Museum Profile – Black Cultural Archives

Black Cultural Archives (BCA) in Brixton is the home of Black British History. Our mission is to collect, preserve and celebrate the histories of people of African and Caribbean descent in the UK and to inspire and give strength to individuals, communities and society. Our founders felt there needed to be a space where they could go and see positive representations of themselves. Originating as a community archive, Black Cultural Archives now contains 50 sq meters of archival material across two sites. At Black Cultural Archives visitors can do research, view exhibitions and come to events. We have a small team of 11.

In 2019 we welcomed 46,948 visitors to our building, celebrated International Men’s Day with an immersive Black men’s mental health exhibition, celebrated Windrush with a summer of activity and created our 2030 strategy, which was launched in May. As we come to the end of the year, 2020 has seen a change for everyone within the heritage sector and this has been no different for Black Cultural Archives. At the beginning of the year the staff at BCA were gearing up to begin our Reimagining Black Cultural Archives capital projects. We had an artist residency planned for the summer and a range of in-person exhibitions and events we were looking forward to. With the beginning of the COVID 19 pandemic we had to close our doors on 19 March. This led to a drop in traditional income streams we, like so many others relied on. These sources of income depended on visitors engaging with our space through our exhibitions, education workshops, Café, public programming and room hires. This income represented 30% of our annual budget in 2019.

During our building closure we transitioned to the online space, this was in large part due to our team’s dedication to our mission, community and audiences. We held talks and other events online including a public meeting where we launched our 2030 strategy. The pandemic also came with its struggles as a lack of income caused our Café to close with no set reopening date, and we had to say goodbye to treasured team members.

With the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement earlier this year Black Cultural Archives’ importance in the UK has only been strengthened as a heritage organisation representing the depth of Black history in Britain. We’ve been able to create new partnerships as a result, and individual giving to our charity has increased as our profile rose. BCA was used as a filming/shooting location by various news outlets during lockdown.

Our building reopened as Covid safe on 3 September. Using part of the funds from our Reimagining capital project we were able to make pandemic appropriate tweaks to protect staff and visitors, without compromising on our aesthetic and mission. Our courtyard space is now full of plants which have been used to create separate seating areas for visitors to adhere to social distancing. Other precautions such as a one-way system, and limiting researcher numbers in our reading room were all implemented. During our short return between lockdowns visitors were pleased to see us with our doors open.

With another national lockdown and the sector left in uncertainty we will continue sharing and uplifting the histories and lives of the Black community. Currently our online content can now be viewed on our digital showcase which includes our Black curatorial residences supported by Arts Council England.

Black Cultural Archives is still able to be resilient during these times. We are working on new ways of generating income that are lockdown ready. Support from trusts and foundations, and the Cultural Recovery Fund have been key to our survival.

The pandemic has not stopped Black Cultural Archives’ upwards trajectory. In this new normal the staff are continuously adapting, learning and expanding to different ways of operating. We are hoping to continue engaging with visitors in both a physical and digital space in 2021 and beyond.