October 3, 2019
Image: Sofia (left) & Irene at the V&A Launch of Refugee Week @Marcia Chandra 2019
Written by Sofía Márquez Moreno
This summer I finished a secondment at Counterpoints Arts and like almost everything in my life, I came there by chance. I was one of the international fellows of the Clore Leadership Fellowship and unfamiliar to the land and the cultural scene of the UK, I searched for advice everywhere. I knew I wanted to focus my Clore year exploring the concepts of inclusion and diversity in the arts, but I didn’t know exactly where to begin. I talked to several people and one of them suggested that I look into what this art organization called Counterpoints Arts was doing regarding cultural change. I was really attracted to the commitment they showed regarding the integration of refugees and migrants voices into the British arts and culture.
I’m based in Mexico City where I work in the film industry and the topics of inclusion and diversity have been an untapped opportunity so far with so much potential to discover. The current cultural and especially cinematographic landscapes don’t reflect the diversity of our population, neither in terms of its workforce nor the content it produces. This is how I came to the UK, completely heart-broken and looking for tools to navigate an industry that is constantly pushing me away.
I had a first Skype conversation with Almir Koldzic, the Co-founder of Counterpoints, I was completely honest with him and said that I didn’t know anything about arts organizations and that I’ve never worked with minority groups and refugees, but I was interested in what they were doing. “Even better” he said, “We need people who make us see things differently”. Immediately after my arrival, I started working on the evaluation of the Refugee Week Leadership Programme, which supported 5 emerging leaders with lived experience of displacement to lead activities at the Refugee Week, a festival that celebrates the contributions of refugees and migrants to the arts and culture on a national level.
I’ve never worked in a similar environment, so I was happy to be involved in a project with so much potential. I went through the bios, motivations and desires of these amazing people that were trying to achieve meaningful things and were interested in representation in arts, culture and activism. These 5 people were seeds who can potentially grow bigger and wider and spread a message of inclusion using their own experiences. This invariably made me think of my own history of displacement, something I had been neglecting for a very long time.
I call Mexico City “home”, but I was born in Venezuela from a Mexican family. I grew up in Caracas in the aftermath of El Caracazo, a serious of protests and riots caused by the drop in oil prices; the events which changed the history of the country forever because we witnessed the birth of the then military leader Hugo Chavez. I arrived in Mexico City when I was 17 years old, leaving what I thought was the best country in the world at the beginning of its political and economic crisis. When adapting to a new culture, there are things that one oppresses in order to fit in.
After Counterpoints, I’ve been thinking about things that connect me to my South American roots and can help explain the way I am. Almir, Áine, Dijana, Nike, Tom, Emily and all the rest of Countterpoints Arts team taught me to acknowledge my own story and to celebrate it as the secret ingredient that makes me unique. By defending and promoting the different ethnicities, beliefs and languages that coexist in the same place, they are creating opportunities to produce better and more interesting artistic forms that could potentially translate into cultural change.
Back in Mexico City, after a fantastic experience in the UK, I realize there are things that only appear when viewed from afar, with distance comes perspective. What I’m taking away from my time at Counterpoints Arts is the example of a team that benefits from its diversity. This is an organization built on the people from different parts of the world and all these counterpointed visions are the fuel that boost their creativity. This is definitely one of the biggest learnings of all my Clore experience. Diversity and collaboration are key to tackle some of the main obstacles of today’s creative industries.