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Jude Kelly claims gender equality is “still a dangerous subject” in the arts

Southbank Centre artistic director Jude Kelly. Photo: Sara Shamsavari Southbank Centre artistic director Jude Kelly. Photo: Sara Shamsavari
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Southbank Centre artistic director Jude Kelly has said the arts has a responsibility to highlight the “dangerous subject” of gender imbalances affecting women in the industry.

Kelly was speaking at the launch of the venue’s new classical music season, which claims to feature women “at the heart” of the programme.

She told The Stage: “We’d all prefer to live in a world where racial inequality, sexual inequality, gender inequality had been done and dusted. But we don’t.

“I think cultural spaces are the places to talk about dangerous subjects, and gender equality is still a dangerous subject, and it’s just as relevant in the arts as anywhere else.”

Kelly, who launched the annual Women of the World festival at the centre in 2011, said the historical canon of theatre, literature, music and choreography was “dominated” by the idea that men are “the central creative force”.

She added: “That’s not always been true, and it mustn’t be true in the future in a world where there’s 50% women. So you’ve got to give women the confidence, the space, the time and the authority to make work. And you have to leave space for them. You have to make space. I think that men can still find it surprising and difficult to deal with that notion of making space.”

Speaking about last year’s decision to allow skateboarders to continue using a site beneath the Southbank Centre, Kelly revealed the venue currently had no other way of creating more educational arts spaces – which were originally planned as part of a redevelopment.

“We haven’t got a replacement for the money or the opportunity to use the space. If we ever could have had a replacement, we wouldn’t have asked the skaters to move 100 metres. But they didn’t [want to move],” she said.

As part of the Southbank Centre’s classical music season, Simon Callow will direct a gala concert to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.

It will feature “leading actors” performing readings from Shakespeare’s plays including one from Callow himself, though no other actors involved have yet been confirmed.

Taking place in the Royal Festival Hall on April 23, the gala will be set to music inspired by the playwright’s texts from the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

Opera North will also bring its production of Wagner’s complete Ring cycle to the centre for the first time, running over four nights in June.

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