Home Chennai A year and counting

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    The director of British Council, Mei-kwei Barker tells us about new plans and why the UK stands to gain from sending youngsters here

    Mei-kwei Barker does not forget a face. My last meeting with the British Council’s director for South India was an exchange of cards that took place a year ago when she took up office in Chennai, but she recalls having met me and my colleague immediately. Barker values time a lot and I have just half hour with her, so we skip pleasantries and get straight to the point. “Looking back, I haven’t spent as much time as I’d like in the place that I’m based, and that’s something I’m trying to change in my second year,” she answers my first question. “I’ve worked for the British Council for 20-something years, in lots of different countries. But the opportunity to work with so many different partners here, is huge. In one year, it’s clear to me that there are plenty of opportunities that graduates from the UK can gain from here,” she says, citing the example of a young girl from the UK, who was part of a group of 40 entrepreneurs who recently spent two weeks in Mumbai, Bengaluru and Mysore. “She came with an idea and three days later, pitched it in the Mumbai Stock Exchange. Four hours after that, the prototype for her idea was delivered to her. She then went to Bengaluru and the coding was done for it,” she exclaims.

    Exchange of ideas
    Exchange programmes are one of the key focusses of the British Council at the moment and Barker tells us of plans with theatre groups that will involve workshops and lectures too. For instance, in December a group called Filter Theatre is bringing their ‘rock gig’ version of Twelfth Night to eight cities, including Hyderabad and Chennai (December 8-9). “Whenever we bring an artiste from the UK, they conduct workshops or lectures with budding artistes. With Filter Theatre we’re currently looking at where those workshops will be,” she shares, adding that a lot more exchange will take place as part of their Reimagine programme. “It culminates in 2017, so 2015-2016 are the years of scoping and in 2016 there will be the exchange and those performances will be shown through 2016-2017. GBP 1.5 million of Arts Council of England’s funding has gone into this, so there is a huge range of potential opportunities for exchange,” she says.

    Workshops & more
    The British Council is also supporting an arts journalism workshop, with an Earth Sync exchange happening from November 27-29. “We’re supporting Simon Bratson, who’s the editor of a UK music magazine called Songlines. He’s conducting a three-day workshop in Chennai. So look forward to that,” Barker says, adding that post that, her focus will be on World Disability Week that takes place in the first week of December. “We’re partnering with the Ability Foundation and screening a film on disability. The British Council has five values and we work very closely with seven areas of diversity and inclusion — disability is one of those,” she shares. But before all this, the British Council will be working with the High Commission and their libraries to promote various resources that they have around James Bond, given the release of the new Bond movie on November 19.

    —Ryan Peppin
    Pic: R Satish Babu

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