How I Did It

How I Did It - Mohammed Ali

We were very excited to have artist, educator, curator Mohammed Ali talk to our cohorts as part of the 'How I Did It' series. Here Emerge Cohorts Cordeillia Cooper and Tara Buckley share their thoughts about the discussion.

Mohammad Ali with his work in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Mohammad Ali with his work in Edinburgh, Scotland.

It would have been so easy to slip into the familiar ‘there’s so little of us… please don’t pick me!’ mind frame upon entering the small and intimate setting of the most recent session on the Astonish Leadership Programme “How I did it with Mohammed Ali”. Instead, this tiny room proved to be the little spark needed to light a beautiful fire of imagination, creativity and debate.

For many of the artists in the room, this was the first time we had encountered the work of international artist also known as Aerosol Ali. He began by allowing us the opportunity to introduce ourselves, demonstrating his interest in our practice as well as his own, which immediately gained the respect of the room.

Image by Inés Elsa Dalal

Image by Inés Elsa Dalal


The images that displayed Mohammed’s portfolio of work oozed passion, technical skill and collaboration but funnily enough we weren’t shown Mohammed’s work until about half way through his talk… Instead he told us gripping stories from along the way, all of which contributed towards his current values when it comes to making art. Because of this, we felt as though we had formed a relationship with his work before even setting eyes on it.

“Take off your headphones while you are painting, engage with people that you are supposed to be serving” Mohammed Ali

Mohammed was painting a new piece of work in Sparkbrook when a local resident pulled up to him, child in car, and asked “what are you doing? I don’t like that”. Mohammed was left bemused, wondering why someone would ask this, why the residents wouldn’t want a new piece of visual art in the neighbourhood, why the residents wouldn’t want their stories told through art… when it dawned on him. He had never once consulted the community about what they wanted. He realised that he had been imposing his art upon the people that lived there, on people who already had so many of their decisions predetermined for them. And as a result, a key part of Mohammed’s practice became centred on engaging the people he is representing in the work he is making for them.

Image by Inés Elsa Dalal

Image by Inés Elsa Dalal

“As a community artist this is one of the stories which will stick with me” Cordeillia Cooper

Mohammed’s work is no longer solely based upon the wall; he is now involved in creating outstandingly unique and immersive experiences which bring stories to life.  “I aim to make work which not only tells a story, but enables others to relive the story, a story which is accessible to all’

“Finding other artists who want to create experiences, rather than traditional face on performances, gives me faith in my own vision and practice” – Tara Buckley

Based on his dad’s curry house in Cotteridge, “Knights of the Raj Exhibition” aims to retell the story of Mohammed’s humble beginnings. Find it at on Friday 22nd September 2017

How I did it - Mohammed Ali: A truly inspiring, and indeed, thought provoking talk.

HOW I DID IT - Laura Dyer


Last week we had the opportunity to have a behind closed doors conversation with Laura Dyer, Deputy Chief Executive at Arts Council England.  

As part of our ‘How I did it’ series, the evening brought us her insight, wisdom and knowledge about Laura’s influential position and journey within the creative and cultural sector.

Laura portrayed the qualities of a highly experienced and humanised leader as she spoke with confidence and thoughtfulness and took time to meet with participants afterwards in case any of them did not want to ask a question publicly.

In a room full of curious and enthused minds, we had questions around funding routes, ACE's vision as well as exploring wider areas including, education, health, gentrification and the role the cultural sector might play in a changing society and economy.  

It was an absolute pleasure and privilege to engage with a key leader within our sector. Our How I did it talks create the platform to allow participants access to leading policy makers, artists and academics who can demystify the grey areas.  With candour and by providing simple explanations of complex issues, they provide access to valuable knowledge that you can't necessarily always find on the internet.  

These talks are always guaranteed to bring something new from both speaker and cohort as they provoke interesting discussions, an exchange of perspectives and spark new ways of thinking.

Thank you Laura for being ACE!  


How I Did It - Piali Das Gupta

'I enjoyed how the session felt like a conversation instead of a talk'

Piali take 2

Last Wednesday evening, the first 'How I Did It' session took place, at Birmingham Hippodrome, with Piali Das Gupta talking to the ASTONish cohorts about her own leadership journey. The 'How I Did It' sessions are open and honest discussions with experts in their fields and it can't be emphasised enough how valuable these sessions are to giving the cohorts real insight into so many aspects of leadership and the contexts leaders across different sectors work in . The nature of the sessions allows the experts to really share the things that are helpful to others.

Piali Das Gupta is the Assistant Chief Executive of Birmingham City Council and we really appreciate her finding the time to come and talk to us. 

We spoke to some of the cohorts after the session to find out how it had been helpful and here are some of the responses;

'There has been lots of information. I'm looking at how to connect the information given to how it is relevant to me and how I can apply it'

'It's an eye opener. There's so much politics involved. Learning this helps me understand how I can navigate around and through it. If I understand it then I can really know how to think outside the box.'

'It reminded me to be active as a citizen, how important it is to vote. Also the importance of being creative with partnerships and funding. I enjoyed how the session felt like a conversation instead of a talk. It was interesting to find out the facts and have some myths busted.'