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Naseem Khan. Photo: George Torode

Naseem Khan (1939–2017)

Naseem Khan, a British cultural activist and journalist who founded the Minority Arts Advisory Service, died of cancer at the age of seventy-seven, Usha Prashar of The Guardian reports.

Khan’s report “The Arts Britain Ignores,” published in 1976, was an unprecedented study of the thriving arts activity among ethnic communities in Britain. It argued that the artistic output of British black and Asian artists was integral to the country’s cultural sector. The piece launched a debate about cultural diversity and the lack of institutional support for minority groups and led to the formation of the Minority Arts Advisory Service, of which Khan served as the founding director. The agency operated from 1976 to 1995.

Born in Birmingham on August 11, 1939, to Abdul Wasi Khan, an Indian doctor, and German Gerda Kilbinger, the daughter of a trade unionist who traveled to the UK to learn English, Khan studied at the Roedean School, near Brighton, before attending Lady Margaret Hall at Oxford. She worked as a journalist and became the theater editor at Time Out, but she left the post to conduct research for her seminal report. Khan would later write for a number of publications, including The Guardian, The Independent, and the New Statesman, covering stories on Asian arts.

Khan’s passion for dance led her to take lessons with Pandit Ram Gopal, who is largely credited with bringing Indian dance to Britain. In 1982 she organized the Alternative Festival of India in Holland Park, which featured contemporary Indian artists, in protest of the government-led Festival of India, which focused on India’s past heritage. In 1985, she became a codirector of Akademi, the London-based academy of Indian dance.

Khan also worked on a large number of local authority arts and cultural plans for Bedford, Gravesend in Kent, and the London boroughs of Redbridge and Newham, as well as for institutions such as the Victoria and Albert Museum and Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery in Lancashire. She was a senior associate with the consultancy Comedia for many years and team leader for sections of their influential studies Parks and Urban Open Space (1995), The Future of Public Libraries (1993), and The Social Impact of the Arts (1997). In addition, she served as head of diversity at the Arts Council of England from 1996 to 2003.

Khan married journalist John Torode in 1974 and they had two children, Amelia and George. They lived in Hampstead until Khan and Torode separated in 2000. Khan then moved to the East End, where she championed local community development and advocated for the restoration of the Arnold Circus, a nineteenth-century bandstand.

After learning of her diagnosis, Khan traveled with a Buddhist group to France and wrote a memoir, which will be published later this year.

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