Mela (n) Sanskrit ‘to meet’, to ‘gather’, to ‘blend’
… Mela’s bring people together and Mela’s make people happy!
Every year thousands of people across the country flock to these largescale festive events, to meet friends and family, to celebrate and to engage in cultural activity.
“So what’s all the fuss about”, a comment made by a funder, overheard by a volunteer, at the London Mela 2018.
Mela’s first became visible in the UK, when the first generation of Asian immigrants came together. Those that arrived in the 1960’s, a generation later, in the late 1980’s, started to find the time, the resources and the passion to create Mela – a generation on, they continue to evolve.
“Mela clearly means something to many thousands of people and we are keen to understand what that is.”
a comment made by a sponsor who attended Manchester Mega Mela 2018
We connect to make these audiences visible, to promote and capture the data and to make and commission incredible shows for families and communities across the country and beyond.
Melas highlight the discoveries, delights and challenges of our shared cultural identity, they are a welcoming place in which different ethnic and cultural communities can come together.
We do this by working with artists, arts organisations, arts centres, CPP’s, local authorities, volunteers, local businesses, schools, colleges, families and communities.
Melas, have been part of the UK’s cultural landscape for over 30 years. They attract attendances of over 500,000 people a year, for many of whom the Mela may be the only arts event they visit.
The Mela Partnership (pdf link) was initiated and has been led by Nutkhut for the past five years. It’s a national network of festivals and producers working within the Mela sector..
The Partnership shares learning and advocates for Mela as a vital cultural activity. We support 15 festivals in towns and cities with Diaspora communities. The partnership increases understanding and awareness of Mela and highlights its important contribution to social cohesion.
The 15 Mela Partners are:
In 2018, the combined impact of the 12 Mela’s within the Partnership at that time was:
• The 12 Melas in the Partnership together attracted over 300,000 attenders
• 553 professional artists performed
• 317 community groups took part
• 261 volunteers took part
• Mela Partnership social media campaign reached 797k people
• Presented 4 productions with 18 performances
• 64% of attenders were from BAME backgrounds
• 54% attended just 1 arts event over the past year – usually their local Mela
• 71% of audiences are aged 16-44
These statistics are drawn from data-collection undertaken by the Mela Survey Team over the course of 2018; analysis from Made in Mela Evaluation Report by Sam Projects, October 2018; figures in the public realm.
2019 saw Nutkhut initiating academic research into Mela.
We opened discussions with the Universities of Kent to study the impact Melas have had on people, communities and the wider arts ecology.
We also worked on addressing the power of Mela to intergenerational audiences and through cross sector research, such as Mela and Health through an arts perspective, Mela and Education, alongside our learning partners and conscious of social mobility and social cohesion, the role Mela has played in the lives of young people and families who feel disenfranchised and not part of the status quo.
This is a particularly unique challenge we face as a society and we aim to ask some difficult questions.
30 years of Mela in the UK could be interpreted in many ways. What is Mela doing so successfully to be so resilient in some aspects and fragility elsewhere. What can arts professionals, other cultural and arts organisations learn from Mela and vice versa?
Our lived experience, our informal networks, our access to a wider community who have not benefited from associations or training, is our natural starting point.
“Mela has played an important role in the cultural lives of many communities in the UK over the past 30 years. The Mela Partnership was initiated to support the voice of the wider Mela community and to interconnect with the wider cultural sector.”
Ajay Chhabra, co -Artistic Director Nutkhut
“The Mela Partnership is very important. Historically with Mela and the culturally diverse sector, we’ve always been resourceful and adapted – but in the big scheme of things we should be promoting and advocating for what we do as a sector and that’s where the Mela Partnership comes in.”
Khairul Alam, Manchester Mega Mela
“We want to reach wide audiences, and if Melas want to break out of the stereotype, it probably has to start from the programming of the Mela. It is all about the content which defines who you are attracting. We have a wide repertoire of artists: musicians and performers. The programming relationship can go both ways.”
Dahlia Jamil, Chair Art Asia, Southampton Mela
“Hull Mela played an important part in Hull City of Culture 2017 – we demonstrated the power of Mela by being community led, diverse led and intergenerational in our outlook.
Dr. Tapan Mahapatra
“The Mela Partnership creates a sense of community among the Mela members, enabling them to identify areas of common interest and bring together the various voices and initiatives that have emerged over the five years of the partnership: ‘we should be proud of what we have achieved.”
Parminder Dosanjh, Creative Black Country
‘The Mela Partnership – allows us to punch above our weight. It allows us to spread the word at a national level.’
Zulfkar Ahmed, Luton Mela
‘Historically with Mela and the culturally diverse sector, we’ve focussed on what we do rather than how we do it, but in the big scheme of things we should be promoting and advocating for what we do as a sector and that’s where the Mela Partnership comes in.’
Taj Mohammed, Newcastle Asian Arts Music
“I was shocked, I didn’t expect to find a giant chappal at a Mela, it reminded me of what my Dad used to say to me as a joke! I followed the show in my chappals with my grandchildren.”
Balbinder Kaur Ahlulwalia, Audience member aged 69, Sandwell and Birmingham Mela
“Bradford Mela was a trailblazer for the Arts sector 30 years ago – we are proud to have presented and supported the first UK Mela of its kind – 30 years later the diversity of the Mela mirrors the diversity of our city.”
Bobsie Robinson, Bradford City Council
“A great way to understand each other and bring together people who wouldn’t normally talk to each other.”
Gulab Singh MBE – Preston City Mela
“The Partnership helped us get the ACE funding, they helped us to source the consultant who wrote our bid: without their help we wouldn’t have been able to celebrate our anniversary to that level.
Yaqoob Mohammed, Newcastle Mela
“If we can get a Mela flavour into our event it would really enhance our programme and our creative flair” –
Roxy Robinson, Arts By The Sea, Bournemouth
“There was a lady who came from Glasgow on her own in the rain to see a certain artist and her face was glowing and she said you made my dreams come true.”
Yaqoob Mohammed, Newcastle Mela
“A lot of people see Mela’s as a mono-cultural: but if you look across our audiences at ethnicity, faith, gender, economic background, age, urban and rural communities – you will see all sorts of families coming together.”
Gurvinder Sandher, Tunbridge Wells Mela
We work in partnership with a range of artists, venues, festivals, arts organisations, consultants, academics, educational institutions and teachers. We speak most of the languages spoken at Mela and we steer clear of jargon! So, come and talk to us – you might be one of these
• An artist or arts organisation looking to work in Mela
• A student keen to gain some work experience or insight into the workings of a Mela
• A future programmer or Artistic Director
• A researcher or consultant
• An academic or student
Or quite possibly, none of the above, so lets talk.
We run talks and seminars, from outreach programmes for continuing professional development, please get in touch if you’d like to find out more or have an idea that you’d like to test.
Welcome to Mela dates for the coming season – so watch this space!
Future Mela has three strands that synergise to build the capacity and ambitions of the Melas:
Leadership: Ensure Mela organisers are fully-equipped to deliver their organisations’ ambitions over the long term. We aim to integrate Mela organisers into established leadership programmes so that they are well-positioned to support their work and influence others.
Programming: Melas represent a success story in engaging hard to reach and diverse audiences. We aim to collaborate with other practitioners to extend this success, further diversify audiences and increase reach through new, surprising and high-quality programming.
Shared learning: Disseminate the learning from the model Melas interaction with other arts and cultural leaders, programmers and artists to the whole Mela Partnership. We will use the unique knowledge and experience of how Melas have succeeded as a learning tool for all arts and cultural organisations.