TALENT: Tobi Kyeremateng
FOLLOWING THE success of Babylon festival – a season of work which encompassed both a celebration of black and brown cultural innovators and a ground-breaking productions- we spoke to Tobi Kyeremateng, the woman behind it all.
The week-long takeover which ran from February 4-9, celebrated the contemporary experiences of people of colour and their influence on London culture with an expansive experience that encompassed multimedia, music, art and much more.
Below, we asked Tobi about the challenges of leading on the project, Brexit and making art accessible to all.
How did the concept for Babylon festival come about?
Tobi: Well ‘Up Next’ is run by artistic directors of the future in collaboration with the Bush Theatre and Battersea arts centre and it’s a programme about diversifying leadership within the theatre sector and looking at what the barriers might be into becoming an artistic leader of a physical building.
As a part of the programme, there’s a cohort here at the Bush Theatre and Battersea Arts Centre and I got to takeover the Bush Theatre and kind of dream up what that would look like for me.
This seems like a celebration of migration and cross cultural experiences. Did the current political climate play a role in in why you felt compelled to create Babylon Festival?
Tobi: We started this programme in 2017 so it was just after voting on Brexit and we knew we were working towards this moment in 2019 but of course we had no idea how the next couple of years would span out.
But for me, it was more about taking over a space and looking at how we use our physical buildings and who’s allowed to make work in those spaces. Also, a lot of time when artists of colour make work it’s usually about trauma and pain and I didn’t want to do that and I wanted to do something more celebratory.
What was the production process like for putting this festival together?
Tobi: It was a complete building takeover, filled with music gigs, panellists, art installations, workshops etc. We had a radio station that’s built in for the week and an exhibition and we engaged over 40 artists that were involved.
As Executive Producer of Up Next at Bush Theatre, what are some of the highlights and challenges you’ve experienced in this role?
Tobi: I think it’s been good to have the freedom to take over the building in the way it is being takeover. We decided what we wanted to do – it could’ve been a show or anything but I decided for it to be a festival.
I liked that freedom I had to explore on my own artistically and what my leadership would look like. It also comes with challenges as I’m doing a lot of things that the Bush Theatre hasn’t done before. Everything we’re doing is a test essentially.
What would you like people to know about the festival?
Tobi: That there is something for everyone. Music gigs were in the main space and they were all really different. There’s a real buzz around the building and I wanted people to feel like they were at home here and feel like this building really belonged to them.
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