In 2021 Future Histories celebrated its 20th anniversary since the foundation by artist/researcher Dr Alda Terracciano and the Black Theatre Forum's coordinator Ameena M. McConnell. This timeline highlights important moments in the history and development of this pioneering heritage organisation, reflecting on the wider efforts  within the black arts and heritage sector to increase visibility, equality, and fair access to historical resources in the UK. 


    The origins

    The Black Theatre Forum was formed in 1985 as an umbrella organisation of 17 African, Caribbean and Asian theatre companies to stimulate the development of black theatre in Britain and promote greater equality and opportunities for black theatre professionals.

    Future Histories conference

    In 1995, the Black Theatre Forum organised the seminal Future Histories conference at the South Bank Centre in London. This attracted over 200 delegates, discussing the future of black theatre in the UK and the preservation of its living heritage and archives.

    The Black Theatre Forum archive

    When the Arts Council England stopped funding the Black Theatre Forum, its Board of Directors was forced to close the office at Oval House and split up the archive in various locations under the coordination of Ameena M. McConnell.

    Re-housing the archive

    Jeremy Conlon, Ameena M. McConnell, Mel Jennings, John Shevon, Jenny Bernard, and Shabaka Thompson at the Yaa Asantewa Centre offered to privately host the Forum's archive, which was boxed up and housed in different storage places in London. In those circumstances it was not possible to retain the original structure of the material.

    Assembling the archive

    As part of her PhD research on the history of black theatre in Britain,  Alda Terracciano engaged with the archive and collected further material on the Black Theatre Seasons. To prevent the potential loss of the dispersed archive, she devised a project to re-assemble and catalogue it, collaborating with the Black Theatre Forum's Board of Directors and Dr Susan Croft from the V&A Theatre Museum.

    Assembling the archive

    As the Black Theatre Forum became dormant in the early 2000s, Terracciano and McConnell negotiated the move of its archive to Middlesex University for preservation and public access. They saw the benefits of setting up an independent organisation to manage the collection, which McConnell suggested could be named Future Histories after the Forum's seminal conference.

    Setting up the organisation

    Future Histories was officially incorporated on 12 July 2001 by Terracciano and McConnell, respectively Chair and Company Secretary. They were joined on the Board of Directors by former members of the Black Theatre Forum, as well as artists, professionals and academics, including Errol Lloyd and Jenny Bernard, still board members to date. The Black Theatre Forum archive was eventually donated to Future Histories.

    Setting up the archive centre at Middlesex University

    In 2001, with the support of Professor Lola Young, Future Histories began setting up an archive centre at Middlesex University's Bounds Green Campus to house and preserve black theatre resources and create a national research centre. Ruth Thompsett, a lecturer at Middlesex University and board member of Future Histories, also supported the process, while eventually developing her own Carnival archive independently.

    Nitro/Black Theatre Co-operative archive

    Following conversations with the Artistic Director of Nitro Theatre company, formerly known as Black Theatre Co-operative, Future Histories agreed to include the company's archive in its project activities to preserve and share the history of black performing arts through cataloguing, exhibitions and creative interpretation.  

    Re-membering Black Performance project

    On 25 November 2002, Future Histories was awarded a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to deliver Re-membering Black Performance, a pioneering cataloguing project devised by Dr. Alda Terracciano in collaboration with Future Histories board members and The National Archives to organise, preserve and make accessible the Black Theatre Forum and Nitro Theatre archives.

    The National Archives A2A Programme

    On 30 November 2002, the A2A Central Team at the Public Record Office in Kew held a special event called A2A Uncovered. This event presented the A2A database, including several forthcoming projects as well as the Future Histories catalogues, which would become the first black theatre history resources to be made available online on the A2A (Access to Archives) website.

    Mayor’s Commission on African and Asian Heritage

    As part of Future Histories active lobbying for the sector, in 2003 Terracciano and McConnell took part in a series of consultation events organised by the London Mayor’s Commission on African and Asian Heritage. These formed part of an inquiry into the needs of black and Asian cultural organisations and the promotion of the sector in mainstream heritage institutions.

    motiroti arts organisation

    As part of Future Histories' collection policy, Terracciano engaged in a series of conversations with Ali Zaidi and Keith Khan, Artistic Directors of motiroti, a groundbreaking British Asian arts company, to preserve its archive. An agreement was eventually reached to collaborate on a joint archive project.

    Devising a unique archive loan system

    With the support of a pro bono legal team, Future Histories devised a unique loan system to allow black theatre companies and producers to retain control of the archives deposited with Future Histories, and of the ways in which African and Asian cultural heritage in Britain would be interpreted and disseminated.

    Staging the Journey exhibition

    In March-April 2004, Future Histories produced the Staging the Journey exhibition at MoDA (Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture) as part of the Re-membering Black Performance project. The archive display was based on Edgar Nkosi White's theatrical writings and productions.

    Re-membering Asian Performance project

    On 1 June 2004, Future Histories was awarded a new grant by the Heritage Lottery Fund to deliver the Re-membering Asian Performance project, devised by Dr Terracciano to preserve and catalogue the motiroti archive. Further funding from Arts Council England was granted to deliver a series of workshops on the art of archiving.

    The Living Archive

    In July 2004, Future Histories launched the Living Archive programme with play-readings at the Brixton Arts Gallery, featuring extracts of produced and unproduced plays from the archive collections.

