We’re very sad to be saying goodbye to Esther Andare, our wonderful Community Foundation NI and VSB intern. She’s off to finish her Masters degree, and we have no doubt she will do so brilliantly! GTG has gained so much from our time working with Esther; from learning why ‘BAME’ is not a helpful term for organisations to use, to listening and asking questions of a diverse range of speakers in online sessions across community and Arts organisations, to creating our special Junior Gallery Newsletter and art packs celebrating Diversity, to our workshops for the fabulous migrant women of Anaka Collective and WOW Belfast… she’s been busy! In this final blog, Esther looks back over her time with us and reflects on the work that still lies ahead for all of us to make the Arts truly inclusive, accessible and diverse.

Over the past year, I have been fortunate to have gained experience within the Northern Ireland Arts sector at the Golden Thread Gallery. Honestly, it is very surreal to look back at my time and what I have achieved.  What began as a six-month new experience in a sector that I had once thought would have been impossible for me to enter became a year-long internship. The internship allowed me to gain skills and understand the multifaceted role of working in an art gallery, like seeing all the notable works of art that have been shown in the gallery and being able to help with the installation and de-installation. I have also been involved in projects such as hosting the GTG Diversity Forum online discussion series on diversity within the arts, and co-facilitating art workshops for migrant women groups.

Through the discussion series that I hosted, conversing with fantastic guest speakers – including Jade Foster, Pier Vegner Tosta, Tura Arutura, Seema Manchanda, Amanda Ade and Femi Bankole from Black & Irish, Nisha Tandon OBE, Lori Gatsi-Barnett and Kwa Daniels – my own thoughts about race evolved. This was also helped by working within the sector and seeing what was possible. In the discussions I was joined by my Golden Thread Gallery colleagues Sarah McAvera and Liz Byrne, who took an active role in exploring some productive – and some uncomfortable – questions for arts organisations here in Northern Ireland.

I entered the internship role with my sights firmly set on pushing for radical change from within. Initially, the solution seemed simple: putting more people of colour within the structures of galleries and art organisations, because I believed that this would be the only way that diversity and inclusion could be achieved. I still think that this is the ultimate way forward; however, in a practical sense, most of the work right now lies in creating the positions that enable people of colour to begin their arts career; positions providing training; and roles with potential for real progression within the arts, whether this is through consistent and committed mentorship, paid internships or living wage entry-level jobs.

I also feel that that although it was significant and beneficial that race and inclusion in the Arts were discussed in NI, it is pertinent that it is not the end of the line. Although our discussion series ended in March 2021, there should still be active conversations happening and steps taken to make a difference. Just because the news cycle does not mention racial equality as much as last summer does not mean it should become a side thought! I urge everyone to get involved to make the Arts sector as diverse as possible and join in this conversation. Saying that, I am highly conscious of the narrative that often comes with these conversations and how cyclical discussions about diversity can be. It is important to note that the change cannot come from a singular person or organisation; it is a joint effort.

I would like to take this moment to highlight the Angelica Network again; they have done tremendous work in representing the voices of the unrepresented on an all-Ireland scale and other organisations that we have mentioned in previous blog posts.

During my year at GTG, I have hosted many workshops with my colleague Katharine, an artist and the GTG Gallery Assistant, both online over lockdown and in real life once we re-opened! Recording the first workshop was daunting; I was scared about how my limited art skills would translate. However, I became confident over time. It was great to have taken a spectrum of online and in-person workshops for both children and adults. The second half of my internship focused on helping to create and hosting a pilot workshop series for migrant women’s groups who are supported by the VSB Foundation. Some snapshots of these workshops have been shared on our Instagram. The experience was very therapeutic – taking an hour exploring different art styles and engaging in conversations with the women who attended. It was lovely to see their appreciation for the workshops and their willingness to learn different types of art and expand their knowledge of the Northern Irish art scene.

A particular favourite workshop for me has to be our Art and Activism workshop – because of the simplicity of the task, creating a stencil of the fist of solidarity and resistance that the Black Panthers popularised. Mainly what I enjoyed about doing this workshop was the topic that we addressed – the use of street art in social movements and the role that graffiti and other street art mediums play in activism. Furthermore, it was great to research and find out about street artists like DeVante Brooks, who used their art to speak out against racism against black men and target black boys to push them to achieve great things.

All in all, I would like to thank all the staff and volunteers at the Golden Thread Gallery who really made my time at the gallery a great experience; the internship funders Community Foundation NI and VSB Foundation; the other arts organisations that attended the GTG Diversity Forum series, the speakers who gave their time, and everyone who was very helpful and kind during the past year! The internship offered me more than I could ever ask for and the support that I received daily is unmatched. I hope that the next intern of colour enjoys the experience as much as I did, and I wish them all the best in their career in the arts and cannot wait to see the amazing things they achieve with the gallery.

Golden Thread Gallery would like to thank the funders whose support enabled us to create this internship role:

Golden Thread Gallery is supported by: