in Nairobi, Kenya. Entitled SoLab, the project will involve designing and building a digital platform to create and host online spaces for artists living in Africa and from the African Diaspora (AAD) to imagine, discuss, develop, and audition ideas through projects.
The Belfast-based organisations have partnered together for several years, particularly on NEO NEO, a project which commissions new live work from experimental and visual artists in Northern Ireland.
Kwa Daniels, Founder of Bounce Culture, said: “With the success of NEO NEO, we wanted to expand our work internationally, and in March 2020, got the chance through a research opportunity to Ghana and Kenya with the British Council .This was a chance to find out more about their arts and culture scene and connect with other Arts organisations. Unfortunately, due to Covid-19 this was cancelled, but we still wanted to find a way to build these connections virtually, so applied for this collaboration grant.”
Kwa hopes this new digital platform will help champion African culture and talent and shine a light on black culture here in Northern Ireland.
He said: “With lockdown happening worldwide and events such as the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Movement, you had nowhere else to look – and it showed there was a lack of value for black lives. We therefore wanted to do something that championed black culture and talent, while connecting the African diaspora - helping Northern Ireland look outwards and see that we can connect on an international level.”
Meanwhile Outburst, who received the largest possible grant of £50000 for research and development, will work alongside LGBTQ+ Arts organisations in Brazil (RISCO Festival) and Argentina (CasaBrandon, a LGBTQ+ Arts venue) on a digital project around ‘Translating Queerness’. This will build on their previous work with the British Council, exploring what ‘LGBTQI+’ and ‘queer’ means to artists and audiences around the world. Over the last five years, this has involved residencies, tours, artist exchanges, collaborations and programme networking across the continents of the Americas – and, more recently, in the Middle East and North Africa. This new project will be part art, part toolkit and part excavation project.
Speaking about the partnership, Artistic Director of Outburst, Ruth McCarthy said: “This project with our partners in Brazil and Argentina has been two years in the making. Having already done a lot of work in the Americas we had reached a critical point where the next step was more collaborative work – and digging a little deeper. With this funding, we now can be more ambitious about what we want to do and really champion the international development of queer art.”
Throughout the project, Ruth hopes to work with local Northern Ireland artists as well as those in the Americas.
She said: “Digital projects and being connected to each other is actually vital right now - Covid-19 has disproportionately impacted queer artists across the world, with people feeling more isolated than ever, with the livelihoods of many queer artists working in the gig economy decimated. Through this project we want to be able to ensure organisations and support networks are there when this is over, and work with artists across Northern Ireland to eventually bring these conversations to our festivals.”
The Digital Collaboration Fund continues the British Council’s work, building connection, understanding and trust between people in the UK and overseas through arts, education and English language teaching. The pilot has been made possible using existing ODA funding awarded by the UK Government Department for Digital, Culture Media and Sport. This funding was previously unable to be allocated to programmes planned for earlier in 2020 due to restrictions arising from Covid-19. By adapting this funding to allow virtual international collaboration to continue, the fund will support the global arts sector at a time of significant challenge.
Commenting on the awards, Jonathan Stewart, Director, British Council Northern Ireland said: “International connections are the cornerstone of our work at the British Council, and we are delighted to see Northern Ireland recipients in this new Digital Collaboration Fund. These exciting new projects will help develop and sustain vital international links for Northern Ireland and they show the creativity and resilience of the arts sector here. Given the impact of Covid-19 on the global arts sector and an increasing urgency to develop sustainable ways of collaborating, developing innovative new ideas to enable artists and organisations to continue to connect internationally is now more important than ever.”