|Alastair Niven at ORIGINS 2015|
Until 2013, Border Crossings didn't even have a Chair of the Board. We rotated the role from meeting to meeting, with the aim of being egalitarian. When Alastair Niven became our first Chair, we soon discovered that leadership is not the opposite of equality: indeed, it can be the way to facilitate better equality, as a good Chair makes sure that every voice in the room is given equal weight and validation, encouraging the more reticent to speak up and politely silencing anyone who might attempt to dominate. I shouldn't have been surprised - these are, after all, the qualities needed of the director in rehearsals - but I will confess that it was an unexpected and very pleasing discovery.
During the time he has been Chair, Alastair has shown unstinting dedication to the mission and values of Border Crossings. He has done far more than run board meetings with characteristic tact and amiability. He has often spoken at our events: the photo above shows him taking on the role of our Elder, welcoming visiting Indigenous artists to the 2015 ORIGINS Festival. In the spirit of Indigenous cultures, Alastair has always understood the centrality of hospitality to any productive enterprise, and has several times hosted board dinners at his house in Kennington. He has even travelled with the company, joining us for an Erasmus + meeting in Malmo during 2019, where we managed to find an Italian restaurant that looked out across the sea, and a very fine bottle of Chianti.
Well connected and eloquent in his advocacy, Alastair has also been a terrific ambassador for the company, helping us to make many new connections and to forge new partnerships. He was only able to do this because he understands in such depth the field of interculturalism. As Director of the Africa Centre, as Literature Director of both the Arts Council and the British Council, and as Principal of Cumberland Lodge, Alastair spent his working life steeped in the diverse arts and cultures of the planet, and was crucial to the changes that have happened in recent decades, as the imperial and imperious monolith of "great art" has been dismantled, and a multiplicity of voices from "the margins" have started to be heard. It's very pleasing that Alastair saw his role at Border Crossings as a continuation of that journey.
His memoir, In Glad or Sorry Hours, has just been published, and is full of extraordinary insights and revelations. Alastair writes in the same way that he talks - so the memoir is very good company. Border Crossings has a brief but warm mention - appearing on page 245 of a 250 page book! We always knew that we were quite a small, though pleasingly significant, part of his story - but he has been a huge part of ours. Alastair chaired his last board meeting yesterday, passing on the role into the very capable, and doubtless very different hands of Jatinder Verma. We will miss his presence at our meetings, but we know he will still be coming to our events, and will always be a part of the Border Crossings family.
So this blog post isn't a goodbye - but it is a thank you.