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The Africa Centre in London Has a New Director

By Shola Adenekan

Tuesday, May 15, 2018.

One of London’s famous cultural institutions, The Africa Centre, has a new director. His name is Kenneth Olumuyiwa Tharp.

One of the UK’s most respected cultural leaders, Mr Tharp (main picture) will take the Africa Centre into an exciting new phase, including a major capital project and redefining itself as the international centre for contemporary African culture, business and innovation. According to the Trustees of the Africa Centre, under Mr Tharp’s direction, the centre will continue to celebrate and showcase the richness of African and Black British culture, challenging stereotypes and telling the diverse stories of Africa and its diaspora.

Mr Tharp CBE, is a key figure in the UK arts and culture scene with over 35 years professional experience in the sector. He began his career as a dancer; as one of the leading dance artists of his generation. He performed for 13 years with the internationally-acclaimed London Contemporary Dance Theatre and then with other leading companies during a 25-year career as a performer, choreographer, teacher and director.

Over the coming months, the Africa Centre will join the main building on Great Suffolk Street with a Performance Venue and The Hub, a flexible co-working space and accelerator for entrepreneurs and creatives, both contained within neighbouring railway arches. Additional facilities include a gallery, meeting and broadcast suite, the Africa Learning & Research Centre, and a new café, opening onto the street, with a unique Pan-African culinary offering.

Image result for Africa centre london

                    The new Africa Centre in London’s Southwark

The Africa Centre was opened in 1964, by Zambia’s first President, Kenneth Kaunda, and for over 50 years it has been a vibrant ‘home-away-from-home’, a dynamic intellectual powerhouse and iconic cultural space for the African diaspora in the UK. A hugely significant cultural institution it was particularly instrumental in the development of the Black British music scene.

The Africa Centre’s history is also entwined with the struggle for independence and equality on the continent. Over the decades it became a vital instrument for the multiple voices of liberation, and was famously selected as the venue for the public release of a statement from Nelson Mandela during his imprisonment on Robben Island. It has also welcomed numerous writers, poets, playwrights, artists, historians and political figures including Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Ben Okri, Alice Walker, Aminata Sow Fall, Walter Rodney, Sokari Douglas Camp CBE, Athol Fugard, Amadou-Mahtar M'Bow and Sally Mugabe.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu once referred to it as a place that is symbolic “"to all who are Africans, and all those who have a care for the interests of the continent and its people".

In the recent past, the Africa Centre has been mired in financial troubles. The original home of the centre, a Grade II-listed building on 38 King Street, in London's Covent Garden, was sold in 2012.

However, Mr Tharp’s appointment marks an exciting period of transformation for the Africa Centre, now located in its new home in Southwark, a culturally vibrant community with Tate Modern, the Young and Old Vic and Jerwood Space as neighbours. The new building was partly designed by the renowned Ghanaian architect David Adjaye.

Mr Tharp says that the Africa Centre’s new home marks an exciting moment of development that in turn reflects changes happening across the African continent.

“Research published by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation in 2017 highlighted that: ‘of the 25 fastest growing economies in the world between 2004 and 2014, ten are African’,” he says. “Africa is on the move. Its status on the world stage as a 21st Century continent is increasingly important. The Africa Centre has a key role to play in making tangible the cultural richness and creative energy emanating from the African continent, and in sharing the vibrancy of its 54 nations and extensive diaspora, with as many people as possible.”

The Africa Centre in London Has a New Director

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