Brendan Keaney, chief executive and artistic director of DanceEast, tells Georgia Snow how he switched roles from performer to administrator
What is a typical day like for you?
There’s no such thing as a typical day. A lot of my day is spent at my desk, watching work, talking to artists and colleagues, managing the building and thinking about our artistic future. I travel too, very often going to London, but also further afield. I recently went to Korea on a British Council delegation. At the moment we’re thinking about our Arts Council England application – it sounds strange to be thinking about what we will be doing in 2022 but we have to.
You were previously a dancer. Have you experienced anything you didn’t expect in making the transition?
I was a little bit surprised at how much time, effort and energy it took to get relatively simple things done. Everything that comes with public money has a level of accountability, as it should have, but accountability costs money and takes time. You have to be very careful that everything you do doesn’t have unintended consequences. I was a little bit overwhelmed at first that one couldn’t be more spontaneous. That’s the big difference between being an artist and being a bureaucrat. You have to play the game. I’ve shifted from being a sprinter into being a marathon runner.
When did you know that this is what you wanted to do at the end of your performance career?
My performing didn’t stop overnight. I got a job as a dance animateur. That role doesn’t exist anymore but it was funded by regional arts boards to animate areas about dance. My job was to animate the people of Islington about dance. It was relatively simple – Sadler’s Wells has a fantastic tradition for presenting dance, as it was and as it is now. It is the principal London dance house, so it was exciting. It involved a combination of activities but there was also lots of organisation so there was a drift from the studio into more office-based activities. I realised I was quite shy, and in many ways it all began to make sense. I forced myself down a route I wasn’t completely comfortable with but found exciting.
You have also worked at the Arts Council. What did that teach you?
I think of my three years at the Arts Council as my university. It took a risk – I didn’t have many of the skills required of a young officer now, I was pretty raw. But an awful lot of things became apparent – why decisions are made and how they’re made. I gained an enormous amount.