From Keighley to Karachi – Bradford Literature Festival program to help women thrive in the arts


Producers of the future: from Keighley to Karachi aims to address the under-representation of South Asian women in the creative sector and particularly in leadership positions.

The digital talent program aimed to give 10 female producers of Pakistani origin from across the Bradford district and Pakistan the tools to develop successful creative careers.

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Such programs are key to opening up access and opportunities to create a “thriving” sector, said festival director Syima Aslam, with the arts essential to the “wealth” of life.

Syima Aslam, director of the Bradford Literature Festival

“We have a wealth of talent in Bradford and West Yorkshire,” Ms Aslam said. “What we need is to develop that talent pool for people to arrive. It’s about making sure people are aware of the opportunities. It’s about creating those opportunities for that talent to really flourish.

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How the Bradford Literature Festival became a cultural beacon in the city

Ms Aslam, director of the festival since its launch in 2014, was hailed as a female leader “breaking the glass ceiling” alongside partner director of the Adab festival in Karachi, Ameena Saiyid.

The collaboration between the two festivals over the past six months has given the 10 women tools for success, from workshops to seminars and mentorship, culminating in a digital project to produce a series of online conversations and events.

Catalyst was an earlier project, dubbed Takeover and funded by grants from the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, which invited grade 12 students to present and organize events.

This new programme, funded by the British Council Digital Collaboration Fund, saw the 10 women organize and produce a digital literature festival program centered on topics such as grief and loss, memory of place and breaking musical boundaries. .

Now, with the result released through five new short films, the ambition is no longer just to equip future leaders with skills but to focus on emerging talent.

Ms Aslam said: “For me, there are two types of success. There is the final event – ​​which is brilliant. Then there is the learning, this journey and the participation.

“Bringing these women together has been so rewarding for both parties. What is beautiful, in the end, is when someone says “I can do it”.

“When the festival started, it was about making sure that emerging artists who might not have a platform got one. It really struck me how much we need a talent pool.

Women of Pakistani descent are “grossly” underrepresented in the creative industries in Britain and Pakistan, particularly in leadership, curation and management roles.

Key to addressing this is awareness of potential pathways, from producers to writers, from managers to accountants, with the festival aiming to “demystify” the creative sector.

“If someone had ever told me that I would one day organize a literature festival, I would have asked what it was,” Ms Aslam said.

“To have a truly brilliant creative sector, we need representation from everyone – it’s this rich mix that creates a vibrant creative sector that brings such value to our county’s economy.

“We have to nurture that from an early age.”

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