Obituary: Naseem Khan
Journalist, activist, educator, one of Time Out magazine’s first theatre reviewers, policy adviser for several local authorities and head of diversity at Arts Council England from 1996 until 2003: Naseem Khan, who has died at the age of 77, was instrumental in raising debate about cultural diversity and initiating substantial change.
Part-Indian, part-German – her father was an Indian doctor, her mother a German student – Khan’s rich, mixed heritage was a major influence on the wide-ranging interests she followed in her life.
At Time Out, Khan and founding-editor John Ashford’s shared tastes and vision sowed the seeds for the transformation of Britain’s theatre scene through their wide coverage of London’s emerging fringe.
Meeting a need mainstream newspapers had yet to address, Khan and Ashford (joined later by Ann McFerran and Dusty Hughes) were best placed to encourage the work of a new generation of performance artists. It’s fair to say that without their endorsement, pioneering companies would never have survived.
Highlighting the need to recognise the work of new black, Asian and other voices emerging from Britain’s minority ethnic communities, her seminal 1976 report, The Arts Britain Ignores (commissioned by the Community Relations Commission, Arts Council of Great Britain and Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation), proved hugely influential.
In calling for support for artistic work from black and Asian communities, she argued that Britain was a much richer place culturally thanks to the contribution of such artists. Its findings prompted the formation of the Minority Arts Advisory Service, for which Khan was its first director.
As well as a successful journalism career (she wrote for the Guardian and the Independent and had a weekly column in the New Statesman), Khan went on to become a leading consultant on diversity issues for local authorities. She also started her own agency, Asian Leisure and Arts Planners. For many years, she was a senior associate with consultants Comedia and team leader for sections of its influential studies on The Future of Public Libraries in the UK (1993), Parks and Urban Open Space (1995) and The Social Impact of Participation in the Arts (1997).
In 2000, she co-edited (with Ferdinand Dennis) Voices of the Crossing: The Impact of Britain on Writers from Asia, the Caribbean and Africa.
For the past 16 years, she lived in London’s East End, where her work as chair of the Friends of Arnold Circus – responsible for the rescue and renovation of the neglected park at the heart of the Boundary Estate – was a culmination of her life’s work, bringing diverse backgrounds together, enabling and helping communities to flourish and be creative.
Modest and self-effacing, Khan will be remembered by those who knew and worked with her for her open-mindedness, her generosity, kindness, warmth and professionalism.
In 1993, she was one of five Women of the Decade in the Arts and was awarded an OBE in 1999.
Naseem Khan was born on August 11, 1939, and died on June 8.