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Saad Eddine Said: It’s time to rewrite the future for those who feel excluded from theatre buildings

Saad Eddine Said Saad Eddine Said
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Theatres may not want to hear this, but many communities feel excluded. So much so that some won’t even enter a theatre building. We are failing in terms of diversity and in how we connect with under-represented communities, despite our best intentions.

Recently, I met with some members of an under-represented community, but they refused to meet me inside a public building. They still didn’t feel that public buildings in general belonged to them. They feel a lack of trust.

So how can organisations challenge themselves, share ownership and be accountable towards those communities? Because this is what theatre must do to metamorphose from publicly-owned buildings to community-owned buildings that represent and embrace diversity.

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I’ve always been interested in the idea of ‘City Takeovers’. How we can look at different elements of our cities and find new ways to make connections, create change and have a social impact. It’s something I’ve done in Africa, Asia and Europe.

For the past 18 months, I’ve been embedded at Battersea Arts Centre as part of Up Next – an Arts Council England takeover initiative designed to catapult diverse artists into leadership roles in the UK’s theatre industry.

This has allowed me to bring the City Takeover project to London. To explore why we, as a sector, often fail to engage with under-represented and diverse people. There is a lot to do.

I trialled different approaches at Battersea Arts Centre. One of the schemes I initiated allowed our staff to use their development days, which are reserved for professional improvement, to volunteer with local communities. I also used my vision around City Takeovers to trial a new collaboration between six different major London arts organisations.

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What I witnessed fuelled the Homegrown Festival, as well as responding to the polarisation that Brexit has highlighted in our society. I’m delighted that our embracing of the community has spread to support an amateur boxing competition in the neighbouring Roehampton housing estate – an event curated by the local community to raise awareness about local issues that are affecting them.

The dramatic changes that society is undergoing is a huge opportunity for us, as an industry, to embrace those challenges and turn them into an opportunity to reconnect with under-represented communities, share power and ownership and change the relationship between public buildings and their communities.

The future is yet to be established and re-imagined and public buildings can play a hugely important role in making sure all voices are part of this new chapter.

Saad-Eddine Said is as an Artistic Director as part of Up Next at the Battersea Arts Centre in London

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