“How do you record history in 2019?”: Spotlight on Christina Sealy

Meet some of the individuals making creative projects and connections in North Kensington through this year’s Westway Arts Funds:  Artist Commissions, Festival & Events Funds and Training & Professional Development Fund. Next up is Christina Sealy from Kensington Narrators Arts and Heritage Archive, who is a recipient of a Training & Professional Development Fund

Please introduce yourself and tell us a little about yourself & your background

My name’s Christina, and I’m from West London. I grew up around Ladbroke Grove, Shepherd’s Bush and Fulham. But most of my life, I’ve been living in Ladbroke Grove. I went to Holland Park School and I’ve been really involved in arts and community grassroots project creation for the last 20 years.

Why did you apply to the Training and Professional Development Fund?

I applied for the Training and Professional Development Fund because I think I need more support. A lot has changed in the last couple of years, in terms of the expectations put on the projects that we’re creating. There’s more of a demand for everybody to be included, and we all want to say our projects are inclusive, but at the same time, if you don’t have a big organization and a big infrastructure, including everybody is a project in itself. You really need to go back to basics and build capacity for your project, so you can have a bigger reach and so that you don’t have to turn people away because you don’t have the staff or you can’t afford it or you’re just too tired.

Also because some of our projects have really taken off, and we need to think about funding, and the funding world, it just looks really complicated to me. So I just thought instead of me wasting my time trying to understand something I’m never going to understand, it would be really helpful if I could tap into some sort of consultant or expert who knows how to do funding strategies and can kind of conceptualize our community project in a wider perspective and then help us come up with a linear way to get funding.

Can you talk about the origins and future of Kensington Narrators Arts and Heritage Archive?

The Kensington Narrators Arts and Heritage Archive is a pioneering new project in Kensington and in London, and it’s basically the community recording their own history. It’s us recording our own history and deciding what’s relevant, what’s not, how we want to portray ourselves, how we want to catalogue our work, what descriptions we want to give to our work. It’s history-making while history is happening, but it’s also technology, because the whole archiving sector is changing. Whatever it is going to be, it’s up for creation. We’re just becoming part of an archiving conversation and discovering what the new process of history making looks like in the digital age.

We’re creating our own historical frame in which we can save our own work and then generations to come can look at it, and there will just be a different way of understanding our stories. It will be more authentic, because it’s us telling our own stories, instead of us being spoken about by people who have never met us.

The Kensington Narrators Arts and Heritage Archive was organically created in 2017. There was a lot going on in Ladbroke Grove. There were community response groups out on the ground, working to rebuild their communities, having conversations about how they could self-recover and self-represent, and I was part of those conversations. I was listening. Some were nice conversations; some were not-so-nice conversations. But I took note of what people were angry about was, “You don’t tell me who I am. No one gets to tell me who I am. I tell you I am.”  

So history seemed to the only subject where everybody was saying, “Yeah, history’s important. I agree with that.”. A lot of fireworks were flaring, as to what was needed, but I didn’t find anyone disagreeing that we needed to record our own history.

Christina Sealy westway

I didn't find anyone disagreeing that we needed to record our own history. Click To Tweet

How do people get involved?

If you would like to get involved in the Kensington Narrators Arts and Heritage Archive, you can go on the website. You can come find me or one of the people I work with and just get connected. We’ve actually developed a digital archiving process, whereby you can archive your stuff straight through the website, if it’s digital, and it will go to a real archive and be catalogued and be available under our own heading in libraries and universities in years to come. The physical archive is being held at Bishop’s Gate in Liverpool Street, so you can put real stuff in there. You can also go to the website and find out when the next workshop is, and you can come and submit stuff you’ve got then. How do you record history in 2019? We record it however we want.

What stage is the professional development support at – what are the outcomes you’re hoping to achieve?

I really need support from higher-level consultants who can see a broader perspective and help me to know where my project fits. I’m very much on the ground looking up, dealing with front-level stuff, and I appreciate that the people that I need to support me, in terms of funders and organizations, they’re not going to get my language. So I need that translation.

So what I’ve done is found a senior consultant who has 20 years’ experience of working in the funding arena and who’s also culturally aware of the linguistic mistakes that can happen when people from the streets are asking people who grew up in libraries about how to work together. There’s a lot of things that are lost in translation.

Can you talk about your personal or organisational ambitions for the future?

My whole belief system around grassroots projects is momentum, not manufacture. You don’t need to know how everything’s going to be constructed. You just need to maintain momentum behind those projects. That can be in terms of enthusiasm, participation, funding, equipment, just feeling excited about things, and feeling things are moving. I just want to be able to keep the project resourced and funded, so the people who are involved in the project can make the project become what it becomes.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

So, what I’d like to add is that I’ve just been accepted for the first year of the Civic Futures Program. The Civic Futures Program is a London-wide project where 25 grassroots community leaders from all over London are going to work together to conceptualize and cooperate on projects that might be useful all over London. So I would like to work with my people to integrate the good things that we are doing at a grassroots level into a bigger vision.

We live in a global world now. We’ve certainly got to be calling ourselves London and not North Kensington all the time. The label North Kensington is starting to feel a bit dusty. We can call ourselves what we want to call ourselves, and if we want to not be labelled North Kensington, we shouldn’t have to, just because that’s how funders understand who we are.

westway arts and culture logo