A History of the Afro-Caribbean Nationals Artistic Centre (ACNA)


by Norma Gregory

ACNA is a registered company. It is not a sole ownership. The name for ACNA came about through Louis Morgan as he wanted a centre to house ‘coconut’ art (art produced using the shell of coconut). He had the idea that we (Jamaicans) could set up a centre for artwork. That is how the name came about. The people who formed ACNA formed it for semi- political reasons and not for personal profit. The founders were myself, George Leigh, Louis Morgan, Milton Crosdale and Junior Forbes. ACNA was set up to fight racism, to fight industrial inequality and all the bad things that affected our community.

ACNA was first housed in the old Bluecoat School off Mansfield Road, Nottingham. When the school was going to be closed down, the Council did not know what to do with it, so there was a suggestion that it should be set up as an International Community Centre so members of the community could rent rooms and carry out social activities.

Dorothy Wood professed an interest in bringing about equality for coloured people or everybody who was not white. Dorothy asked Milton Crosdale to call a meeting to invite black organisations to find out how best to utilise the International Community Centre. At this time, it was very difficult for any non-white groups to get a room to rent to carry out social activities (ironically, it was just as difficult to get a room to live in). At the time, the Black Power Movement was in vogue in 1960s America and it also seemed to influence black culture and politics in England. At this time, we also had the Afro-Caribbean Union (the West Indian Union). Surprisingly, there were many black organisations in Nottingham and across the UK.

ACNA Centre (from the left) Arnold Wright, Merlita Bryan, Professor Cecile Wright and George Powe, July 2012

At first, we rented premises on Derby Road in 1972 and set up a Trust in 1973. We wanted to build our own community building but when we calculated the cost, it was about £30,000. When we decided to get premises, we could not. We looked around for premises and later discovered to our merriment, on Hungerhill Road, a school building (the former Sycamore Primary School) closed down and dilapidated. The Bridge Trust passed the school over to Nottingham City Council as nobody wanted it and thus the council acted as caretaker of the building, as it was often being vandalised.

Urban Aid, a European funding initiative, was created in 1975/1976 and became an important opportunity for inner city communities to apply for grants. I think the UK received about £90 million. ACNA was then floated as a limited company. We then applied for and received a grant, which was supposed to be spent by 1977. However, we could not find suitable premises so we asked for a dispensation to allow us an extra year to spend the grant.

ACNA Centre, Nottingham

The rent for the old Sycamore Primary School building was set at £20,000 per year and we had no experience of running or managing a large organisation. The building was leased by the council to ACNA for fifty years. We received a grant of £60,000. However, the grant was not enough to refurbish the premises because of the extent of the vandalism. The city council believed we could not fix the building (but we did) and only contributed 26% of the grant.

ACNA members have recently thought about buying the building through the committee but this decision has never been followed through. I resigned from the ACNA committee but was recently co-opted back in (in 2012). I have done over forty year’s work supporting and helping to manage ACNA. ACNA now needs organisation and effective financial leadership for the future.