Creative Director Chenine Bhathena looks forward with hope


February is the month in which we have focused much of our thinking on hope; our hopes for the future, the hope we have for bringing about positive change, and our hopes for each other while promoting our need for better human rights at home.

“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”  - Robert F. Kennedy

Earlier this month Symphony of Us brought alive the stories of six Coventry residents, soundtracked by Orchestra Of The Swan, the region’s most established chamber orchestra. Brought together by Coventry artist Paul O'Donnell and an all-Coventry creative team this event explored and celebrated what makes our city so great, it’s people. This has been a big part of our programme, showcasing the immense talent all around us, and how a city’s identity is shaped by the values, creativity and hopes of its people.

Our Made in the Midlands podcast series also explores the amazing people and talent within the region, and gives you an opportunity to explore the talent and lives of some well known Midlands figures. From Ken Loach and Pauline Black to Debbie Isitt, local legends sit down to talk about their lives, careers, and inspirations. Looking at how they made their start in the creative industries, and how the region helped shape who they are today, overcoming challenges and putting hope and optimism at the centre of their journeys.

Through the Lens of Masterji is a photography exhibition at Compton Verney by Masterji, the first Indian photographer in the city. A well-known figure locally who documented the lives of the people of Coventry over five decades through his work, it also includes interviews with citizens from the South Asian community in Coventry. This exhibition demonstrates the hope that brought so many to the UK, and Coventry specifically, who were seeking to build new lives and communities, pursuing opportunities, having fled from crisis and catastrophe. It talks to the challenges they have faced – their grit and determination – to get on and be part of the success story of our city.

Pioneering Coventry: the post-war photography of Richard Sadler is another insightful photography exhibition which opened this month at the Old Grammar School. Examining 1950s Coventry, a moment in our history where we were emerging from the darkness of WW2 and looking forward with great hope as a future facing, innovative city. To see the future, people came to Coventry. This resonates even more with our modern times as we move from isolation back into connection, and work towards what we want to be our ‘new normal’.

Cov kid Daniel Lismore opened his exhibition Be Yourself, Everyone Else is Already Taken at the Herbert Art Gallery, displaying his incredible collection of wearable art, much of which has never been publicly displayed before. His work draws attention to identity and promotes hope for a better world around gender equality, tackling systemic racism, promoting climate activism and putting slow fashion at the centre of the conversation. Deliberately timed to begin during Pride Month, new grants have also been launched for LGBTQi+ artists, to encourage further debate around gender equality.

Where There is Light is an immersive sound and light installation which gives a platform to the voices and stories of sanctuary-seeking-communities from across the country. It asks questions about where we find light in our lives, in ourselves, in others and in the world around us. With the pandemic continuing to impact our daily lives we hope to start to rebuild, reconnect and transform how communities engage in a time of isolation and loneliness. This beautiful installation will sit in the Cathedral Ruins for a week, providing an opportunity to pause and reflect – it’s a moment to take a break and look at the space outside ourselves, for us all to come together and share a sense of connection and hope. The soundscape was created remotely in Leicester, Hull, Portsmouth and here in Coventry, led by Laura Nyahuye and Maokwo.

The CVX Festival has been created and produced by a brilliant team of young producers, delivered in partnership with Positive Youth Foundation. They had a crash course in producing – learning about planning, scheduling, programming, budgeting, and contracting. The weekend will be a celebration of local Midlands talent alongside a couple of high-profile special guest performers. The young producers wanted it to bring hope and joy after a challenging couple of years and an opportunity to celebrate the amazingly talented, young people here in Coventry. There will be live music, DJs, circus, calisthenics, comedy, film, and dance.

During CVX, a unique new exhibition of work will showcase three artists in residency projects, which saw artists placed across local organisations – Family Hubs, West Midlands Police, and Extended Learning Centres. The artists worked with young people to explore how they feel about their city and their interactions with positions of authority including the police. This will culminate in an exhibition of photography, film, and music. Whilst it’s a great celebration of young people and identity, we really hope that this programme can start to change hearts and minds, affect our relationships with each other, build understanding of our younger people and their lives, and ultimately encourage us all to take action against prejudice.  

In coming weeks, citizens across the city will be dressing their windows as part of the Window Wanderland citywide art project. As we all think about the images and designs for our windows, I know these will be created with love, hope and care for each other, an insight into our souls and a splash of joy in these dark times and a chance to show off our rich creativity. And as I look ahead, we continue this theme of hope into March and beyond, with some big projects which will hopefully help us to engage our past with our future, spotlighting the hope that drives us forwards.

In Pursuit of Repetitive Beats is a new event that will take us back to 1980s Coventry to explore the city’s cultural heritage of rave culture. Transporting us to one night in Coventry in 1989 via an interactive virtual reality experience crafted by Darren Emerson, award winning filmmaker. Finding yourself in search of an illegal rave you will re-live the moment and movement of rave culture and acid house; all centred around the stories of promoters, police officers, and rave goers through this iconic time. It’s a story about hope for a new generation of young people, and shows how dance brought so many young people together after a time when violence and racism had been rife, creating this joyful movement.

I hope that our programme and some of the stories embedded in the shows, events and exhibitions will resonate with you, help you reflect on the city, its heritage and more importantly who we are now, how we can all affect change and how music, dance, photography, art, storytelling, film can help transform lives and our world in many small ways.

We invite you to look forward with hope as we rebuild post pandemic, a more caring, collaborative, and dynamic future, here in Coventry and beyond. As Robert Kennedy states, let’s all create the ripples of hope that can come together to build a current that can make our world a better place for all citizens.

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