“Racism and sexism are prevalent in all aspects of society, in the extreme harm sense and in the everyday biases that impact business, education, health provision, social care and the actions of those who make funding decisions”
Karina is a curator, producer, journalist, and consultant who specialises in representation, experience and engagement in the arts, culture, and education.She is the Founder of Muntu Arts, Executive Director at Urdang Academy, Head of Strategy & Partnerships for the Black British Theatre Awards, and a broadcaster on Colourful Radio at the Africa Centre.Karina has developed partnerships to produce content, arts education initiatives and cultural programmes with partners such as: Sky Arts, Musée de l’histoire de l’immigration, Palais de la Porte Dorée, Trojan Records/BMG, University of Sussex, Leverhulme Trust, and the British Museum.
Tell us a bit about your background as a broadcaster ?
I started my career in communications and freelance music and entertainment journalism. Music has always been a special part of my life, I grew up playing the piano, flute, and percussion. I was obsessed with music and talk radio from childhood. So, I started doing music interviews and reporting for a news agency interviewing artists like Bootsy Collins, The Game, Beenie Man and Lupe Fiasco for platforms such as MSN and Yahoo. I was also a columnist for music industry B2B publications for brands including Virgin. This was back in 2002, the early internet days.
Fast forward to 2013 I had been DJing Soulful House for a few years and had a residency at the Exhibition Rooms. I got a message from Colourful Radio boss Kofi Kusitor. He said he knew I was a journalist and had heard about my music events and offered me a radio show. I started out with the House Evangelist Show which became popular amongst underground soulful music DJs, artists, producers, and label bosses. I interviewed iconic and breakthrough artists such Timmy Regisford, Peven Everett and Tortured Soul.
As my career evolved into curation, my radio shows evolved to include more arts and culture interviews as well as music. First the Arts & Culture Show in 2017 and this year the Late Show. I’ve been privileged to interview leading cultural leaders such as Windrush campaigner Patrick Vernon, pan-Africanist scholar Dr Leonard Jeffries and filmmaker Amma Asante.
How does working as a curator fit into journalism and what would does that entail?
I’m a journalist at heart and over the years my arts and culture interviews have been laser focused on the identity, creative vision and impact of leaders and innovators who have positively impacted society. I have been a researcher from my childhood days spending hours learning about the world in my encyclopaedias and watching documentaries. It was a natural evolution for me to document and contextualise transformative cultural movements.
I visited an exhibition that explored intersectional themes in Black culture that I had thought about over the years. I had a strong desire to present my perspective, particularly in the predominantly Eurocentric museum world where the history and influence of the African diaspora is often omitted or mis-represented through a colonial lens.
In 2017 I approached the British Museum with a colleague with an idea to curate the Mandela 100 centenary programme. I wanted to explore Mandela’s ideals in a contemporary context and highlight impactful work by young people of the African diaspora in the arts, architecture, sustainability, and education. That was my first curatorial project. Around the same time, I was approached by Professor Martin Evans who was a curator on the ‘Paris-Londres Music Migrations (1962-1989)’ exhibition. He invited me to curate the cultural programming that explored the impact of African and Caribbean migration on the music, culture and social justice movements in London and Paris from the 1960s onwards, as he knew about my music connections, journalism and communications work in race, equity and diversity.
It was a natural transition. I curate work on exhibitions and programmes highlighting creative trailblazers and explore the creative impetus for transformative cultural movements. The cultural programmes often highlight influential figures who aren’t necessarily well known, but have been integral to cultural shifts, many of whom are still doing the work – it’s an honour to get to work with them. I often produce live music events, produce filmed interviews, and provide a platform for young artists to explore exhibition themes through commissions that are integral to the exhibition programme.
Let’s talk about Muntu arts: what is the USP?
Muntu Arts is a social enterprise established to improve representation and social impact in the arts, culture, education and the media through exhibitions, cultural programmes, workshops, and consultancy. As director, my expertise is in multi-dimensional strategies – creative, cultural, social, engagement and partnerships.
Aside from exhibition work, the workshops are an important strand of the business. They are designed to give young people the opportunity to explore their identity, realise their vision through producing their own creative work and develop confidence in how they show up in the world. The consultancy aspect also covers widening participation for University arts, humanities and media departments, and cultural sensibility training for professionals.
