Paul Anderson


Carnival Conference Feburary 2012

Paul Anderson

Paul Anderson Transcript (Click to read/hide)


We’re going to kick off now by introducing Paul Anderson. Paul is actually the Chief Executive of this wonderful Centre. He became Chief Executive of the Carnival Arts Development Trust in 2003, and has actually steered this from concept through to the building works and now into a delivery. It’s a £7.5 million project, so it’s a huge one for us. Paul has been dedicated to carnival arts, for the participation and inclusion of Luton’s diverse children and young people. He brings a wealth of experience in community arts regeneration, fund raising, and has also successfully produced the UK’s first foundation degree in carnival.

Paul is going to talk to us today about the archiving, but he’s going to do that very much from a personal perspective, weaving his own story in a digital archive way. Paul, thank you.

Paul Anderson:

Thanks very much for that. I wrote this up in the wee hours so hopefully it makes sense when I say it. As Hilary said I’m Paul Anderson, I’m just going to introduce myself and hopefully set the scene for this Conference. It’s our first Conference, exploring bright futures for a carnival archive. I’ll be running some slides in the background, hopefully with some free-styling in between; my MC days are over so I’m not going to be [??? 9:25] like Alexander.

Before I do that I was wondering if Tola could signal me and say if I’m overrunning or anything like that, do just jump up or shout or something, I do have a way of carrying on really.

I’m also happy to take questions on anything that comes up throughout the day, feel free to push the door open, knock, or even just tap my shoulder, get around the table and let’s have some coffee and talk about any things that you hear coming up as well.

I also want to say a massive thanks to Tola and her team really for getting this Conference together, in line with the schedule that was set out in the delivery stages of the project. I think it’s really amazing that we’re showing honour to the actual plan that was set out even before some of the team had actually started, so well done Tola and the team really, thanks very much for that.

Personally I’m just delighted to see so many of you here, I’m really amazed. I was excited even by Alexander saying that isn’t it amazing that everyone’s starting to come together, and the language of carnival is now changing and is actually becoming a unified force, people are starting to talk together outside of the localities, outside of their traditions, and outside of their own comfort zones to sort of begin to forge a future for a national vision for carnival, and we’re really just excited about that, so thanks.

I’m also just honoured really to be around such a broad, wonderful, attractive array of people, professionals, artists and community activists that I’ve seen here in Luton for over 9 / 10 years, so really pleased to be here today saying that.

I’m most of all looking forward to hearing from you all, contributing to this very inspirational day, which we see is going to be filled with stimulating dialogue, debate, nicely blended and chopped up and even fused with carnival arts, carnival food, and some scintillating sounds of our dearest, beloved Alexander De Great. Actually he’s the two time Calypso Monarch and that should really be mentioned because he’s very special in that department there, so well done.

I’ve put these slides up because I really wanted to give you a little bit of a personal journey, a story really, which I think combines this whole notion of embracing the past. I think it’s really hard for me to talk about the archive without actually talking a little bit about myself, so hopefully I do more for the archive than I do for myself. I do it mainly because I like to contextualise the archive that we’ll be discussing here today.

For me an archive has a profound, personal and professional meaning and significance. The idea of celebrating history has always been rooted in my own personal relationship with my own very diverse cultural heritage, inspired through a very old West African proverb, which is called ‘Sankofa’, the ‘One Word’, and the images that you see up are the Akan symbolisms that’s used to describe that word, that Sankofa. Sankofa means, in the Garnian Acanthi language, ‘one’ the need to return them to the past to understand your future. I think that’s a really important strapline for me for an archive, and also my own personal history.

For me giving value to your past, or your history, really helps to unlock things, and helps to open up new dimensions, new thoughts, new feelings, and most of all new opportunities. For me this helps to give us a firmer foundation, one as practitioners and professionals, helping us to build confidence in asserting our right to play carnival and celebrate its wonderful ability to reach out, bring people together and create a spectacular streetscape so we can all be kings and queens for a day.

For me, I was born and raised on the mean streets of Islington and Highbury. People talk about it as a bit of a yuppified zone but in my day it was Holloway Road. I was a child of the 60s and a man of the 80s, but it was very different in those days. I think it’s quite an interesting story, from the mean streets of Islington and Highbury to the mean streets of Notting Hill or Luton Carnival. I’m the middle of three children, parents of Estonian and Nigerian, with a little bit of Ghanaian heritage.

I was what some people would call a bit of a problem child really, constantly in trouble with teachers, peers, parents; wasn’t it sort of natural and obvious that I’d fall foul of the law, being expelled at school at 15, attending a huge range of Government schemes, association with large groups, whether you want to call them gangs or not is up to you, spending a little bit of time in Chelmsford.

Actually when I was in it was the first time I’d heard about Aids, and while I was there, there was a very famous prison priest who actually died while we were all banged up for a little bit of a misdemeanour. You can imagine, you know Aids at that time, the whole point was people even thought that even if you saw someone you’d catch something, so you could imagine what it would be like both inside as well as coming out, so the stigma was just huge; maybe too much there for everyone.

Carnival, particularly Notting Hill, was the high point for me growing up in London. It was the point in the annual calendar where you dressed your best, you made money, you tried to make money, and hopefully you’d meet a friend and enjoy the weekend. That was a real high point for me. Just to see also young people taking the stage during carnival, knowing that would probably be the platform from which they would springboard possibly a career, and if not a career most certainly a huge amount of credibility in their own local community. For me carnival is a wonderful stage for youth expression and that’s why I value it so much.

All the above for me weren’t going to be barriers for what I believed was a bright future. I really hope I kind of give some testimony to inspire young people who are falling down a similar route. All the above has taught me to reject my street associations and convert these experiences into something really positive, and something positive that has led to a wonderful professional life that’s taken 25 years to create. Here I am.

