Art & Events Interview Caro Meets Festivals Interview

James Scotland: The Sunday Art Club

By | Published on Friday 11 September 2020

The bad news – and there is bad news – is that last month you may have missed the quality, Carnival-themed output staged during the bank holiday weekend edition of ‘The Sunday Art Club’.

The good news is that the COVID-19 inspired event – which features theatre, jazz, live DJs, film and visual art installations – will be happening again in late September, so make sure to put it in your diaries.

‘The Sunday Art Club’ is staged by production company Khaos. I spoke to co-founder James Scotland to find out more.

CM: Can you start by giving us a quick overview of what to expect from ‘The Sunday Art Club’ – what kind of cultural experience is this?
JS: Audiences can expect a very eclectic line-up of artists each month comprised of both established and emerging performers. The programme at ‘The Sunday Art Club’ – or ‘TSAC’ – will always be dictated by the art and so the focus may be live music one month and visual arts another. At the end of August, it was carnival themed in homage to the Notting Hill Carnival being cancelled in light of COVID-19

CM: Can you tell us about its format? From what I can gather it’s a live (socially distanced!) event, but will also be broadcast online…? How do people access it?
JS: Yes, it’s a live socially distanced event in accordance with government guidance that people can attend as well as view via our social media platforms and Zoom. Online broadcasts will be active from 12.15pm to 5pm, and will be accessible via Instagram, Facebook and Zoom. All the details are available via Eventbrite here.

CM: How was the programme put together? How do you decide who and what to feature?
JS: We open submissions for ‘TSAC’ on the first of the month and curate a programme based on the proposals we receive. Co-Curator Trix Mendez and I take a look at the range of artists and then set about creating a programme that’s diverse and complements each artist’s work.

CM: Where did the idea come from, the inspiration for it?
JS: The idea is the brainchild of Trix, who is Artistic Director of Outside The Zone gallery. In response to COVID-19, it was really important to us that we focused on artistic creativity and developed a strong network of artists that could connect with each other now more than ever. ‘The Sunday Art Club’ became the perfect vehicle to do that.

CM: Who is it aimed at? And what are your aims in staging this?
JS: ‘The Sunday Art Club’ is a party for London and beyond, and will become as culturally rich as the diverse performers and audiences who attend it.

There is also a highly regarded community spirit which already exists in Shoreditch and, it having taken a knock due to COVID-19, it’s an atmosphere that we want to resuscitate and broaden.

Our aim is to become a hub for London art and create an ecosystem which is both commercially viable and artistically fulfilling. With the future of art and live events in question, it’s very important that we re-build as we mean to go on.

CM: During lockdown we have seen many companies finding new ways to stage excellent work online. Do you think there is a future, even post-pandemic, where digital delivery co-exists alongside live performance?
JS: Absolutely. Innovative ways to share art will succeed and fail based on the ability to capture an audience. If an online space thrives during this time, it not only opens up possibilities for the future but will also change how we approach making art in general, sending a ripple effect across artforms.

Finding new audiences and knowing that you can extend the reach of your art to those that may not have been able to view it originally is to become a silver-lining for the artist.

CM: COVID-19 has had an obviously deleterious effect on the arts industry. Do you think it can bounce back? How can people support independent artists in this climate?
JS: It will bounce back and we’re definitely going to see intimate performances embraced across the industry.

People can best support independent artists by engaging with them online and being sure to attend and donate once events big and small are scheduled. If every guest donated £3-4 to ‘The Sunday Art Club’, that alone would make us sustainable.

Without big marketing budgets, it will truly make a world of difference if everyone engages with independent artists and helps support that work.

CM: Can you tell me a bit about you now – how did you become interested in a career in the arts, and how did you pursue it?
JS: I joined the National Youth Theatre Of Great Britain in 2008 where I cut my teeth as an actor. It was a baptism by fire. I loved the world I was entering but also struggled to keep up with it.

It served as a crash course into the theatre profession where I found myself acting in the West End, thrust into a debut at the Arts Theatre followed by a run at the National Theatre; premiering Michael Leslie’s ‘Prince Of Denmark’. It was a lot.

That lucky experience imbued me with a sense of perspicacity that I was to take to drama school and later into Khaos.

CM: Ah yes, your company Khaos. Tell us more about that.
JS: I co-founded Khaos – formerly Outer Gaea Company – in the wake of graduating from the American Academy Of Dramatic Arts with fellow alumni who all yearned for a different way to tell stories and a means of reviving the holistic practices of the repertory theatre system.

As a black British actor having trained in America, and feeling very despondent about representation, I desperately needed to create work that not only reconstituted the expression of what the black experience could be, but also encouraged black audiences to feel that they could engage with the classics and contemporary narratives that otherwise hadn’t been marketed to them.

In 2013 Khaos was just an idea, but with our New York debut in January 2019, we got our first taste of that idea becoming real with ‘The Ballerina‘.

For Khaos, it was and is very important to us that our art eroded borders and unified audiences. Through provocative and illuminating work, we will continue to champion that mandate.

CM: What ambitions do you have for the future, post-COVID?
JS: I’m eager to see out the rest of 2020 focusing firmly on ‘TSAC’ and its emergence on the art scene. As of 2021, there are productions which we had in motion that I look forward to getting back to, ‘The Ballerina’ by Anne-Sophie Marie and a race-flipped version of Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’.

SM: How have you coped through lockdown? How have you stayed sane?
JS: Early on, I tried to find solace in the uncertainty of it all and focus more on what was actually possible. And before ‘TSAC’ became the focus – which has since kept me very busy – you could say I found sanity in the consumption of art and re-evaluating the work I’ve wanted to stage…

But that could also be interpreted as a really privileged way of me saying I watched Netflix!

This month’s ‘Sunday Art Club’ takes place on 27 Sep. See this page here for all the details.

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Photo: Jasmina Haskovic