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Spotlight: April - May 2002
Yaa Asantewaa Arts and Community Centre

The Yaa Asantewaa Arts and Community Centre, based in Chippenham Mews, Paddington, is London's leading and longest established black arts centre. Its mission, since its inception in 1974, has been to support and develop cultural, artistic and educational events and study programmes which reflect the history and heritage of the area's diverse population, not only for the benefit of local residents, but also to promote and raise awareness about the range of African and Caribbean heritage arts on a regional, national and international scale.

The aims of Yaa are:

  • "To offer programmes of quality in drama, writing, singing, music, carnival and other art disciplines specifically relevant to our communities' future development
  • To promote, present and encourage combined arts and arts education in all its culturally diverse forms
  • To play an active role in the development of the local community and increase awareness of black and minority ethnic cultural and artistic traditions
  • To support work that challenges discriminatory practices and negative stereotyping of black and minority ethnic communities by integrating such codes of conduct into the above
  • To strengthen the financial basis of Yaa by increasing the number, publicity and quality of its revenue generating activities that are not solely based on local and national government aid
  • To continue as a Centre of Excellence and Regeneration within Paddington."

Founded in 1974 as a community centre for the work of the Maryland Neighbourhood Residents Association the Centre, known locally as 'The Factory', became a meeting place for local artists, writers, musicians, carnival participants and community organisations; specifically Caribbean peoples of mainly Dominican, St Lucian and Montserrratian descent but also people of Portuguese and Irish origin with a long history of residence in the Paddington area.

An initial meeting with Yaa's director, Shabaka Thompson, provided a detailed overview of the Centre's achievements to-date: including information on its history as a meeting place and performance venue for organisations such as the Association of British Calypsonians, Talawa Theatre Company, Nitro (formerly the Black Theatre Co-operative), Cultural Exchange Through Theatre in Education (CETTIE) and Jazz Warriors, its involvement in the development of carnival arts programmes for the local community, the creation of the Yaa Asantewaa Mas Band (regular performers at the Notting Hill Carnival), arts education workshops for Westminster schools, Black History Month educational programmes, and the development of a permanent exhibition space for displaying the work of local artists.

The list of individual writers, musicians and performance artists who have regularly used the Centre as a practice venue and/or performance space over the years is quite exceptional and includes famous names such as the comedian and broadcaster Richard Blackwood, the writer Caryl Philips, the actress Carmen Munroe, jazz saxophonist and composer Courtney Pine, and the comedienne Gina Yashere. Other internationally famous people who have visited the Centre for specific performances and events include Maya Angelou, Queen Mother Moore and Louise Bennett ('Miss Lou').

The Centre became officially known as the Yaa Asantewaa Arts and Community Centre in 1986, taking its name from Nana (Queen Mother) Yaa Asantewaa of the Asante people of Ghana (c.1850-1921). In the spirit and character of Yaa Asantewaa, a freedom fighter who led an heroic struggle against British colonial oppression to maintain the identity and ancient cultural heritage of the Asante at the turn of the 20th century, the Centre's ethos and vision is based on a steely determination to promote and celebrate black and minority ethnic cultural heritage through artistic, community-based and education-related initiatives.

With regard to archives, Yaa has already begun the process of collating all the publicity materials used to advertise and promote its various events and activities since the 1970s. A small, but significant collection of photographs, videos, news articles and sound recordings exists to illustrate aspects of the Centre's performing arts history, and there are also printed materials covering the administrative history of the organisation: including minutes of meetings held by the Centre's Management Committee and Carnival Sub-Committee, Yaa's annual reports and funding applications and correspondence files relating to the Centre's arts and community outreach work.

In addition to regular funding from London Arts, the City of Westminster and the Stone Ashdown Charitable Trust, grants confirmed in 2001 from the Single Regeneration Budget (SRB5) and the Arts Council Capital Lottery Fund have enabled Yaa to commence work on an ambitious, new building programme. Plans are underway to create a new Centre which, by 2007, will comprise new auditoria and practice rooms for arts performances, a gallery, an ICT suite for after-school educational projects and various meeting rooms for affiliated community organisations. Yaa have set aside space for a visitor's centre and archive room to display and facilitate access to its collections on the history of African and Caribbean heritage arts. Between now and then it is hoped that, with the help of volunteers and training support from within the archives sector, records cataloguing the content, type and extent of Yaa's archival materials will be available in printed and electronic formats.

To find out more about the work of Yaa Asantewaa Arts and Community Centre, please visit their web site at http://www.yaaasant.demon.co.uk/., or contact the Administrator c/o:


Yaa Asantewaa Arts and Community Centre
1 Chippenham Mews, Chippenham Road, London W9.2AN
Tel: 0207-286-1656
Fax: 0207-266-0377
Email: yaasant@btclick.com

The CASBAH project is in the process of summarising information about one of Yaa's archival collections, namely material on the Association of British Calypsonians, and aim to include this in CASBAH's online database by the end of April 2002.

Report by: Carol Dixon
CASBAH Project Officer

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