Just over a year ago, during the height of a lockdown-induced creative stagnation, I picked up my laptop and typed my thoughts out onto a virtual page. A blank screen became my canvas for organised improvisation, where I wrote freely and passionately, exploring my perception of our racialised world, and my place within it.
‘Ain’t No Black’, a piece published by Fuse, was my second foray into this world. A personal exploration of the relationship the UK has with race, the piece provided the catharsis I’d been searching for – but it also led me to discover a platform I’d previously not known about and one that would become indispensable to my future learning about the creative industry I’m inhabiting as a person of colour.
Fuse is a Manchester-based platform whose aim is to elevate the voices and work of creatives of colour around the world. Through this platform I saw myself and others within the Manchester creative scene represented, and in talking to Jaheed Hussain, the endearingly humble brains of the operation, I knew that Fuse was a space for me.
Through Fuse Jaheed has worked with creatives and organisations of all shapes and sizes, from freelancers like myself to the Manchester International Festival and Creative Boom. But one thing remains the same no matter the size of the task: the enthusiasm for championing people whose voices were previously muted. And so, I reached out to Jaheed to discuss the beginnings of Fuse, the work they’ve done so far, and where they’re headed in the future.
The initial idea for the platform came about as part of a second year University project. As Jaheed explained, “we were briefed to review the industry as we see it and come up with a project that addresses problems within it. For me, I’d always felt like an imposter, purely based on the people who were being spotlighted in traditional design media and events within Greater Manchester at the time”. What followed was a small exhibition called ‘White Space?’ – an exercise which drew attention to the work of hundreds of creatives of colour within the Manchester design industry. It was Fuse in real-time, a seedling that, only a few months later, would develop into the idea for “a platform that put the spotlight on POC within the industry that wasn’t self-involved, wasn’t doing it for monetary gain and was totally inclusive”.
Given their large following on Instagram, it’d be easy to assume Fuse had a master plan in terms of growth and success from the off. But despite the fact Jaheed has grown the platform on his own for the entirety of its two year lifespan, he was keen to reiterate the fact that Fuse has never been about him. “Ultimately, it’s a platform that has to be for a group and not focus on one singular person, and that’s always been one of my core values with it. I think the necessity for spaces owned by and for people of colour is massively important, just to be able to open up, discuss, share work confidently within a safe, inclusive environment and to be able to be your authentic selves”.
And it’s an idea that stuck immediately. From the early days, Jaheed’s marketing strategy was to associate Fuse with its target audience in an active way, rather than taking a ‘build it and they will come’-style strategy. “I would always contact creatives within Manchester’s creative scene to get them involved with Fuse if they were from a marginalised background, and I think that helped a lot in getting the word out to the right communities. No one really turned me down, so I think that direct connection massively helped with marketing the platform.” It’s this brand of no-nonsense and no-pressure networking that makes Fuse truly great – an organic, truthful way of spreading awareness for a worthy cause, and one that breeds a healthy and positive culture.
The two years since Fuse’s inception have seen the platform collaborate with countless artists, writers, musicians, designers, photographers and creatives of all disciplines – displaying a range of diversity in its directory’s disciplines that’s matched only by the actual creatives in its ranks. They’ve collated and released an online magazine, and been featured on huge platforms like Creative Review and Creative Boom, but perhaps the most notable and impressive feat Fuse has achieved so far is their collaboration with Manchester International Festival (MIF), working with the renowned organisation on pieces responding to Riz Ahmed’s ‘The Long Goodbye’ in late 2020.
“It was super cool”, Jaheed says. “It was surreal seeing all the support for it and seeing how Riz himself responded to it.” He goes on to describe how the pieces were picked up by Creative Boom, and even went as far as Pakistan, with a local platform sharing their work around the world. But for Fuse’s founder, it’s the work closer to home that garners the greatest satisfaction. “I always look back at the events Fuse has done in Manchester with pride, because I love being able to do that and being able to let people do the talking during these events.”
It checks out that this is the case, as the whole point of Fuse is to help people most immediately in its vicinity. And when it comes to the state of the creative industry here in Manchester, and what part Fuse has helped play in shaping it to this point, Jaheed remains cautiously confident. “Locally in Manchester, I’ve noticed that more opportunities are dedicated to people of colour, more projects are happening that feature people of colour and there’s more thought towards including people of colour,” he muses. And he’s right: there are now links in place between Fuse and organisations like MIF and HOME – an amazing centre for international contemporary art, theatre and film in the centre of town – that ensure creatives on the directory get opportunities they might have missed out on before. This means that at the heart of it all, Fuse is doing its job – but Jaheed knows there’s still work to be done. “It’s been great to see, and even if I’ve had a small, tiny part to play in that, then that’s brilliant. I think there’s still loads more to do though as more often than not, the bigger opportunities tend to go to the same type of people here, instead of giving someone lesser-known a chance.”
So what next for Fuse? Jaheed hopes it’ll be more of the same. He and his platform are riding a wave of success right now, and as we ease out of lockdown we can be certain that he’ll continue to keep the plates spinning behind the scenes, as they grow and develop into one of our great city’s most exciting platforms for creatives of colour.
You can stay up to date with all things Fuse by following @fusemanchester on Instagram and Twitter, and take a closer look at what they’re up to over at fusemcr.com.