Archive Showcase: June
In 1971, one hundred years after it first opened, the Gifford Mission Hall on Gifford Street in Islington became the Keskidee Centre. it was bought for £9000 by Oscar Abrams, a Guyanese architect and cultural activist, and was for several years a pioneering cultural centre dedicated to promoting the work of emerging artists from the African and Caribbean diaspora. The Keskidee's motto was: "A Community Discovering Itself Creates Its Own Future". The black youths from the area found in the Keskidee Centre a community space and a social club as well as an educational hub for alternative learning outside of the mainstream. Linton Kwesi Johnson, who was the centre's library resources and education officer from the early to the mid-1970s recalls the Keskidee as being "unique" and continues: "As a young person growing up and becoming politically and culturally conscious, it was fantastic...there was nowhere else that you could find that kind of ambience to nurture cultural creativity". The Keskidee Centre also provided a forum for political discussion and welcomed speakers from from as far afield as Grenada, Uganda and Zimbabwe who presented on issues like colonialism, imperialism and the need for national liberation. The actress and director Yvonne Brewster speaks of the centre as a place that "...was conducive to thought and to experiencing things which were not experienced anywhere else at that time in this country for us". She remembers Oscar Abrams as having had " a fantastic vision which was arts driven". The artist and sculptor Emmanuel Jegede was the Keskidee Centre's artist-in -residence and describes the flow of people to the site "like a wave of the sea...a wave of people coming: from Africa, from different areas..." The Keskidee Theatre Workshop was dedicated to black theatre and over the years plays by Lennox Lewis, Derek Walcott and Edgar White were staged at the centre. By the late 1970s the KWT had toured Europe and New Zealand and had been selected as Britain's representative at the New York Lincoln Center Fringe Festival. By the early 1980s, diminished funding and insurmountable debts led to the eventual demise of the Keskidee Centre and the building was sold in 1992. It has been a full 360 degree circle as the premises are once more used for the purposes of religion: the Christ Apostolic Church and the Power-Age Christian College. In 1987 Oscar Abrams said: "The most outstanding achievement for me personally is the consciousness the Keskidee brought to the black community and groups that subsequently became interested in the arts".