Aksana: Let’s turn the clocks back. We’ve been working on this since February – in another lockdown! It seems like ages ago. How was it working during COVID times?
Diandra: I think one of the greatest opportunities that came with working during the pandemic was that we were able to focus on the project without the distractions and rat race of everyday life getting in the way. It meant that we were able to do some deeper thinking into the approach we wanted to take and have it be meaningful rather than be bound by rushed deadlines. How was it for you, Aksana?
Aksana: Building on what you’ve said, it felt weird for me at times. We started the job in February and it meant that we couldn’t go out and about as you would do on a big project. It’s really important to be able to do that when you’re doing community engagement. Not everyone is online, and just because there’s no photos of something happening on a website, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. But you’ve got to do the best you can with what you’ve got.
Diandra: Do you feel like you’ve got new producers top tips or takeaways now?
Aksana: Yes! It’s important to de-stress. As a producer, you’re the antenna and you hold a lot of conversations, and different priorities from different people over the course of a project. It’s a lot of noise to decipher, translate, and feedback to others, and it can be really challenging. So, just take time out for you especially because there’s one of you!
Diandra: I agree. And it’s also vital to hold onto your “why”. Knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing and why it’s important to you and the people you’re working with will help give you that grounding when the stress levels rise up.
Aksana: Oh 100%! One of my “whys” was the vision of people having a good time at the Block Party.
Diandra: Speaking of, what are your 3 words to describe the Block Party?
Aksana: Soulful, happy, and…Diandra – help!
Diandra: Truly a vibe.
Aksana: YES. It felt like it was a day where there was a lot of…restoring, like we were just restoring ourselves after a whole year and a bit of being in a pandemic. What were your favourite bits on the day?
Diandra: It was just a beautiful vibe. It was great to see people interested in everything. They just embraced the Block Party fully, wanting to delve deeper into the conversations we were having. A particular highlight for me was the young girls who were so inspired by the workshops and the event. They wrote their own poem about social and racial injustice and confidently performed it on stage. It was a real heart-warming moment. What about you?
Aksana: Those girls were amazing. Mine was that everyone was talking. Whether or not it was in a workshop, around the picnic tables, on the retro bus, or in the queue for food – there was something about that day which brought the best out of people. Everyone was friendly! And I loved that we all managed to not just bring our artists together in one space, but we brought out the block too. What did you learn about North Birmingham throughout the process?
Diandra: Having grown up in North Birmingham, you get the sense that people feel overlooked as it’s assumed there isn’t a lot happening here. But absolutely isn’t the case! Through this process, it’s been great to have conversations with the trailblazers who are on the ground doing brilliant work with local communities. I’m now able to shout about what they’re doing and spread the word that North Birmingham has a lot of hidden gems which deserve all the flowers and praise. As someone who was connecting with Birmingham for the first time Aksana, how did you find that experience?
Aksana: Pre-COVID, I was working in and out of Birmingham. I relate differently to the city now. I couldn’t help but think how the experiences of a newly adopted Brummie in 2021 is totally different to how it was for new Brummies in 1963. There’s even more levels to it once you consider all the other intersections of your identity, and however many generations your family have invested in the area too. What I’ve learnt is that people in North Birmingham, if they didn’t feel like there was a community for them, they made it happen. They literally embodied the phrase “be the change you want to see.”
Diandra: I can’t wait to find out more about those people.
Aksana: Neither can I. I’m so excited because we’ve only scratched the surface with Nilupa, Jane, and Black Heritage Walks Network and Overhear. What should people expect next?
Diandra: Each project will be growing and developing over the next year, so stay tuned and follow the socials. If you really want to find out more about our particular artists, please let us know by filling out this form here.
Bus Boycott Block Party was produced by China Plate in association with Birmingham Hippodrome, supported by Garfield Weston Foundation, National Express West Midlands, Birmingham Museums Trust, Soho BID, Transport for West Midlands, Arts Council England and Birmingham City Council.
Images © Ahsen Sayeed , Sarah Isaacs