Milton Keynes/ Cultural Oasis
A few weeks back we published an article that explored whether Milton Keynes was a cultural desert. Reason for asking this contentious question was I had recently walked through Milton Keynes town centre on the hottest day of the year, and had an overwhelming sense, bar the fruit and veg market, that the city centre was a masterclass in retail and cultural blandness. The city, as MK central is so fondly referred to, is a monument to corporatist dominance where only national and multinationals with deep pockets can exist, or at least that was what I sensed at the time. The reality is more complicated given that established national retailers are crumbling in the face of ecommerce giants.
In fairness, the old Sainsburys building next to the market has for some time housed a few diverse locally based retailers, so my corporate -dominance narrative can be challenged I suppose, however, I am conscious of the fact it stays that way because the multinationals have seen no profit in coming for it.
Then on a Saturday in early September I met a certain Orman Griffith who quickly made me realise that MK is anything but a cultural desert if you just take a moment to scratch beneath the surface.
I was told little about the event I met Orman at other than it was at The Point (the old Odeon Cinema) in central Milton Keynes, and it was something to do with Black History month. Black History Month? But that is celebrated once a year in October… isn’t it, or am I missing something? Not according to event organiser Orman Griffith. As I entered The Point’s main function room, I could not help but be astounded by the sheer volume of African carvings, books and various African antiquities lined up along the entire length or the room. I was even more surprised when Orman stood up and announced to the guest that the exhibits, along with a string of portraits housed in another section of the building would be on display for what he dubbed ‘Black History Season’. At this point I had to convince myself that this was happening in central Milton Keynes and not Brixton London. Orman’s reasoning, that one month celebrating and exploring black history is not enough, and that a three-month period covering an entire season was more appropriate.
I was unable to be more in the centre of Milton Keynes than in the iconic Point, and yet it was here that Orman announced a 3-month exhibition of African culture that the British Museum would be proud of. There were well over 100 exhibits that anyone could come in from the street and enjoy.
Then there was poetry read by the ever-eloquent Yaw Asiyama, live music from the supremely gifted Flirtations who effortlessly belted out a string of classics including David Bowie’s “Dancing in the Street”, and sure enough, people danced and sang along to what was a great evening. This night was a far cry from the cultural dessert idea I had formulated a few weeks back, and proof that the city could actually be a cultural Oasis.
Black History Season runs till the 7th December at the point Central Milton Keynes.