Exclusive: Former Theatrical Management Association president Barbara Matthews has been appointed as the new director of theatre strategy at Arts Council England.
The move follows the restructuring of ACE’s national office at the end of last year, in which a number of key staff, including director of theatre Nicola Thorold, took voluntary redundancy.
At the time, the arts council came in for criticism from industry figures, such as West End producer Thelma Holt and Equity general secretary Christine Payne, who were concerned at the loss of “considerable experience and expertise in theatre”, ahead of the impending Comprehensive Spending Review.
However, Matthews’ appointment is expected to go some way to dispelling these fears and has been welcomed within the industry. Richard Pulford, chief executive of the TMA and the Society of London Theatre, told The Stage: “We are absolutely delighted by this appointment. Barbara has immense experience, not only in the UK in both the subsidised and commercial sectors, but also across the world. She has the rare distinction of having served simultaneously on the SOLT board and the TMA council. We are sure the breadth and depth of her insight will be of great service to the arts council at a time when the theatre sector faces particularly difficult challenges.”
Meanwhile, AK Bennett-Hunter, who Matthews succeeded as TMA president in 1998, said that she was popular and well respected within the industry and stressed that her extensive experience with theatre touring would be particularly important, especially as ACE had chosen to remove its dedicated post for head of touring.
Matthews, who will begin the role in mid-June, said that UK theatre had been one of the “outstanding success stories” of the past decade, but stressed it is important that ACE didn’t take its “eye off the ball if we want theatre to continue to thrive and develop”.
She has served at many of the UK’s leading theatre companies, including the Royal Court, the Old Vic and Cheek by Jowl, and has worked for many years as a theatre consultant with venues such as Theatre Royal Stratford East, Hampstead Theatre and the Watford Palace Theatre.
She has also operated in the commercial sphere, as a producer on shows such as the world premiere of Japes by Simon Grey at the Theatre Royal Haymarket.
Gus Casely-Hayford, ACE’s recently appointed executive director of arts strategy, said: “Barbara brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to ACE and an intimacy with the theatre sector shared by few. She will lead a dedicated team, looking to build on recent achievements and bring our strategies to life.”