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HOME is where the art is: disused office becomes space for black artists

Venue creator: ' It’s called HOME because it’s supposed to be a place where people feel comfortable, feel accepted and feel welcome.'

26 February, 2021 — By Helen Chapman

New arts space HOME created by Ronan Mckenzie

A REFURBISHED office block has been turned into an arts space to celebrate the work of black artists.

Photographer and curator Ronan Mckenzie created HOME after she noticed a gap in black-owned arts spaces in London. She took inspiration after curating the exhibition I’m Home in Hackney, celebrating work by black female photographers, in 2018.

Ms Mckenzie said: “I felt there was a point that was lacking between a space that I could go hang out in and also see amazing exhibitions that have a keen focus on black and indigenous people of colour artists. I felt there was a real gap there.”

In 2019 Ms Mckenzie created a project for the National Theatre in response to acclaimed Islington author Andrea Levy’s Small Island, a story about Caribbean migration to post-war London.

She said: “As a second-generation Caribbean immigrant, I really related to the story. I don’t necessarily feel at home in the UK, even though it’s where I’m born and where I grew up.

“When we see performance arts or ballet, it’s often a very white audience. I think being reflected in those spaces is really important.”

Ronan Mckenzie

Ms Mckenzie added: “Something I’m trying to do here [at HOME] is cultivate a sense of community. There are community centres that have closed and places that don’t have funding any more. I wanted to use the resources that I have individually to try and start something that I hope makes other people want to join in.”

Ms Mckenzie said the opportunity to open HOME came about because her photography work came to a halt due to the lockdown.

The building is a newly refurbished office space that Ms Mckenzie said it was made more affordable because of Covid-19.

“Being able to have a break from what my normal lifestyle looks like gave me what I needed to take this on,” she said. “It coincided with Covid because the rents are cheaper. People don’t want physical space because offices are closing and people are working at home.”

Ms Mckenzie has a programme of events running until next year and is planning on collaborating with other organisations.

She said: “There are so many conversations about Black Lives Matter and people are talking about what we can do and what we should do. I think one thing that we really need to focus on is creating lasting spaces and lasting impressions in whichever way that is.

“I hope that HOME is still here in 10, 20, or 50 years. I really want it to be a place where people know they can get engaged in art and get engaged in the things people of colour are so often excluded from.

“I’m trying to create my sense of home in a place where people can thrive and be celebrated. It’s called HOME because it’s supposed to be a place where people feel comfortable, feel accepted and feel welcome.”

She added: “I’m so excited for what the future holds and how I can continue to serve people who have been marginalised from such an amazing thing.”

WATA is currently available to view online – a film made by Ronan Mckenzie and Joy Yamusangie.
Exhibition I See In Colour by Cece Philips opens on March 18 and will run until April.
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