September 7 2016
LONDON’S Mayor Sadiq Khan has told www.asianculturevulture.com he plans to put culture at the very heart of his policy agenda and said it is vital to maintaining the capital’s reputation as the cultural capital of the world.
In an exclusive one to one for print, at the London Mela, he said he would be looking to push through a number of initiatives to maintain and enhance what he believed to be the capital’s strength in this area.
He said: “For the first time in City Hall, culture’s going to be a mainstream issue.
“It goes without saying it’s very important economically but it’s also about a way of life, people enjoying life.”
Among the planned new initiatives is a scheme to declare a ‘London Borough of Culture’, ‘a cultural enterprise zone’ – and all as part of a new culture infrastructure plan.
“The key thing for us, is that just as we have a long term plan for housing, we have a long term plan for culture.”
He and Justine Simmons, his deputy mayor for culture and the creative industries, are working on the cultural infrastructure plan.
“We are going to celebrate a London borough of culture, just like the big cities bid to be a European City of Culture, we want boroughs to bid, and we will also have a cultural enterprise zone – an area where you can have carrots to encourage the arts to go there. It’s really important to recognise that we are the cultural capital of the world but we can’t be complacent.”
This was the first time Wembley Park, in the shadow of the national football stadium, had hosted the London Mela on Saturday (September 3).
Khan told www.asianculturevulture.com he was delighted to be attending his first London Mela as Mayor.
Khan added: “It’s great, it’s been going 14 years and we have to make sure that is thrives and flourishes. The thing about culture is that brings people together an its benefits are unquantifiable – breaking bread together, forming friendships and changing attitudes that’s really important.”
The previous Mayor Boris Johnson supported the Mela but never attended one in person in recent times.
Earlier speaking at a reception at Brent Civic Centre, Khan said he was extremely proud of the diversity the London Mela engendered.
“Mela means a gathering, people coming together.
“The diversity of the London Mela should make us really proud. It isn’t just people from Asian origin or Caribbean, it’s people from all around the world, or Anglo-Saxons that have been here for around 300 generations, that is what should make us really proud.
“I am a firm believer that culture is in the DNA of our city and it’s also the glue that binds us together and how wonderful it is to make friends, eat together, sing a long, and share stories about the London Mela – that is the legacy of those who have worked on this (London Mela) for years.
He said the ‘London Is Open’ campaign was not just about a slogan.
“With the Brexit result, I was concerned that some people thought we are going to stop being the greatest place in the world.
“‘London Is Open’ is showing the world very clearly that we are open to talent, business and innovation and investment – but also it’s about a state of mind, we’ve been a city that’s been wealthy with ideas, people and trade for more than a 1,00 years and that’s not going to change.
He said it was important for people to stand together in the face of those who wanted to divide communities and put up barriers.
“We don’t just tolerate difference – you tolerate toothache, we respect each other and we embrace each other. We cannot be complacent.”
“We have a message and it’s loud and clear, you can be British, English, a European, a Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, Muslim or of no organised faith and whether you are rich, poor, lesbian or gay…You can be who you are in London,” he stressed.
Earlier, Ajay Chhabra, artistic director of the London Mela and co-founder and director of Nutkhut, one of the the Mela’s principal delivery partners, praised Khan for his leadership and said he said he was delighted his friend and one time Saturday work colleague at a shoe shop in Oxford Circus, was now mayor; the reception also heard from Dawn Butler, Brent Central MP, who said that Khan was a mayor for all Londoners.
In a jokey aside, Khan also voiced his mock unhappiness with the Oxfam Stilt Walker Princesses in his presence – saying he was only 5ft 6ins and they were deliberately there to try and make him feel small, but he was having none of it.
Crowds were entertained with three different stages: a main one, community and classical.
Among the main performers at this year’s Mela were Zack Knight, Punjabi Hit Squad, Raxstar, and Indian group Ska Avengers (on the main stage) and the Bollywood Brass Band, Hussain Brothers, and Baluji’s World Music Ensemble (on the classical) and Jay Kumar dance, Dhol Beats UK, D-Style Dance and Reliance Dance (among others on the community).
The weather wasn’t great – it poured half way through – but the spirit wasn’t really dampened. The food stalls appeared to do good business and the varied musical acts kept audiences outside and inside (Brent Civic Centre where the classical stage was) royally entertained.
For years, the London Mela was hosted at Gunnersbury Park in Ealing but there has been a change in the main sponsors (now Zee) and budget constraints prevented it returning to Ealing this year.
Nothing has been formally agreed for next year, but this was the first time the London Mela was hosted by Brent and in Wembley Park.
Khan said it was a good sign that the boroughs were talking to each other (another humorous reference) and actually competing to see which borough would host next year. He reaffirmed his support.
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