The Arab British Centre in London has been a hub for Arab creatives since the 1970s, and though its fundamental mission hasn’t changed, the world around it has, so the center and its staff are always adapting.
The changes brought by the Covid-19 pandemic are no exception. While social distancing and travel restrictions made it difficult for the staff to work together with artists from across the Middle East, the center found ways to work around these problems, and at the same time expanded its reach to more people outside of London and beyond the United Kingdom.
Sir Derek Plumbly, the center’s chairman since March 2016, talked to Al-Fanar Media about the charitable organization’s work and how it has adapted to carry its mission forward, before and after the pandemic shutdowns.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, we responded very quickly by translating a cultural program, which has been very much a physical one, to an online one,” Plumbly said.
It was tough on the organization’s staff to undertake this task so quickly, he said, but the result was a net gain because it allowed the center to reach more people across the world. The center will always have a physical presence in London, he said, but will now combine a mix of physical and online programs.
Part of the center’s mission, Plumbly noted, is to bridge cultural gaps and promote better understanding of the Arab world.
The United Kingdom has long been at the global forefront of promoting other societies, but there is also an element of restraint when it comes to understanding Arab culture. A 2017 Arab News/YouGov poll of U.K. attitudes toward the Arab world found that 56 percent of respondents had limited knowledge of the Arab world. Notably, 23 percent associated the Arab world with extremism and 14percent with violence.