Today’s guest blog is from Councillor Asher Craig, Deputy Mayor for Communities, Equalities, and Public Health.
Just a few days apart, the city has lost two of its ground-breaking artistic black creatives: Barrington Anderson, co-founder of the brilliant award-winning Ekome National Dance Company, and Reynold Duncan, founder and Director of Arts Opportunity Theatre (fondly known as AOT). I send my heartfelt condolences to their friends and family at this difficult time.
Barry was instrumental in the development of African arts in the UK, not just Bristol. A dancer since the age of nine, he specialised in Ghanaian dance for over 20 years. He arrived with his family from Jamaica at the age of six and settled in St Pauls. In a society full of poverty and problems, dancing gave Barry a means of expression, a sense of his roots and a profession. His legacy continues with members of his family, led by his sister Angela Anderson, continuing to bring Afrikan Dance to the masses.
Barry’s Thanksgiving and Celebration of Life was held this week. It was befitting that Barry’s ancestral journey should begin with a Drum Call which followed the casket from his home in St Pauls to St Mary Redcliffe Church.
Reynold was born in Guyana and was a musician. In the early 1980s he established Arts Opportunity Theatre in Bristol (also known as AOT). AOT helped hundreds of young unemployed people from all communities across Bristol under the then Manpower Services Commission’s “Youth Opportunities Programme (YOP)”. Many of whom went on to achieve great careers and success in the creative and performing arts. These included drama, dance, music, stage management, lighting, photography, video-editing, costume design and making, creative and journalistic writing, graphic design, electrical and electronic engineering, office administration, booking, and computer skills. His contribution is legendary and he laid the foundations for what has become one of Bristol’s greatest strengths as a creative and artistic city.
I had the opportunity of working for AOT in the 1980s. Reynold appointed me as the Chief Administrator at AOT. I joined the company when they were in the middle of rehearsing for their show, Black & White in Colour. This was was followed by the musical play Freedom City – which played at the Little Theatre in Bristol – and Romeo & Juliet in Dub, all of which toured throughout the UK including Edinburgh Fringe Festival where they received rave reviews.
Plans for Reynold’s funeral are being finalised, but one thing that I know is both Barry and Reynold will receive the send off they deserve and their legacy in our city needs to be both celebrated and remembered by all.