All across the globe, arts organizations have been hit with the sudden impact of COVID-19. The pandemic has threatened the sustainability of both arts organizations and individual artists in almost every sector. The uncertainty leaves room for a lot of unanswered questions, as well as a lot of opportunities to restructure the entire arts landscape and opening up more opportunities for queer people, disabled people and people of color.
Black, queer artist, producer and manager Rico Johnson-Sinclair has recently been appointed as the Festival Manager at SHOUT in Birmingham, United Kingdom. I had a chance to speak with Rico about his new role and some of the new challenges and opportunities arts organizations face in these times.
Kyle Jackson: Can you tell us a bit about your background in the arts?
Rico Johnson-Sinclair: I’ve worked in the arts for a while now, I studied at University of the Arts London, then moved back to Birmingham and volunteered across 17 different arts organisations and festivals here, until I was placed on a training programme from the Independent Cinema Office called FEDS (Film Exhibition, Distribution and Sales) and placed at Flatpack.
It was here that I first learnt everything I needed to know about running a festival, which I’d later put in to practise when I built the queer film festival CineQ. CineQ has been running for three years and is now a queer film festival that prioritises the perspectives of queer trans and intersex people of colour.
KJ: Can you tell us a little bit more about SHOUT?
RJS: SHOUT is Birmingham’s festival of queer arts and culture. Encompassing music, theatre, visual art, film, performance and much, much more. SHOUT has brought famous faces such as John Waters and Bianca Del Rio to Birmingham, as well as helped develop queer artist spaces and artists here in the second city.
Now in its 11th year, we plan to move forward with ambition and cement Birmingham as one of the U.K’s queerest cities.
KJ: Can you explain your new role at SHOUT, and what you will mostly be responsible for?
RJS: As the SHOUT Festival Manager, I will be in charge of programming and delivering the festival, as well as establishing partnerships with organisations willing to support queer work in the city and bid writing and fundraising.
My biggest challenge will be deciding on the creative direction of SHOUT as we look to what comes next. That means a lot of fundraising, but also a lot of exciting challenging work to develop with the queer community here.
KJ: What do you think are some of the biggest challenges of running an arts organization in these times, and how do you see the arts community, particularly the performing arts, moving forward?
RJS: Personally, I think that the challenges to running an arts organisation are around sustainability and audiences. As a Queer arts festival, we need to make sure that our audiences have access to the absolute best queer art and culture – art that’s both representative and enjoyable, but without risk to their health.
I think the biggest challenge is how a festival with no venue can continue to operate during COVID-19. Equally, I think that this leads to exciting conversations about the accessibility of the festival and how we can work to open that up, as well as making it more inclusive and still very social. Our audiences must come before profit. Always.
Follow Rico Johnson-Sinclair: @RicoRKLJ
Follow SHOUT Festival on Twitter: @SHOUTfestival
Follow CineQ: @cineqbrum