New Art Exchange is a visual arts organisation based in the Hyson Green area of Nottingham, housed in a RIBA-award winning building designed by the architects Hawkins Brown.

Formed in September 2003, NAE was conceived as an organisation that would steer and manage the development of Nottingham’s first dedicated cultural facility for Black contemporary arts.  This conception can be understood as result of NAE’s formation out of a partnership between APNA Arts and EMACA Visual Arts. APNA Arts (Apna is Hindi for ‘ours’) focused on South Asian arts and played a key role in the development of the ‘Nottingham Mela’ in 2008. EMACA – East Midlands African Caribbean Arts – was an independent organisation that existed to promote the work of local artists of African and African- Caribbean heritage within the East Midlands employing various media through the use of workshops, exhibitions, performances and discussions.

NAE’s mission is described on its website as dedicated to raising the impact, profile and development of culturally diverse contemporary visual arts and artists regionally, nationally and in a global context. It aims to do this by nurturing, promoting and exhibiting creative talent locally and globally, creating ‘models of practice’ to aid creative businesses.

At the time of writing, NAE is the largest space in the UK dedicated to culturally diverse contemporary visual arts, presenting major international and local exhibitions. It receives 60,000 visitors per year, of which 40% are minority ethnic, a proportion that reflects its engagement with its geographical location. Hyson Green and the adjacent Forest Fields areas were described in one report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation as ‘areas of long-standing multiple disadvantage [which] have a negative image in the city. However, research reveals that local residents take considerable pride in their area. They point to many positive features, which could contribute to policies of area regeneration’ (see Richard Silburn, Dan Lucas, Robert Page and Lynn Hanna (2009). Neighbourhood Images in Nottingham. Available at http://www.jrf.org.uk/publications/neighbourhood-images-nottingham). In this locale, NAE’s role is one of contributing to the development of intellectual and social capital, seeking out ‘hard to reach’ minority ethnic communities in order to engage them as audiences and as patrons of art.

A useful way of understanding organisations like NAE is though its personnel – those who embody, interpret and realise its mission. We’ll profile many of the key individuals involved in this project as we continue and as a result of the in-depth interviews we conduct. In this instance it is worth saying something about Skinder Hundal, the Director of NAE.

Hundal has a varied background in the arts and a long history of involvement with NAE and its antecedents. He arrived in Nottingham as a student in the 1980s and became involved with Apna Arts as a volunteer worker. He returned to Nottingham after a period with Birmingham’s Sampad, eager to work at NAE as a result of what had been created in the new gallery, which he has described as ‘an amazing achievement and symbolic of values and ambitions I hold close to my own i.e. that art should engage unheard voices and be part of the rich UK and international cultural mantra’. He has described NAE as being at a cross roads, ‘negotiating a cultural clash… sometimes crash, exploring non-Eurocentric perspectives in a constantly shifting world, with a British spin and interpretation’. This makes for the production of exciting work as well as bringing many challenges for NAE and Hundal in representing artists and curatorial perspectives which champion modern cultural diversity. He says of the ‘NG7’ location that ‘the psychology of the area is complex, be that class, race, immigration or religion. Attracting and engaging hard to reach communities is always a difficult yet rewarding process, however it is resource intensive and needs a focused, understanding and sensitive approach’. Part of the challenge of the area is that its reputation is too often built on negative perceptions and thus for Hundal, NAE is ‘a “black box” of tricks’ which ‘offers “white-light” energy and opportunities for all and especially for those on the periphery of British culture and society – a lens focussing on the artistic expression from and representing African, Caribbean, South Asian and new communities in particular’.

This passion is an important aspect of what feeds the ‘Culture Cloud’ project, not only its potential but also the challenges it presents for the development of socially committed projects such as NAE. As a project grounded in digital innovation, it might also play a part in addressing an ongoing cultural aspiration for Nottingham and further afield, as expressed by Hundal:

Important to me is that art and culture becomes more of a priority in terms of how it is perceived and valued in terms of policy and resources and ensure that it is embedded within the minds of our political, community and educational leaders on one level, and on another, a natural choice for the family or individual. Importantly I would like to see more of a diverse representation of curators, programmers, artists, audiences and cultural entrepreneurs making a splash and buzz across the city and beyond too

(see: http://www.creativenottingham.com/events/introducing-our-new-guest-blogger-skinder-hundal).

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