Why did you decide on a social enterprise structure for Muntu Arts?
Positive social impact is at the root of all of my work, whether its curation, journalism, or the type of music I play. A social enterprise concept can take on different business structures, Muntu Arts is a CIC (Community Interest Company). It enables me to be laser focused on how each Muntu Arts project will have a positive impact, all the projects I do have a strategic intention for helping society forward, whether it’s empowering young people through Arts & Identity workshops or working on an exhibition about Black cultural history that will be catalogued by museums, referenced by historians and become part of educational curriculums.
Who are your customers?
My customers are museums, universities, and community arts organisations, such as, AkomaAsa Performing Arts academy who we worked with over the summer.
Tell us how you are involved in the BBTA awards this year?
I got involved with the BBTAs to help them to develop a strong message and vision for the awards, starting with input into their Black Lives Matter open letter to the UK theatre industry. I then developed a concept to televise the awards and pitched it to Sky Arts following an introduction to the broadcaster by Simone Pennant at the TV Collective. I was heavily involved in the negotiation of the television programme and partnerships with the different teams involved to produce the programme. I also negotiated the headline sponsorship deal with Sky Arts and ongoing brand engagement for the BBTA youth outreach programme.
Your mantra supports decolonising representation; how does the BBTA fit into that narrative?
The Black British Theatre Awards gives visibility and recognition to the Black artists and creatives who are, and have always been, the source of performance, music, dance, creativity, and culture. It’s an important time in our theatre history, because the success of productions such as Ellam’s Barbershop Chronicles, The Half God of Rainfall and Three Sisters, has stimulated interest and opportunities in Black narratives articulated by Black writers, directors, performers and other creatives integral to theatre-making. There’s still a long way to go. It’s time to occupy more space at all levels.
What have been some of the challenges of running your own business?
Narrowing the focus; stripping back to a few ideas that will make a strong impact. Not taking on too much and burning the candle at both ends – I’m still trying to find a balance. Breaking down the big vision into the steps that lead you there.
Despite being the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs Black women are the least funded: what would you say to funders?
Racism and sexism are prevalent in all aspects of society, in the extreme harm sense and in the everyday biases that impact business, education, health provision, social care and the actions of those who make funding decisions. People have been speaking up about race more this year; they are starting conversations that were previously avoided and are demanding change.My message would be to Black women. Walk in your truth, do not make space for anti-Black and anti-Black women sentiments in your life. Black women need to be authentic, design businesses based on their unique talents, not an image they have been presented with about what a successful Black woman is supposed to look like. We need to be entrepreneurial in our approach, develop professional relationships and be brave when asking for what we want.
How has lockdown affected you professionally: what has changed?
Early on in the year I had no idea what I would do because I had planned live events and workshops for the year. The prevalence of Black Lives Matter conversations led to a lot of requests. I developed as a mentor, as young Black artists were asking advice on integrating anti-racism into their creative work. Then I started being approached by more universities and creative organisations looking for help to develop strategic solutions to improve representation, equity, and inclusion, particularly for the African diaspora.
BBTA airs on Sky Arts later this month. What can we expect from the show?
A new kind of award show. An uplifting celebration of Black artistic excellence. Hosted by Eddie Nestor, with a live band. Executively produced by Kwame Kwei-Armah, it will take place at the Young Vic. (October 2020)
Do you think that now everyone is talking about racism there is going to be change: what changes would you like to see?
I think the main change will be a generation that is not afraid to have conversations about race. They aren’t afraid to challenge racism and other forms of oppression. There have been other moments like this throughout history, now we have the internet, so the people who are most effective at engaging people en masse online will probably have the biggest influence. Who they are and what their message is will greatly influence the way things go.
I do a lot of anti-discriminatory training in the mainstream, but I also focus on the attention and support needed for people within the Black community. We have all grown up in White supremacy, Black and White people. The Black community has a long way to go in terms of working on the unconscious internalised racism that plays out in how we see ourselves and treat each other. We do not fully understand how our culture is leveraged by other cultures – often to our detriment. As natural creators, we haven’t even begun to realise the full extent of our power and potential.