Words with:
Saad Eddine Said

Rachel Willcocks interviews Saad Eddine Said, new CEO and Artistic Director of New Art Exchange, Nottingham

Saad Eddine Said, October 2021, Photographer: Studio-Anicca-Charlotte-Jopling

The history of Nottingham’s contemporary art space New Art Exchange (NAE) dates back to 2003. The partnership between APNA Arts (focused on South Asian arts) and EMACA Visual Arts (East Midlands African-Caribbean Arts) brought about the gallery. Located in an unusual locality, in a suburban working-class area, nestled between the local library, community centre, and a block of high residential flats, its galvanised national and international acclaim. Earning its status in the art world whilst maintaining its home in the local community.

As the organisation approaches twenty years since the joining forces which led to its opening, another chapter with the arrival of new CEO and Artistic Director, Saad Eddine Said begins. Starting the position in September last year - not long after the many turbulent months of lockdowns, BLM protests and industry-wide arts cuts, we asked Saad about his plans. How he will navigate, co-exist and co-create in polarised times.

Hassan Hajjaj Exhibition (Launch Event), The Path Photographer, April 2019. Photographer Tom Morley. 

Rachel Willcocks: As a filmmaker, musician and environmentalist, what inspires you the most about the arts; how and why did you become interested and involved in creative communities?   

Saad Eddine Said: As a Curator and Practitioner, I have had the opportunity to explore many art forms. From music, filmmaking, and theatre to contemporary visual art, I have always been interested in the power of the Arts to tell universal and timely stories that help us as human beings understand the experiences where we converge and the ones where we diverge. Every concert, screening, show or exhibition captures the story of society and recounts its complexity in the purest and most reflective ways. As an environmentalist, I am aware that now more than ever, whoever we are, wherever we are, our destiny is interconnected, It’s under this lens that I see the work we do with creative communities and within our galleries, museums, cinemas, theatres and so on, as an effort to shift the narrative of separation and segregation to one of unity built around creativity and innovation. We have key global challenges to tackle during the next decade. This goes from food poverty to the climate crisis. I believe that Creative Communities around the world will play a key role in unlocking our collective potential to solve these issues.

New Art Exchange, 2022

RW: Previously you were the director at Home in Slough, do you draw comparisons between Nottingham and Slough, what legacy did you leave there and wish to carry through to Notts?  

Slough and Nottingham have a lot in common. From the diversity of the local population to the incredible and widespread talent and creativity in all of its aspects. I am not sure what legacy I left behind me in Slough but for sure the place and its people left an incredible impact on me. The sheer amount of bravery, resilience, creativity and innovation that I witnessed during Covid and within communities that didn’t have access to many resources was breath-taking. If there is one learning I would like to take with me is that a Community of Creative Citizens has the potential to turn the impossible into reality and the venue can play an important role in facilitating this. I can see the same thing in Hyson Green (the community surrounding New Art Exchange) which is a fantastic and vibrant neighbourhood that is filled with incredibly inspiring individuals and collectives. 

Hetain Patel, The Jump, 2015, Film.
All photos courtesy New Art Exchange

RW: On previous projects, you’ve used intercultural exchange as a tool in order to break cultural barriers. NAE too, has long been a place that breaks down those barriers through art, so how valuable do you think the exploration of international arts is to NAE’s future, and why?  

SES: Hyson Green is a mix of languages, cultures, recipes and melodies. It doesn’t take more than a 15-minute walk in the neighbourhood to see that ‘Hyson Green is in the world and the world is within Hyson Green’. NAE will continue its commitment to breaking cultural barriers and to building bridges between communities locally and globally. It will also continue linking the richness of our neighbourhood to places around the world where there are opportunities for exchanges, collaborations and shared learning.  

RW: How much change and scope for change can we expect for NAE under your leadership and in the current political and economic climate?  

SES: Change is not about replacing, but altering or modifying instead, it is about being in a continuous position of deep listening and a constant state of reimagining what we deliver to stay true to who we are and why we were founded. 

New Art Exchange is about stimulating new perspectives on the value of diversity in art and society. A key agenda for NAE is to build a better foundation for the next generation of Global Majority leadership. We are conscious that despite the rich and diverse multiculturalism within our society, there is a huge lack of cultural diversity within the creative sector and especially within contemporary visual art. We aim to change that landscape and we know that to achieve this, we need to start building a more representative leadership. The top of the ladder is where the real change starts and that’s something we are keen to support.

05 May 2022