The meaning of Mela
Mela is the meeting, the coming together, the mix, the blend of unique aspects of our society – creative, resilient, spiritual. It comes from the Sanskrit ‘to meet’, related to ‘milana’ the verb to mix, to tune, to come together and is used to describe a large gathering of people, a fair or a festival.
At a time when understanding of each other, of difference matters so much – particularly with face-to-face opportunities, Mela plays an important role.
The Mela Partnership, led by Nutkhut, is a diverse, national membership network of festivals, volunteers and producers. It develops high quality creative programming, shares learning and builds capacity.
The Partnership supports the commissioning and touring of new and innovative outdoor arts productions, facilitates networking events and seminars and supports the professional development of the next generation of Mela makers. Our strength, impact and growth is a result of our diversity of faith, class and gender.
Mela is often the only publicly-funded arts activity which families attend outside their own family or community events.
Our Mela Partners are:
- Arts by the Sea – Bournemouth
- Bula Festival – Aldershot
- Camden Mela – London
- City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council
- Desi Fest Luton
- Eden Arts – Cumbria
- Hull Indian Mela – Kingston upon Hull
- Leicester City Council
- Luton Mela
- Manchester Mega Mela
- Middlesbrough Mela
- Newcastle Mela
- Peepul Centre – Leicester
- Preston City Mela
- Redcar and Cleveland
- Rushmoor Borough Council
- Southampton Mela – Arts Asia
- Tunbridge Wells Mela – Cohesion Plus
Impact and Advocacy
In 2019/2020, the combined impact of the 18 Mela’s within the Partnership at that time was:
— The Partnership came together and 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 2021/2022; analysis from Made in Mela Evaluation Report inc. by Sam Projects, October 2019/2020; figures in the public realm.
2022 saw Nutkhut initiating academic research into Mela.
We opened discussions on the study and 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 the power to bring many different groups of families together, through so many different lenses; the arts, culture, heritage, faith, all in a sharing and nurturing way”
Fahim Qureshi – Luton
“As a founder member of the Mela Partnership, Manchester has benefited hugely to the many initiatives and opportunities the Partnership has on offer. Action combined with a deep sense of understanding the audiences we serve is at the heart of this network.”
Khairul Alam – Manchester Mega Mela
“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, Nutkhut
“The partnership is fundamental in providing a platform for Mela across the country and to support and encourage joint working opportunities.”
Dahlia Jamil CEO, Art Asia
“The Peepul Centre has always been an arts center that works across sectors, from health to education to wellbeing. During Covid, whilst other theaters and arts centers went dark, our doors remained open and we became an essential vaccination clinic and food bank. We exist because of our community.”
Anil Bhanot OBE – Peepul Centre – Leicester
“A central Mela value of Seva (service) results in volunteering. We don’t have the same resources as the better funded larger festivals so Seva becomes that much more important – we punch above our weight, we work hard to make ourselves heard.”
Gulab Singh MBE DL – Preston City Mela
“We are not a Mela and that’s the real strength of the Partnership. The ability to bringing a diverse range of experiences together- local authorities, volunteers, National Portfolio Organisations all coming together and having conversations, open supportive conversations without feeling like an outsider to the process.”
Andrea Francis – Arts By the Sea – Bournemouth
“We just don’t do arts speak and the jargon that comes with it – we are conscious of the relationships amongst existing networks of arts professionals. We don’t have those and keep a check on ourselves.”
Graham Callister – Leicester City Council
“It promotes better relationships, by which I mean the South Asian community and the white population. We also get a huge number of African and Caribbean families coming to Mela. If you want to promote better relations between our culture and ALL our communities, Mela is the proven way, it has helped a lot.”
Khairul Alam, Manchester Mela
“This Mela go-see (City of Culture 2025 Bradford) was extremely valuable. It not only allowed for time for Mela partners to join together to discuss common threads and gain updates, but it allowed us to network with the wider creative sector, enabling wider conversation, research new shows and potential companies and it allowed us to join in wider cultural conversations.”
Lisa Storey – Redcar and Cleveland
“Mela Partnership ‘Go and See opportunities’ offer time to reflect and respond as well as provide opportunities to our Mela and wider programme. It was also inspiring to attend an event in Bradford, the next UK City of Culture.”
Holly Glover – Middlesbrough Council
“All this provides different acts for different audiences. One big main stage is not enough to develop the different strands of audiences and generations that we could be reaching and the Mela Partnership opens up to new ideas.”
Gurvinder Sandher MBE – Cohesion Plus, Tunbridge Wells Mela
“[Mela] is about distinctiveness, visibility, identity, valuing differences for communities and a place to value cultures as a part of a neighbourhood.”
Angela Chappell – Arts Council England
- “The demographic has changed: we have new audiences and visitors to Mela communities with strong family and faith values, Polish, Somalis and Afghans and our Mela programme is beginning to reflect that.”
Kash Patel, Chair, Middlesbrough Mela
Come on board
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.