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End of an era … The Drum is now closed

Yesterday, 30 June 2016, marked the closure of The Drum Arts Centre. The Special Resolution to wind-up Newtown Cultural Project Ltd, better known as The Drum, was taken by its Chair, Sharon Palmer and the Board of Trustees in March of this year. Their decision was made following a review of the organisation commissioned by the Arts Council. The building will now revert back to the landlords, Birmingham City Council.

Newtown Cultural Project was incorporated as a company. limited by guarantee, with charitable status in Autumn 1994. It spent four years developing its vision, securing funding and engaging with audiences before moving into the building based in Potters Lane, Newtown, Birmingham which was the site of the former Aston Hippodrome. After being closed for decades, Aston Hippodrome was reincarnated in 1998 as The Drum Arts Centre, reigniting its legacy as a venue where arts, diversity and cultural activity could be enjoyed by all.

The Drum came about following a strongly articulated desire in the 1980s by the region’s Black artists who presented a strong case for the need for a major building based resource. This desire contributed to West Midlands Arts and Birmingham City Council’s 1992 Black Arts Strategy. The Drum opened its doors in Spring 1998 and occupied these premises for nearly 19 years.

Throughout its 22-year history, The Drum provided a much-needed resource for Britain’s African, Asian and Caribbean artists and communities. The multi-purpose arts centre welcomed artists, audiences and participants – African, Asian, Caribbean and European from across Birmingham, the UK and the rest of the world. It presented a diverse mix of music, theatre, dance, comedy, spoken word, literature and film supported by workshops, masterclasses and a programme dedicated to developing the confidence, artistic and cultural talent of young people from the surrounding area. The Drum was also synonymous with some of Birmingham’s major celebrations and festivals including Black History Month, Aston Heritage Day and Simmer Down.

The Drum is proud of its history. It’s proud of its achievements – the dedication of all its audiences, participants, artists, promoters, advocates and staff who contributed their time, energies and talent to support the organisation’s vision to be the UK’s leading Black Arts Centre. Thank you to each and every one of you.

In order that we might find some way to try and explain and understand the background and decisions leading up to the winding up of Newtown Cultural Project and the subsequent closure of The Drum Arts Centre; in order that 22 years is not consigned purely to archives and history books; in order that The Drum doesn’t become yet another unfulfilled promise and the latest demise of a Black-led, dedicated Black arts venue, Birmingham City Council facilitated the coordination of a Steering Group. This group have been meeting for several weeks and is now taking discussions forward under the banner of Birmingham Black Arts Development Agency (BBDA). Please visit the website https://bbada.wordpress.com for more details and to join the debate.

The Council is also welcoming proposals to run The Drum building. All interested parties are being invited to submit an Expression of Interest. For more information, go online and visit property.birmingham.gov.uk. Alternatively, email bpslettings@birmingham.gov.uk or call 0121 303 3935. The deadline for applications is 1 August 2016 at 2.30pm.

Closure of The Drum is a loss to everyone – not only to those who enjoyed its support and facilities. It is the loss of the symbol of Britain’s promise to promote cultural diversity in the arts and particularly to Britain’s national Black Arts Strategy. A light has gone out, but the spirit and heart remains!