Theatre director Jude Kelly (pictured) has today been appointed as artistic director of London’s South Bank Centre, the capital’s largest arts complex and nearby neighbour to the National Theatre. She takes up her post – performing it in tandem with her role as chair of the Arts, Education and Culture Committee for London 2012, which played a key role in this month’s successful Olympics bid - in September 2005.

As artistic director of the South Bank Centre (SBC), Kelly will be responsible for creating the artistic vision of four different venues – the Royal Festival Hall, the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Purcell Room and the Hayward Gallery – with a diverse programme of classical and contemporary music, visual arts, dance and performance, literature and talks. The largest of the South Bank Centre’s four venues, the Festival Hall is currently closed while undergoing a £91 million refurbishment.

Kelly’s appointment comes in the wake of a barrage of less complimentary media coverage. In May, there was uproar when the SBC’s plans to increase the London Eye’s annual rent from £210,000 to £2.5 million were revealed. And in the past week, news hit that, after discovery of asbestos on the site, the Festival Hall’s reconstruction, already an estimated £10 million over budget, will not now be completed until summer 2007, rather than at the start of that year. The delay has also resulted in the cancellation of several planned concerts, adding millions of pounds in lost ticket sales to the already over-stretched building costs.

Undaunted, Kelly said today of her appointment: “I’m thrilled to have been asked to plan the artistic future for one of the great art spaces of the world, especially at a time when the UK starts preparing for the challenge of mounting the 2012 Olympics.”

South Bank Centre chief executive Michael Lynch added: “I am so pleased to have such a key British cultural player to work with our team at the South Bank to achieve the greatest opening in June 2007 and to ensure we are a magnet for the greatest artists in the world. Jude will work closely with me and our talented programming and curatorial teams to ensure we remain the epicentre of London’s cultural life.”

Jude Kelly founded Solent People’s Theatre in 1976 and, in the 1980s, as artistic director of Battersea Arts Centre (BAC), built the south London venue into a major fringe force. In 1988, she became artistic director of the West Yorkshire Playhouse, prior to the building opening in 1990. Since leaving WYP in 2002 (See News, 18 Feb 2002), Kelly has founded the Metal artistic ‘laboratory’, judged the Orange Prize for fiction, directed English National Opera’s epic scale revival of Broadway musical On the Town and Ridiculusmus’ two-man The Importance of Being Earnest and organised the cultural strand of London’s Olympic bid.

The 2012 Olympics’ £22 million cultural and education programme, which Kelly will continue to oversee, will include a major arts festival involving all of the participating Olympic nations. In the meantime, at the South Bank Centre, during the Festival Hall’s closure, programming continues uninterrupted in the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room and Hayward Gallery. The complex also now features a new parade of restaurants and shops at the Festival Hall’s riverside level, already opened, with more due to open at terrace level in early 2006.

- by Terri Paddock