It wasn’t just a single wake-up call that forged such a monumental shift in my attitude, much like many other hard headed youngsters, it required quite a strong combination of three things for me: A spell in the slammer; secondly being sent to the Motherland in Africa, my dad said, ‘you better go, get out of trouble, go there’, so I spent 6 months over there and that was a real massive transformation for me in my late teens; and thirdly the sort of early birth of my first child. Combining these with a healthy smattering of luck, support from family and mentors, I’m really grateful and humbled to be on this programme and stage today.

I really believe that history moulds the future, and contextualising myself with the emphasis on history helps you to understand the value I place in doing the same through a creative medium that’s very close to my heart, and has been very much the sort of bane of my life for the last 9 years.

Bringing it back to the Conference, the big ‘So What?’ you know this is a really wonderful opportunity for you to ask questions and to begin to fashion out a national vision for carnival within the context of archiving. We’re only just beginning this journey and by no means is it set in stone. We’re starting with a very regional project, and we hope that the learnings from the regional project actually extend to this wonderful national ambition to create a huge archive to carnival. Yes it’s important that we have an archive for John Lennon, for Matchbox toy cars, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, underwear, even drug prescriptions and even stationery, but we must ask ourselves really should it take so long for the notion of an archive for carnival to take hold.

Also just some facts here as well, I just remembered that carnival has a 400 year history here. Although the Caribbean generation from Windrush has been wonderful in terms of really invigorating carnival and bringing the appeal, the political, the social, the exuberance of carnival onto the streets really giving us a chance to present wonderful visions of carnival, as you can see all the costumes around here aren’t just expressions of great technique and skill, but also expressions of culture and how they manifest in a 3D abstract design, which I think is wonderful. If you look very closely at the costumes you’ll start to get a picture of what they’re trying to convey, and if you can imagine that in the context of carnival it’s actually archiving history in the making on the streets, telling that story. Ultimately we really want to shift the attitudes, in my opinion, from the big ‘So What?’ really to the carnival archive, ahh [ sighs ] finally an archive for carnival.

I wanted to pop you through things [ slides ], and hopefully you’ve had a chance to read a little bit about what’s on there. Just to give you a flavour of the organisation as well actually and the scale, this is the size of the organisation. I don’t know if anyone seen it above, but as Hilary mentioned we’ve raised £7.4 million to produce this building. We now turnover about £1.7 million per year and we’ve got five departments. Can you imagine a carnival organisation with departments as well, gosh it’s amazing.

Anyway we’ve structured those department, learning, arts. We’ve got Pax who leads on the creative development at the centre, not just here but also in the regions, and hopefully we’re extending that nationally / internationally. We’ve got the learning team with Tola and Patricia here in the wings, a facilities team and a finance team, and they all make up our senior management. There’s a team of 30 staff. I’m really grateful that there’s a wonderful mix of full-time and part-time people, volunteers, a huge array of people that have been supporting this organisation over the years, and without all of those people and those inputs we’d just never be here today, so a real massive thanks to you all.

That’s what the structure looks like, that’s how big we’ve become. That little bit of orange in the bottom there is the archive team all clearly shown to show the difference between the sorts of money that we get as well, because sometimes we do need to show how our finances are both integrated as an operation, but also separated from the point of view of monitoring. We’ve got to do that an awful lot to justify how we use our money.

For me the vision of the archive project came from the need to translate a local idea into a national one, and it started with one big question, ‘why are carnival archives and histories important?’ If you’ve seen all those little points above they’re the sort of investigative sort of research that we use to explore an archive. We know that traditions are dying; we know that many of our beloved forefathers, particularly from the carnival / Windrush generation, are passing away. We had the recent passing of a Selwyn Baptiste, we had Frank Crichlow, we had Lawrence Noel. These are wonderful, great, giant people who really blazed the trail for carnival, and it was their passings that really inspired us to capture their histories, and really to give testimony to the courageous and political work that these people have done for carnival and its communities.

I’m sure I’m running out of time, but I’m really happy to share these slides with you so if anyone wants them just give us a shout.

Just to give you a flavour of some of the steps that we use to get to a national archive, we firstly formed a local steering group, we got schools and communities to take part in collecting, discussing, recording, we made a film, we did exhibitions, we digitised thousands of images, we wrote and annotated various oral histories, and then we took it on the road and just got people excited about doing that. It’s wonderful to see so many of you from all the different echelons of the region coming back here and taking the archive just that one step further.

Heritage Lottery Funds also do present a slight problem, in the sense that they give us funding in chunks and you do need to close that funding programme, and often that means a break, a lull, a gap, and often we’re not able to carry on with our smooth work, evolving it from local region to national. Often we have to shed teams and I think that’s a massive travesty for us, because we lose all that built-up knowledge and information, which you only get one hit at learning and if that has to dissipate it’s a really big problem for us, so I’d really like to see some changes around how HLF can actually ensure that the works progress and develop, and that we can keep teams with us, growing and moving forward. That’s really what we need to do with this archive. I think we can’t allow for any gaps to emerge, so I’m going to be working with Tola and the rest of the team to ensure we’re able to take that forward. That’s really what I’d love you to help us do.

Tola’s going to be talking to you very much about the overall purpose, setting out some aims for you, and feel free to ask for more. Again benefits of the project, which I’m sure you probably know already so I’m preaching to the converted here I’m sure, so on that note I’d like to say thank you very much for coming. Please really do enjoy the day, ask as many questions, engage, and hopefully we can see a real bright future through your eyes, and through a national participatory archive. Thank you very much.

Recording ends 26:15 minutes

Partners and sponsors