“Endurance is essential” – Flat 70’s fight to support Black visual artists
Siblings Anthony and Senam Badu founded the non-profit after they lost their home to the regeneration of the Aylesbury Estate, wanting to support and save space for its community.
- Jenny Brewer
- 27 April 2021
A New Angle is an editorial series that aims to give a platform to creative industry changemakers who make it their mission to disrupt the status quo. Each week we’ll chat to a person or team doing important work in the sector, making it a fairer place, championing vital causes, supporting underrepresented groups and tackling pertinent issues facing creatives everywhere.
This week we hear from siblings Senam and Anthony Badu, who in February 2020 saw their Aylesbury Estate home demolished and, that very same month, set up non-profit arts organisation Flat 70. They saved the door number from the flat and attached it to the front of their new arts space, symbolic of a phoenix rising from the ashes, and a constant reminder of their mission to support and save their community from being repeatedly “devalued, erased or co-opted”.
It’s Nice That: What about the creative industry are you hoping to change, and why does it need changing?
Senam Badu: We are a non-profit, Black-led family of artists, cultural workers and members of the local community. We lost our home to the regeneration of the Aylesbury Estate and in the same month, reclaimed a space in the Elephant Park regeneration which we hold to facilitate artistic, therapeutic and redistributive exchange between the existing and emerging community.
Currently, it's too easy for our community's contribution to be devalued, erased or co-opted by institutions within the industry that are motivated by profit, with no tangible level of care for the creatives who are forced to rely on them for their bread and butter. This means cultural workers and residents within our community are often underpaid, undervalued and subjected to performative engagements that seek to benefit off their invaluable contributions, without any real change to a system that doesn’t cater to the community’s desires.
INT: What have you built, and how does it tackle these industry issues?
SB: Our primary goal is to help build a local arts ecosystem that works for artists, cultural workers and local residents of colour. We aim to do that by holding space in Elephant & Castle and Southwark more broadly so that the contribution of local communities of colour is recognised and valued. In our function-fluid spaces, we deliver five key activities: artist development, artist care, financial empowerment, cultural exchange and cultural celebration. This means we use our space and resources to provide opportunities for our family to develop. We operate in ways that centre wellbeing for a sustainable creative practice. We are building a network that is no longer dependent on institutions and individuals motivated by profit or other extractive processes. We focus on distributing and creating knowledge that helps the family to support each other and finally, we actively celebrate the culture of our family at every opportunity for collective inspiration. Working with these values is our way of contributing to a better future.
INT: What other organisations are out there like yours, and what sets yours apart?
Tony Badu: There are so many amazing organisations using the arts to combat structural inequalities and what sets us apart is how willing they’ve all been to help us develop. 198 Contemporary Arts & Learning, Iniva, and The Africa Centre & Black Cultural Archives all prove that endurance is essential. Slow solid work is what shifts the dial and these organisations play a crucial intergenerational role. 198 have been especially inspiring and supportive. Their sense of place and history is interwoven in all they do and you won’t find many independent UK arts organisations who own the freehold on their physical space, especially in an area as hotly contested as Brixton – so we have a lot to learn from Lucy and her team!
We also couldn’t have started without the inspiration of our peers and contemporaries like Limbo Accra, the experimental Ghanaian spatial design studio who taught me how to world-build; and Eating at the Same Table, run by the inimitable Rochelle White and Culture Art Society, who thanks to Awa’s radical archival practice have been educating the sector on Africa’s radical art traditions for nearly a decade. We also really admire innovators at the intersection of arts, education, the built environment and local governance like Kin Structures, Race Space Architecture and Freedom & Balance.
INT: What are the major challenges you’re facing?
TB: The constant threat of returning to the same old same old. The recent government commission on institutional racism shows how slippery old structures can be to reassert certain logics, ideology or perceptions. Positioning inequality as an individual's shortcomings or alluding to certain racialised cultures failure to “move on” or “pull themselves up by the bootstraps” is tired, dangerous and it’s racist. It’s a refusal to use your brain and really examine the power structures we are all subject to, because the same old same old maybe benefits you, for now... With dumb logic like that whirling around the media, it’s really easy for gatekeepers in the creative sector to shift responsibility onto minorities to tackle the structural inequality they face. So kindly and politely resist ignorance when it meets you.
INT: What can the creative industry do to support your mission?
Tony and Senam: After last year's events, we need creative sector allies to keep acting on the spirit of openness, to keep publicly reflecting on their own complicity and to deliver the direct actions that improve on quality of life for artists, cultural workers and local communities of colour. Supporting low paid workers of colour who were fighting for furlough or hazard pay or rent holidays during the pandemic shouldn’t stop when the Euros are on – so cancel your office summer party.
Redistributing resources away from grotesquely inflated director level salaries is a common sense move. The more people you take in who don’t look, think and speak like your directors, the more likely you are to cultivate a creative ecosystem that’s diverse and more sustainable. Just remember to pay us fairly and work with, not against our concerns.