With the long-awaited announcement of a new home for the Africa Centre in Southwark, we decided to seek out some other great cultural institutes in London, which are working hard to promote the arts from different parts of the world.
We weren't disappointed with what we found: dynamic programmes are bursting with the best contemporary art, film and music — and are often free. Sometimes food and drink is thrown in too. And when you add some chatter in the native language, it can almost feel like a little holiday abroad. Here are just a few of the lesser-known cultural centres:
Located in Hammersmith, POSK has been a Polish institution since the 1960s. Drab on the outside, inside this place is a haven for Polish Londoners, offering spacious bars serving traditional Polish drinks, restaurants serving pierogi and cream cakes, plus a theatre, art gallery and Polish jazz club. On Saturday nights the bar on the top floor is full, throbbing with live traditional Polish music, where old and young dance the night away. The view from the concrete rooftop bar is spectacular too — you’ll want to try and keep it a secret.
2. Bhavan Centre
The Bhavan Centre in West Kensington attracts the best musicians and classical dancers from the Indian subcontinent, offering introductory and higher level classes. For many westerners, Indian dance has become linked to Bollywood, at the Bhavan Centre you'll soon discover the subtleties of classical or kathak dance, and the links between music and religion. The centre has a large theatre and offers recitals throughout the year. Many are free, and if that isn’t enough, the centre occasionally serves delicious homecooked Indian food.
3. Cervantes Institute
This grand Belgravia building is best known for its Spanish language courses, but the arts on offer at the Cervantes Institute are easily overlooked. This month it's hosting a symposium on Goya and a festival on the Spanish tradition of Zarazuela musical theatre. There are often lectures and theatre (in Spanish of course) in its elegant auditorium. And, as with many cultural centres, wine often flows. The focus is not just on mainland Spain but Latin America too. If you’d rather spend time learning your Spanish verbs, the upstairs library is a great place to sit and relax with a book.
4. Brazilian Embassy
Although it's just off bustling Trafalgar Square, the atmosphere inside the Brazilian Embassy is calm and relaxed. The cultural offerings here range from exhibitions of Brazilian art to film nights and musical recitals. The exhibitions are on display in a magnificent ballroom on the ground floor of the Embassy and are always free to visit. It's worth dropping by just to look at the glitzy, listed interior of this former bank, with ceilings depicting the shipping industry — a hint to its first incarnation as a shipping office. (Apparently this place once housed a ticket office for the Titanic.) Movie screenings take place in a modern room upstairs and range from Brazilian classics to the work of contemporary Brazilian directors. All events here are free of charge.
5. Romanian Cultural Institute
Another beautiful building in Belgravia, this one, home to the Romanian Cultural Institute, was once an extremely elegant town house for an ambassador. It feels a bit spartan inside but the cultural centre offers a programme showing off the best of Romanian history, art and music, once again for free. The recitals are held upstairs, eighteenth century-style, in a room with large sash windows and a stately grand piano. Downstairs there is a well-lit gallery space for Romanian artists to display their works. All events here are free of charge.
By Caroline Bourne, director of SharedCity.