“What’s in a name ? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” : Shakespeare (“Romeo and Juliet”). But was Juliet right ? Names may have deep roots, and change may be both pleasurable and painful.
Our home and base was originally the Great George Street Congregational Church. And when we took over the former church in 1967 we named ourselves the Great Georges Community Arts Project (subsequently revised to Connecting artists and communities).. But our home and base also had another name, given to it by the community. Covered with 140 years of inner city grime and smoke, the building had become black, and was known locally as ‘The Black Church’. And this was shortened by the community who adopted the building as their cultural home (a predominately African-Caribbean community of children, youth, and parents) - to ‘The Blackie’. There was clearly an element of both pride and reclamation in the use of a name which chimed with “Black Power”, “Black Is Beautiful”, and “Young, Gifted, and Black” Indeed, when “The Guardian” newspaper published a feature on the project in the 1970’s it was headed “Blackie’s Beautiful”. And when we began to redevelop the church (including the cleaning of the exterior) members of the local community told us that “You can change anything you like about the building but you can’t change the name”. At first ‘The Blackie’ was a familiar name. It was used by the extended family of regular participants. It was not used by government agencies and funding bodies. But as time passed the name ‘grew upon us’. The charity was established as “Connecting artists and communities trading as ‘The Blackie’”. The Gallery became The Blackie Gallery. Cheques made out to ‘The Blackie’ were and are now honoured by the bank. The Blackie is on our notepaper, email address, and website. It’s on our current publications, literature, posters, leaflets and on almost all our publications, literature, posters, leaflets in our archives. It’s in constant daily use in conversations and correspondence with playgroups, youth clubs, arts organisations, government agencies, city council departments, and funding bodies. After 37 years, the name ‘The Blackie’ runs through everything we do like the word ‘Blackpool’ runs through a stick of rock. And the name is unique in two respects. For ‘The Blackie’ refers not only to the building which is our home and base. The Blackie is also the name of the project itself.
The name ‘The Blackie’ has not itself been a source of any evident contention over the many years it has been in use . There have however been occasions when it has been questioned. When “The Voice” was covering an African dance season at The Blackie we were asked for an explanation of the name. The explanation - provided by Peter Eyo in a phone conversation - was clearly accepted by “The Voice” since coverage of the event accepted the name without comment. More recently Malik Robinson, the administrator of the American Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Company based in Denver Colorado, asked for an explanation of the name given that it can be used “as an offensive term for African Americans and many Black peoples around the globe”. The explanation provided, along the lines of the ‘History’ section above, was accepted by Malik without further question. However, the name, and its offensive associations when applied to individuals, was raised as an important issue by Peter Blackman at the Trustees ‘Branding Weekend’ in March 2005, and the Trustees agreed that consultation should be undertaken as to the appropriateness, or inappropriateness of the name, and a report produced which reviewed the options of (i) keeping the name, (ii) varying the name, and (iii) changing the name.
I began my consultation by simply asking individuals (principally in Liverpool) the question “Do you think we should change the name of The Blackie ?” This turned out to be something of a boomerang, for it almost immediately produced a question rather than an answer in return - “Why are you thinking of changing the name ?” I was then involved in providing an explanation rather than listening to an answer, though it is possible that the surprise at the question may in itself imply a positive response to the name. I then changed the question and asked in the first instance for a yes/no answer to : “Have you ever wanted to change the name of the Blackie ?”. The results from a far from exhaustive consultation process is that a majority have indicated to me that the name must stay the same - including individuals who have sought me out to say just that - whilst a small number have indicated that the name should stay basically the same but should be ‘tweaked’ or explained in some way.
The conclusions which must be drawn from the issues as raised at the ‘Branding Weekend’ and as have emerged through limited consultation would appear to be (in one instance) practically almost insurmountable and in other respects mutually contradictory and irreconcilable. The practical barriers to a totally new and fundamentally changed name include the following : the new name would require the addendum ‘formerly known as The Blackie’ to be appended for an extended period of time ; all our colleagues, funders, associated organisations and the media would expect explanations for the fundamental change of name, explanations which we might not find too easy to articulate ; and archive material and publications covering over 30 years would go on exhibiting the old name. The apparently mutually contradictory and irreconcilable elements are these. On the one hand there are strongly held views that the name should not and must not be changed. On the other hand there is the view that the name can be offensive and should be changed. How can such contradictory views be reconciled ?
A Proposed Resolution
Some years ago Joe Lund, a joiner on the earlier building programme organised through the Manpower Services Scheme, returned to the Blackie with a gift. This gift took the form of a small wooden sculpture symbolising The Blackie - the letter ‘E’ painted black and mounted on a black base. The Black E. The thought behind this gift provides a basis for the re-naming of The Blackie - and also for addressing the issue of branding. The branding issue was also one which divided The Blackie Trustees and staff. Branding was seen, often by one and the same person (myself included) as an issue to be both embraced and resisted. Brands and slogans - from Tesco’s ‘every little helps’ and Currys ‘always lowering prices’ to M.F.I.’s ‘the place to buy’ - may work commercially, but they are also mind numbing. They represent repetition without variation, and repetition without variation is not a path for an artistic project to tread. And that’s where The Black E comes in. The ‘E’ can stand for Equity, Equality, and Energy. It can stand for Earthy, Exciting, and Exhilarating. It can stand for Education, Education, and Education. There are seemingly endless possibilities. The Blackie brand name - The Black E - could remain constant and yet capable of endless variation, with the name itself in large bold print and the associated words underneath (always beginning with ‘E’) changing according to season, occasion, and event. And the ‘E’ itself can change, as Jennifer Bean suggested when we were discussing this branding, into different designs to represent the nature of different occasions and events. Accepting this brand-name-with-variations would serve to continue along a path with historical resonance and satisfy those with the desire not to change the name, but also to vary the name in such a way as to remove any possible offence. Our partners - playgroups, youth clubs, arts organisations, government agencies, city council departments, and funding bodies - would recognise it as just the sort of step which The Blackie they know might undertake at the time of a relaunch. The media would comprehend the change. And, though the name might be a little mysterious to those encountering it for the first time, there’s no harm and some possible benefits in this initial mystery. Finally, though the word ‘art’ does not feature in the proposed branding, if the texts and illustrations which accompany the brand do not convey ‘art’ and ‘creativity’ then we will have only ourselves to blame.
Energy Equity Equality
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