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Case Study

Supporting Cultural Development in Milton Keynes

Milton Keynes Islamic Arts and Culture (MKIAC) plays a big part in Milton Keynes' cultural calendar with exhibitions, community initiatives and the Art in the Park Festival.

Since 2001, Milton Keynes Islamic Arts and Culture (MKIAC) has been a leader in the area advocating for and developing cultural initiatives, artist development programmes and delivering events which explore and celebrate cultural diversity across the city.

MKIAC embraces diversity and inclusion in all forms, and with support from partners including MK College, Bletchley Park, Five Trust Schools, MK Council, AH-A, Open University, MK Music Hub and MK Museum they’ve created and delivered events which have since formed regular highlights in the MK cultural calendar.

Anouar Kassim MBE is the Founder and Director at MKIAC and has worked with Art Reach since 2015. We recently supported MKIAC through a successful Arts Council England (ACE) National Portfolio Organisations (NPO) application. So, we’ve asked him to tell us a little more about the organisation and how Art Reach has supported some key initiatives since we first met.

MKIAC plays a big part in Milton Keynes’ cultural calendar with exhibitions, community initiatives and the Art in the Park Festival. Set up around 20 years ago, what were the original ambitions for the organisation?

MKIAC was set up as a reaction to the 9/11 attacks; once the attacks happened it created a huge problem across Milton Keynes with mistrust, hate crime and lots of negative narratives towards the Muslim community. Lots of the young Muslim people felt very angry, as they were born in this country, they felt they were being emotionally cornered by these reactions. As I had been working at the College and had been delivering talks on equality and diversity, we decided to expand upon that work and created MKIAC to explore Islamic Arts, Culture and Heritage. So, we decided to look at how we could change to a positive narrative.

Art Reach has been supporting MKIAC with business development, festival delivery and fundraising for some years now, how did this work relationship initially come together?

In 2015, Arts Council England recommended we consulted David Hill (Art Reach’s Founder) as they were aware of our ambitions and the organisation’s vision for growth. David came to meet with the Chair of the Board and me in Milton Keynes, which in turn led us into developing the idea for the Art in the Park Festival. Which, since then, has grown from strength to strength.

How has that relationship developed since then?

Our relationship with Art Reach has continued to develop too. With regular support for fundraising and business development from Jo and Lynn, the current Creative Director Lorna Fulton also sits on the MKIAC board as an artistic advisor.

You recently received news about the renewal of NPO funding for 2023-2026:

Thanks to support from Lorna, Lynn and Jo, we were successful with our NPO application, with special credit to Jo who regularly met the board throughout the application process. We’re already working with her on the small adjustments required for the next stage of that process, so our relationship goes quite deep. It helps us with organisational development and the growth of Art in the Park.

What is the most significant element of your activity that the NPO funding will support or create from 2023-2026?
I think that the cost of living is going to have a huge impact, and everything depends on funding which may limit some of our original ambitions, although one ambition is to develop the element of theatre. We did a pilot in 2019 called Mashaalla and worked with a theatre group and participants from Camphill Communities, and this is an area we’d now like to develop, to expand that theatre element at our festival. We’re exploring and developing grass root level performances and Asian Dance programmes, which we originally tried during the pandemic, which was very successful. It brought the MK communities together. Art in the Park will be challenging due to cost of living, we’ve had to reshape from a two-day festival to a one-day festival but that day will extend later into the evening for the next edition.

How does working with us help you develop your approach or vision for the future?
Alongside the recent NPO success, we’ve also begun to develop a Heritage Lottery Funded (HLF) Programme, Building Communities and Community Buildings, which was awarded a significant sum in 2022. This programme will be delivered in partnership with the MK Museum. For this project we decided to work with a community panel, which we’d never thought of before. Having that relationship with Art Reach allowed us to tease out some thoughts for the development of that. We had delivered a pilot for this project called ‘A New City’ in 2018, but our development application for the pilot was then affected by the shift in funding during the pandemic. In 2021, HLF informed us that we could revisit the application, so they helped us develop that which is where the idea for the community panel came in. The panel features people from the many diverse communities we have in Milton Keynes and work with the artists in residence in a curational role, which is an entirely new approach for us.

Are there any other new elements of activity for MKIAC that are developing through these NPO and HLF application processes?
We’re aiming to make our website and digital presence more accessible and wider reaching, with a focus on artist development too. We’ve already developed an initial online gallery during the last HLF programme, so there is a legacy from this project. We want to use this to work with developing artists to make their voices heard, to offer that opportunity yet still in a curated environment. We’re looking into software for this with the aim to use the online gallery for new audience development. We’re trying to reach out in different ways, and the theatre development will help with that too.

We also run a broadcast called Radio Ramadan, which goes live each Saturday during the Ramadan period. We want to use this to reach out to communities but also develop the show within the creative sector somehow.

How useful is to have this level of business development and support from Art Reach?
The long-term element of our relationship really simplifies the processes and opens conversations, through which new avenues of activity have been created and explored. The support from Art Reach is not just useful as a sounding board but also challenges us to think in new and ambitious terms too.


You can view the digital exhibition by visiting and below the video, you’ll find the gallery on the homepage.

We supported and developed several successful new NPO applications for 2023-2026. To see how we can help you with your fundraising or cultural business development, contact

The next MKIAC Art in the Park Festival will take place on Saturday, 13 May 2023.

Subscribe to the MKIAC newsletter to be sure you don’t miss out on the exciting developments for this year’s festival.

A New Orleans style jazz band are performing as they walk down the street.

Image: Milton Keynes Art in the Park

A group of young people are walking with a set of colourful flags held in the air as part of a carnival parade.

Image: Milton Keynes Art in the Park

A group of women are dressing a mannequin in a Sari.

Image: Milton Keynes Islamic Arts and Culture

Two women are holding up highliy detailed and colourful peices of fabric in an exhibition space.

Image: Milton Keynes Islamic Arts and Culture

A group of young peoople are looking at and photographing an exhibition.

Image: Milton Keynes Islamic Arts and Culture

A mixed group of people are watching two musicians playing an Indian drum called a Tabla.

Image: Milton Keynes Islamic Arts and Culture