Backwards and forward with the times

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When I was an artist in residence in one of London’s top museums, I struggled to accept the organisation’s ethos. I was used to working with subsidised theatre companies that had staff who understood the need to keep up with the times regarding technological changes and trends. If I needed to get anything ordered that was seen to be useful for a project, I wouldn’t have to argue with anyone about it. Working in a museum was a very different experience.

After a while, it dawned on me that museums function primarily based on the skills and talents of curators. Curators are usually interested in the past and historical artefacts. It would require a specially designated presence in such an organisation to keep an eye on trends as they emerge. This realisation was frustrating for me at the time, since I was preoccupied with creating new work. Looking back, I can see that there is great value to be derived from activities and interests of curators, as much as there is a need for trend spotters and futurologists.

One of the enduring narratives of the music recording business of the twentieth century is the notion that it was built on the music of Black Americans, such as the Blues, Gospel, Jazz, Soul, R’n’B, etc. There is a lot of truth in this notion, but sometimes I wonder about the complaints of “cultural appropriation” that is aimed at musicians of other races and heritages who might have been inspired by those American musical genres.

In the 1960s, when the British rock musicians drew inspiration from the Blues to create new music of their own, how many Black Americans were interested in the creative output of Muddy Waters, BB King, Howling Wolf, John Lee Hooker and others? They were regarded as old fashioned by people of their own heritages, but found new audiences amongst the fans of Cream, Led Zeppelin and bands of this sort.

Similar things happen today with African music genres. Obviously, times move on and trends change, but perhaps people of African descent should take a more consistent interest in nurturing the enduring presence of the traditions left to us by our forbears. Do we need to encourage more Black people to become curators of our heritages?