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Editor’s View: Arts boards must provide real oversight following harassment allegations

Old Vic chief executive Sally Greene
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What do the Old Vic and Shakespeare’s Globe have in common? A year ago, the Globe was embroiled in controversy over its handling of the appointment and then removal of Emma Rice as artistic director.

At the time, Chichester Festival Theatre artistic director Daniel Evans wrote insightfully about the questions raised by Rice’s departure.

Underlining the importance of a good board to the effective governance of a charity, he wrote: “Within charitable organisations, if the executive is the House of Commons, then the board is the House of Lords. It exists in order to be a check and balance on the division and execution of power within the organisation. Boards are accountable for organisations’ financial and strategic direction. They also ensure the organisation complies with the law and performs its charitable duties for society’s benefit. At their best, boards have a diverse membership with expertise in relevant areas. The members are great critical friends. They offer healthy challenges under a safe and secure blanket of support. The board hires (and fires) the executive team.”

It is interesting to skip forward 12 months to the current controversy (over different issues) facing the Old Vic and reflect on trustee Sally Greene’s public statement after we put a series of questions to the Old Vic board last week.

On the one hand, it is laudable that she has come out and made her position clear. On the other, she says: “Since 1998, I have held the honorary and unpaid role of chief executive of the theatre. It is one of a number of roles within my wider business portfolio of arts and entertainment institutions, which occupy the majority of my time. Given my wide business portfolio, in each of the venues with which I am involved, I rely on having a professional team in place, who work diligently and tirelessly to handle day-to-day management.”

That doesn’t sound like accountability.

But who watches the watchmen? In theory, it should be the Charity Commission, but it rarely steps in unless there have been very serious failings, as it did in the Kids Company fiasco and may yet do with the Old Vic. It would undoubtedly be better if things weren’t allowed to get to that point in the first place.

Is it a coincidence that Shakespeare’s Globe and the Old Vic are not Arts Council England national portfolio organisations? In its absence, there is often no one to provide real oversight of an arts board’s activities – or lack thereof.

Email your views to alistair@thestage.co.uk

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