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Aspiring BAME arts leaders to take control of London theatres

The Bush Theatre. Photo: Philip Vile
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The artistic directorship of London's Battersea Arts Centre and Bush Theatre will be given over to a group of emerging directors as part of a new leadership programme aimed at tackling the lack of black theatre leaders.

Launched by development organisation Artistic Directors of the Future, the project, Up Next, is being billed as a “revolutionary” new approach to diversifying the top-level leadership of British theatres.

It follows ongoing criticism of the industry’s failure to diversify its artistic directors and of the scarcity of leaders from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.

Six individuals from a range of culturally diverse backgrounds will take over the running of the two venues full time for two months in 2018.

Operating for an initial year in London, there are hopes the scheme will expand regionally and potentially internationally.

The new artistic directors – three at the Bush and three at BAC – will be required to carry out the same duties as the organisation's existing artistic director, such as establishing and delivering an artistic season of work, fundraising more than £35,000 and pitching ideas to the board.

It is the brainchild of ADF founder and chief executive Simeilia Hodge-Dallaway, who told The Stage that the project would be different from more conventional resident or associate director programmes as it gives the participants "holistic" experiences of what it is like to run a building.

"Once you get away from the lobby areas of theatres, where it is probably the most diverse, and go into the main offices you're not seeing the same picture.

"[Not having] experiences like leading a team, fundraising, pitching to the board – I think keep people back, especially from our community, from applying for jobs but also from being taken seriously when they do apply."

The six directors taking part in the scheme are Tarek Iskander, Lekan Lawal, Saad-Eddine Said, Tobi Kyeremateng, Ruthie Osterman and Sita Thomas.

Bush artistic director Madani Younis described the project as an "uncompromising" leadership exercise.

"You can't cheat the experience of what it is to run a theatre building, you just have to take a deep breath and jump."

David Jubb, BAC's artistic director, added that the scheme would inform how leadership roles are opened up across the organisation in future.

He said: "It comes at a time when we are implementing a plan, developed with the support of ADF, to diversify our board of trustees. ADF has been instrumental in helping us move from intention to action and we’re proud to be part of a project that I think could work its way around the country, led by ADF, to bring much needed positive change."

The project has been funded by Arts Council England's Sustained Theatre fund, which will support the six directors during their time in post.

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