London’s Africa Centre is about to enter an exciting phase of redevelopment under new director Kenneth Olumuyiwa Tharp. The centre, which is located in Southwark (home to with Tate Modern, the Young and Old Vic and Jerwood Space) is the heart of African and Black British culture.
When the Africa Centre opened in 1964, it quickly became an intellectual powerhouse for the African diaspora in the UK. It plays a pivotal role in the promotion of Black British music and has steadied itself as a prominent voice on global issues.
The centre receives writers, poets, playwrights, artists, historians and political figures. Famous names to walk its halls are Chinua Achebe, Ben Okri, Alice Walker, Aminata Sow Fall, Walter Rodney, Sokari Douglas Camp, Athol Fugard, Amadou-Mahtar M’Bow, Sally Mugabe and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
When Nelson Mandela was imprisoned on Robben Island, it was the chosen venue for the public release of his statement – placing the organisation as a vital voice in the liberation movement.
Said Kenneth Olumuyiwa Tharp: “For over 50 years the Africa Centre has been a hugely important part of London’s cultural landscape, as a focal point for all things African and a home-from-home for Africans and people of African descent. I am thrilled at being given the opportunity to lead the Africa Centre through its next exciting phase of transformation and renewal.
“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 Ibra-him Foundation in 2017 highlighted that: ‘of the 25 fastest growing economies in the world between 2004 and 2014, 10 are African’.
Tharp will redefine the Africa Centre as a world space for contemporary African culture, business and innovation. Its revitalised remit will rest upon five key pillars of activity, “Culture, Entrepreneurship & Innovation, Intellectual Debate, Education, and Social” to drive its core programming.
The transformation will see capital invested in the Africa Centre that will expand its offer to include a performance space and The Hub, a flexible co-working space and accelerator for entrepreneurs and creatives, situated in the area’s railway arches. Additional facilities will include a gallery, meeting and broadcast suite, the Africa Learning & Research Centre and a new pavement-style café serving up pan-African food.
Added Tharp: “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 shar-in the vibrancy of its 54 nations and extensive diaspora, with as many people as possible.”
A trained dancer, Tharp’s 25 year-career as a practitioner and manager was recognised when he received an OBE in 2003 and CBE in the Queen’s 2017 Birthday Honours for his services to dance. A member of the board of trustees for the Royal Opera House, he is former chief executive of The Place.