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Emerging cultural leaders on why new scheme Up Next is revolutionary

Two participants in the Up Next scheme, which encourages culturally diverse arts leaders of the future, explain how the first few months have been

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The Up Next residential which took place in London earlier this year

Following Simeilia Hodge-Dallaway's blog post last week about the groundbreaking project Up Next, where a group of culturally diverse aspiring arts leaders are given the reins to two of London's most important theatres, two participants in the scheme explain what the project has been like for them so far.


Lekan Lawal

Lekan Lawal
(© Wolf Marloh )

Up Next Artistic Director at Battersea Arts Centre

Since Saad-Eddine Said, Tarek Iskander and I started at Battersea Arts Centre six months ago, the access and insight we've had into the building and local community has been incredible, especially witnessing how the creative risk attached to Scratch (a process which encourages people to test and develop new ideas with members of the public) feeds into working practice throughout the building. It has given us the freedom to approach this opportunity in lots of exciting ways as we work across the organisation.

A highlight at the start of the process was a two-day residential with Tobi Kyeremateng, Ruthie Osterman and Sita Thomas (Bush Theatre's Up Next artistic directors), during which we explored leadership across the industry, organisational culture and fundraising. We also had a series of workshops with artistic directors and cultural leaders including Gaylene Gould (BFI), George Perrin (Paines Plough), Eckhard Thiemann (Shubbak Festival), and Jude Kelly (Southbank Centre). This experience served as a catalyst for us to question what it means to be an artistic director and more importantly what it could mean?

This opportunity enables us to consider what should be demanded of future artistic leaders - an especially important issue as theatres work to better represent the diverse communities they serve. It also lets us explore the different ways in which artistic leadership manifests itself outside of traditional structures. With positive dialogue around leadership and working culture within the sector increasing, it feels like a vital time to be learning from existing models of leadership while experimenting with bold new approaches.


The Up Next residential which took place in London earlier this year

Tobi Kyeremateng

Up Next Artistic Director at Bush Theatre

Tobi Kyeremateng

"No more hand-holding, no more short lived schemes, no more waiting for permission, no more waiting for a revolution. You're Up Next: Take the keys, take the budgets, take the space and change the game." There is something both overdue and terrifying about the mass responsibility of running a building. This is something I've been waiting for; a real opportunity to exercise the skills I have built up over the years whilst gaining a hands-on experience of being in a position of leadership and power within an organisation.

The last three months have been dedicated to understanding the ethos and history of the Bush Theatre and the Shepherd's Bush area to help create a vision of our own. From speaking to Nike Jonah, a Bush Theatre board representative, to building a relationship with the owner of the Panini House near the station. We want to soak up the breadth of versatility that lives in the area. It's always difficult getting to know an unfamiliar building in a different part of London. As a South Londoner, I didn't really know what to expect – both from the Bush Theatre and Shepherd's Bush as a community. Walking down Uxbridge Road for the first time as an artistic leader of the Bush Theatre reminded me of London before it was grabbed at the throat by gentrification, surrounded by 100 languages on one road and thriving small businesses.

How do we build genuine relationships and engage the local community with our vision for the Bush Theatre? As the new artistic leader of the Bush Theatre, I have the unique opportunity to look at the building with fresh eyes and unlimited possibilities. Brainstorming with the other two Up Next artistic leaders at the Bush: Ruthie Osterman and Sita Thomas, you can't help but look at the different spaces and think "I want to do this thing in this space, because why not?"

This is what leadership is about – turning ideologies into a lived experience with the backing of the Bush Team. This is what we're beginning to do, and we hope the community will rally behind and join us on this journey over the next year.

For more information on Artistic Directors of the Future and Up Next head to the website.

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