Online Panel Discussions Series

The Building Bridges Through Contemporary Arts Online Panel Discussions Series facilitates a contemporary art-based dialogue between key stakeholders from Africa and Europe. Based on participants’ personal and professional local and global perspectives, the aim is to stimulate reflections which will inform innovative and meaningful collaborations between the contemporary arts world and academia in Africa and Europe, far beyond this COVID-19 induced time of uncertainty.

Social distancing and physical immobility are amongst the most controversial containment measures implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic, with consequent restrictions on gatherings and travel having dramatic effects on some of the most important aspects of artistic experiences. These have hindered the ability of artists and other stakeholders to benefit from planned and casual face-to-face encounters leading to meaningful knowledge exchanges and collaborations. The economic impacts of the pandemic have been widely debated across sectors, but it carries other covert consequences, such as its effect on social interaction, individual mobility and cross-cultural exchanges, which are at the basis of much of the arts world. 

Over the past 20 years, we have witnessed a process of ‘cultural diplomacy’ involving leading European cultural institutions, aimed at fostering ‘decolonised virtuous dialogues and narratives’ about the Global South and the African continent in particular. Concurrently, in Africa, a fast-evolving arts sector based on biennials, festivals, fairs, residencies have emerged and offered alternative spaces for interaction, some commercially focused, others of a more socio-cultural exchange nature. These have challenged conventional and limited images and narratives of the continent and have provided a more truthful and multifaceted representation of continental realities.

In such context, cultural operators have become cultural ambassadors of their respective countries, and, whilst such an evolving art sector has facilitated plurality of narratives, cultural exchanges and inclusion – ignorance, racism and stereotyped views of Africa have been challenged too. The potentially hindered process of connecting people and cultures through contemporary arts is of great concern as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves.

The Building Bridges through Contemporary Arts (BBTCA) Project is a University of Brighton (UoB) Initiative facilitated through its Responsible Futures Research and Enterprise Agenda, the University’s Centre of Arts and Wellbeing (CAW), the School of Arts’ Crossing Cultures Series (CCS), the Business School’s Centre of Change, Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management (CENTRIM) and African Artists’ Foundation (AAF). The project is led by Marina Novelli (Academic Lead, Responsible Futures and Professor of Tourism and International Development) in collaboration with Maria Pia Bernardoni (UoB BBTCA Project Facilitator and International Project Coordinator at AAF), Duncan Bullen and Dr Charlotte Gould and respective teams from the Brighton School of Arts.

The BBTCA Project emerges from participants’ shared desire to respond to the need to foster new co-constructed and mutually beneficial interdisciplinary research and knowledge exchange collaborations, reflecting on the sector’s current state of play, to better understand how existing processes can be revisited, dialogue structures re-imagined and a way forward shaped.