Track Record: Studied theatre at the National School of Drama in New Delhi before moving to Northern Ireland. Initially volunteered for ArtsEkta until it was formally funded
What does your role involve?
I am the director of ArtsEkta – which is Northern Ireland’s leading ethnic arts organisation.
The core of my role involves establishing an infrastructure for minority ethnic arts in Northern Ireland, and through this helping minority communities to integrate into civic life. This work is undertaken at levels from the grassroots rather through to influencing at a policy level.
I also act as the artistic programming director for the organisation, developing highly innovative projects to enhance the cultural offering of people living, working and visiting Northern Ireland.
A key example of this is the Belfast Mela, which in six years has grown into the single largest multi-cultural arts festival on the island of Ireland, attracting annual audiences of up to 20,000 people.
We have developed ArtsEkta into a dynamic, multi-faceted social enterprise that is meeting numerous different programmes for government objectives with a commitment to linking the arts to community development, good relations and integration processes.
How did you get into the position in the first place?
During 2006, I conceputalised the idea for ArtsEkta along with my colleagues in the community, voluntary and arts sectors.
We believed it was important to form a progressive group that works towards achieving integration and cohesion by promoting equality and an understanding of different minority cultures using the arts. They felt the mechanism for achieving this was by developing the presence of local minority ethnic artists at a grassroots level.
Originally I worked in a voluntary capacity to begin to develop the organisation and soon after was awarded a grant from the charity UnLtd who support social entrepreneurs.
In 2010, we began to strategically develop receiving direct government funding from the Office of the First & Deputy First Minister through the Minority Ethnic Development Fund, which now supports the director’s position.
Did you always want to work in this sector in some capacity?
I have a long background in the arts, having studied theatre at the National School of Drama in New Delhi. When I moved to Northern Ireland as a result of marriage to my husband I began to promote Indian arts and culture, and worked closely with different communities across Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles.
I had always found that the arts is a very powerful tool to communicate and it certainly helped me to integrate in what was otherwise a very isolated and often hostile environment. These experiences are directly reflected in my work today with ArtsEkta.
What training or previous experience do you have that has helped you in your current role?
Prior to ArtsEkta, I had worked for Castlereagh Borough Council and the Indian Community Centre in various community and arts development roles. Before this, I was involved with a range of private businesses within the food manufacturing industry.
This experience in particular has been useful as it has allowed me to appreciate the value of directing an arts organistion with a commercial approach to ensure future sustainability as funding becomes ever more stringent. Combining these management skills with my natural artistic and creative ability has been, in part, the reason ArtsEkta has enjoyed huge success in such a short period of time.
What is your organisation’s role in the local community?
ArtsEkta works at the core of local communities to raise cultural awareness and increase appreciation for diversity. We believe in the value of community arts to break down barriers and encourage an inclusive society.
Now a multi-award winning social enterprise, we are dedicated to strengthening and deepening relationships between different cultures and communities through a series of exciting and inspiring arts-based programmes.
And how does your role fit in as part of this?
Whilst I find myself directing the company strategically and implementing plans set by our board, I retain a solid operational focus in my work and continue to build relationships at the heart of the deprived and minority communities in Northern Ireland, through communication at the grassroots.
For example, I regularly attend programmes delivered through the various projects we operate, as well as initiating dynamic partnerships with in some of the most deprived urban and rural areas to spread the social impact of our work.
On a more strategic level I work with partners across the minority ethnic, arts and community sectors to advocate predominately for minority ethnic communities and in particular ensuring there is a platform for their culture and arts to be appreciated.
What sort of personality and qualities do you need to do your job successfully?
I would say there needs to be a high level of patience, understanding and empathy in my line of work, particularly when working with such vulnerable, deprived communities.
Additionally we operate in a very high pressured environment with not many resources at our disposable meaning that it is essential to motivate people and understand how to get the best out of very little.
Aside from that, to run an arts organisation you definitely need to be creative, outgoing and at times not take yourself too seriously!
What are the biggest rewards of the job? And the biggest challenges?
The biggest reward on my job by far is getting to work with so many different people, of different cultures and different ages, and it genuinely moves me to witness how the arts can improve people’s lives at the most basic level.
I enjoy developing creative initiatives that bring people together to enjoy, talk and share.
The biggest challenge is definitely organisational development in a very challenging economic climate and communicating the importance of minority ethnic arts in what is otherwise a very underdeveloped provision in comparison to the rest of the UK and Ireland.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
The best piece of advice I have ever been given is to try and remain diplomatic even in the most difficult of situations – something I am still trying to master as I am not afraid to say what I think!
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to do the same job?
The best piece of advice I would give is definitely to persevere when working in our local arts and community sectors. There are times where you will think, ‘Why do I do this job?!’ but always remind yourself of the reason why you enjoy the work and the rewards you can get out it.
What do you enjoy doing outside work?
Outside of work I am keen gardener, although I am not getting much opportunity with the weather this summer! I also enjoy travelling and experience new countries and cultures, and I’m quite the gym and health fanatic!