In April last year, the Manchester-based designer and writer Jaheed Hussain founded Fuse, a platform dedicated to bringing inclusivity to a creative industry that is still overwhelmingly white. “I think there’s always accessibility to attend the events here in Manchester, but in my case, it can withdraw your ‘want’ to attend certain events if there isn’t any representation,” says Hussain.
Fuse serves the community in a number of ways. It has a directory of creatives of colour, a features section for people to reflect on the industry, an anti-racism resource list, and an event series designed to combat the homogeneity within the current events circuit. The latter initiative comes in response to Hussain’s own observations of events in the Manchester area. During and after his university studies, events were an important facet of building a creative career (“I only ever really had my foot in the industry very recently,” he tells CR) yet he noticed they rarely include creatives of colour.
Hussain highlights that the failure to include people of colour on rosters is impacting who attends these events: “Creatives notice when events don’t feature anyone who is not white, and that deters interest from POC creatives in participating, whether in the audience or as a guest. The awareness of creative events is always there though; with Fuse I tend to share any that are inclusive, plus share open calls to help others that want to feature a diverse line-up.”
Just over a year since founding Fuse, Hussain has plans to turn it into a global initiative with local chapters in different cities around the world. Each will be run by an individual host or a group of hosts in a given city and, like the initial Manchester chapter, will be dedicated to “shining a spotlight on BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and people of colour] creatives – whether that’s through social media, events or through each chapter’s directory”. So far, Fuse has ventured beyond Manchester to Leeds and Zurich, and a London chapter is currently in the works too.
Beyond initiatives like Fuse, the wider design industry is still failing to engage or spotlight creatives of colour. Hussain believes a large part of this problem lies in recruitment processes. “Creative studios and agencies should be hiring more people of colour by introducing an inclusive application and interviewing process. Again, in Manchester, there are hardly any employees in various agencies from a non-white background.”
Yet for him, it’s just as important to address the issue at ground level and build from there. “I passionately believe that the problems start at the bottom of the creative world, with teaching of the arts at lower levels. We have to make sure the arts are funded and accessible for everyone, from anywhere,” he says. “For example, there’s a massive contrast between the creative scene in Manchester, compared to Oldham, where there’s hardly any awareness of the possibility to pursue a career in the arts, mainly because of funding issues.
“It’s important to reach out and make sure those from disadvantaged backgrounds in disadvantaged areas have accessibility to the arts,” he adds. “At university and industry level, it’s important to open the dialogue to race issues. I’ve spoken to students who are of colour, and to them and myself, it felt like only we could open conversations about race if it’s in relation to our work – when in reality, everyone should and can do so.”