Manchester Art Gallery hosts a free event using Ira Aldridge as inspiration for discussions around art, language and history

If you’ve followed the Belgrade’s work closely over the last few years, you may already be familiar with the story of Ira Aldridge, an African-American actor who travelled to England in the 1820s, and made his name at a time when slavery was still widespread throughout the British Empire.

In 1828, Aldridge came to Coventry, where he made such an impression on the community that he was made manager of the Coventry Theatre, becoming the country’s first theatre manager of colour before he had even reached the age of 21.

As well as being honoured with a blue plaque and a special event co-run by the Belgrade and the University of Warwick in 2017 (150 years after his death), Aldridge also became the inspiration for “Handing over the Keys”, our major project for Coventry’s year as City of Culture, which will see three Co-Artistic Directors take over our programme of home-produced work for 2021.

The project aims both to address the issue of inequality in arts leadership, providing young, diverse creatives with an opportunity to lead a major producing theatre, and also to refresh the theatre’s creative programme by introducing new voices and perspectives. You can find out more about the initiative here, or listen to our first Locked In podcast with our Co-Artistic Directors here.

At the Belgrade, we feel strongly that Aldridge’s story is an important part of our history and heritage in Coventry – a city that has long prided itself on its diversity and internationalism, from its pioneering twin cities project leading the drive for reconciliation in the aftermath of the Second World War, to the flourishing of the 2-Tone movement in the 1980s.