    Art of Archiving workshops

    Between February and March 2005, Future Histories delivered five workshops on techniques for in-house archival preservation and organisation aimed at black and Asian performing arts companies. The workshops took place in various locations, including City Hall in London, Kuumba Arts and Community Centre in Bristol, Metropolitan University in Leeds, Contact Theatre in Manchester, and the MAC in Birmingham.

    Life in Performance art installation

    On 16 March 2005, Future Histories presented the live art installation Life in Performance at The National Archives, Kew, Surrey, to mark the launch of the Re-membering Asian Performance project. The event was curated by Dr Terracciano in collaboration with Ali Zaidi, and included presentations by Artistic Director Felix Cross and musician/composer Nitin Sawhney.

    On Route Carnival conference

    On 19 October 2005, Dr Terracciano and the V&A Theatre Museum archivist, Guy Baxter offered an information session on in-house archiving and preservation at the On Route Carnival conference.

    Talawa Theatre Company archive

    In November 2005, Future Histories was approached by Nadia Stern, interim Executive Director of Talawa Theatre Company, to explore the possibility of including Talawa's archive in future project activities. The company was keen to preserve its archive and avoid potential dispersal of the material during a period of restructuring.

    Engaging with the museum sector through the arts

    On 22 March 2006, Future Histories launched a new collaboration with the V&A Theatre Museum. This initiative aimed to facilitate archival acquisitions and enable creative access to unique archive resources relating to African, Asian and intercultural performance, which were not accessible to the public.

    The challenge of sustainable independence

    In March 2006, the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) confirmed in-kind support to Future Histories to help the organiation develope a strategy that would ensure its sustainability in the face of a lack of core funding and permanent members of staff. These were challenges similarly faced by other black and Asian heritage organisations in the UK.

    Widening museum interpretation

    As result of its engagement with black artists during its cataloguing projects, in 2007 Future Histories was invited to take part in a series of discussions at Tate Britain focused on the re-interpretation of the role of museums in the current social and political context.

    Trading Faces Recollecting Slavery project

    On 25 June, Future Histories and Talawa Theatre Company were awarded a grant by the HLF to develop the Trading Faces Recollecting Slavery project, which was devised by Dr Terracciano to catalogue and make accessible black theatre collections at the V&A; training an archivist of African descent to counteract the lack of diversity in the sector; organising a Talawa Theatre-in-Education production; and creating an online exhibition on the legacy of the Transatlantic Slave Trade in British performing arts and society for study and research.

    Cataloguing black theatre archives at the V&A

    The Trading Faces Recollecting Slavery project was officially launched in November 2008. Catalogues of the Talawa Theatre archive, as well as archives held at the V&A, including Black Mime, Temba, Alfred Fagon, Unity Theatre, Round House, and ACE Ethnic Minority Arts Unit, were made accessible for the first time at the V&A Blythe House study room.

    Supporting research

    The Trading Faces online exhibition was officially launched in January 2009. The website soon became a key resource for the study of black British theatre in the UK and abroad.

    Finding a new home

    In April 2010, the archivist at Middlesex University informed Future Histories' Board of Directors of the imminent closure of the university Cat Hill campus, suggesting that transfer to a new location would only be secured upon donation of the collections. To preserve its independence, Future Histories started a year-long search to re-house the archive.

    Goldsmiths University Special Collections

    With the support of Senior Lecturer Dr Deirdre Osborne, on 27/07/2011 Future Histories moved its archives from Middlesex University to Goldsmiths University, where a deposit agreement was signed on 03/02/2012.

    Engaging with academic research  

    In 2007, Future Histories contributed to the Collections Working Group, part of the London Mayor's Heritage Diversity Task Force, lobbying the Research Council to invest in knowledge transfer between Higher Education and the cultural heritage sector. In 2012, following recommendations in the Embedding Shared Heritage report, Dr Terracciano and Goldsmiths University's archivist planned a series of activities to facilitate access to Future Histories collections and promote their use by students and researchers.

    Students' archive workshops

    A series of workshops on black theatre archives were delivered by Dr Terracciano to undergraduate students as part of Goldsmiths University Special Collections & Archives programme.

    motiroti archive donation

    Following the announcement of the imminent closure of the motiroti arts organisation, on 30/03/2014 the archive was officially donated to Future Histories.

    Digital dissemination

    On 22/01/2015, Future Histories launched a new exhibition at Goldsmiths University Library and Special Collections, supported by the twitter campaign #OnThisDay: Memories from the Archive, highlighting key productions in the 1980s and 1990s black theatre movement.  

    Academic dissemination

    Since 2015 a number of research initiatives were delivered by Dr Terracciano in collaborations with Higher Education institutions including University College London and Gothenburg University, as well as conference papers and publications. Goldsmiths University students continued to access the collections, including those enrolled on the MA Black British Literature launched in 2015 by Prof Joan Anim-Addo and Dr Deirdre Osborne at Goldsmiths University.

    Community activism

    In 2020-2021, Dr Terracciano, with the support of the Centre for Critical Heritage Studies at UCL, reached out to members of the Black Lives Matter movement in London to raise awareness of the role of archiving in the preservation of our shared histories.  Thanks to a Covid-19 emergency funding granted by the National Lottery Heritage Fund the Future Histories' online resources were rescued from technological obsolescence and a new website developed and launched.