Augustus Casely-Hayford, or just Gus to most people who know the urbane and influential leading light behind Africa 05, talks to Fly about turning round public perceptions of African arts.
What is your involvement with African culture?
For the last twenty years, I have tried my very best to get the mainstream arts sector in Britain to get more involved with African arts and artists: I have written, made television and radio programmes, curated, taught, politically advocated and screamed.
The stars have aligned, this could be such a major chance for Africa — I hope I can look back on this year and think we can now really begin to make sustainable change and to relish the future for Africa
How did the idea for Africa 05 come about?
Five years ago I remember thinking that half a decade on from Africa 95, nothing had really changed. I wanted to create a moment that really made a difference, not just for a year, but sustainably. So from the beginning, we have worked with the Arts Council to make sure that the programme is backed by programmes that will deliver for artists and audiences beyond 2005.
What were the major hurdles to overcome in getting it off the ground?
The Africa 05 partnership is now at more than 100 — getting the project to that stage has been incredibly hard. Convincing the mainstream that it was the right thing to do was not as tough as one might imagine, times have changed and the arts sector has really begun to embrace diversity — but raising the funding to support the necessary marketing, PR, audience development and evaluation has been a challenge — and I have to thank the Arts Council for coming through for us.
What are you most looking forward to in the events this year?
Everything; there is just so much that we have had to divide the season into four: visual arts in spring, film early summer, craft and design late summer and literature late summer. Have a look at www.bbc.co.uk/africa05 and you will see what I mean. It is impossible to pick a favourite.
How does Africa 05 tie in with other initiatives to improve life for Africans in general?
Since the end of the cold war, Africa has really been off the international political agenda and so it is fantastic that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have chosen to highlight the continent’s problems and to use the EU and G8 presidencies to make real change. If the Arts can help to carry that important political message then I am very happy with that — but we have been planning Africa 05 for three and a half years, long before it was put on the agenda for this year’s political discussions.
It’s New Year’s Day, 2006. What do you hope you’ll be thinking about?
I am hoping I will be able to look back and feel a sense of pride and pleasure over what has happened this year and to pray that we do not have to revisit the same political and arts agenda in another ten years. The stars have aligned, this could be such a major chance for Africa — I hope I can look back on this year and think we can now really begin to make sustainable change and to relish the future for Africa.