BCA’s new head Arike Oke says archives are a world to explore not just a record of the past

Arike Oke, head of BCA

Arike Oke, head of the Black Cultural Archives on Brixton’s Windrush Square talks to Leslie Manasseh about her new job

The Black Cultural Archives is a unique, national institution that collects, preserves and celebrates the lives and history of Black people in Britain.

Arike Oke is its new managing director. She had been in post for just 26 hours when I met her to talk about what she hopes to achieve.

She can bring archives to life. In place of dry, dusty images of files locked in a basement, she talks with passion and enthusiasm about archives as living histories and testimonies to the past.

“The power of archives (relates to) our identity and community, and how we understand our place in the world. They are stories of activism, struggles and success.”

She worked in heritage for 15 years, after growing up in Hull in Yorkshire and Bauchi in Nigeria. It was while she was working as a registrar of births that she discovered her love of peoples’ stories. Working for BCA is obviously a high point in a career dedicated to connecting people with their history.

Arike describes the BCA as “the home for Black British history which goes beyond documentary heritage. We also have photos, objects, videos and oral histories … and the power of archives is that you can choose your own path through them” The archives are a world to explore, not simply a record of the past.

Why did she want the job and what is she planning to do? “I completely believe in the vision, and I want to realise BCA’s full potential. “The key to this is collaboration. I want to bring people together to talk about what BCA can do for Brixton and the community.

“How we can build on our achievements, and how we can best articulate our vision, and focus on what makes BCA unique”. Arike is very much in listening mode. She obviously has ideas, but wants to take them forward collectively.

It’s clear that she is also very ambitious for BCA. She believes it should be part of the national conversation. “We have something meaningful to say which can make a difference to society”.

Following BCA’s high profile involvement supporting members of the Windrush generation, Arike wants BCA to continue to support the communities it serves.

She also plans to build partnerships with cities across the country, strengthening BCA’s reach and influence.

She relishes the challenges ahead because “that’s what makes the job interesting”. One of them will be making the BCA a sustainable organisation. “We’re a mission-based organisation, not a fundraising one, but we have to think about finances quite carefully.”

All in all, Arike has a very full in tray.

Her message to Brixton Blog readers? “Thanks so much for your support and please keep coming to us with your ideas, your creativity, your opinions, and even your criticism.”