We are redressing the balance of diversity in arts leadership

Head of Artistic Directors of the Future Simeilia Hodge-Dallaway explains the organisation’s new scheme allowing culturally diverse talent to take over two major London theatres

Simeilia Hodge-Dallaway
Simeilia Hodge-Dallaway

Up Next is the leadership development programme that I always wanted but never had.

There’s something quite gratifying about creating a project that provides the next generation of artists with something that you as an artist and cultural leader had yearned for …Up Next is that for me.

Far removed from the current condescending dead-end initiatives that are designed on a top down approach with the implication that the participants know far less than the existing leaders or facilitators, Up Next is revolutionary for simply assuming the opposite.

Never in the entire history of UK theatre have two existing artistic directors of leading theatres stepped aside to hand over the power and control to culturally diverse aspiring leaders. But through the launch of Artistic Directors of the Future's Up Next leadership programme, in partnership with the Bush Theatre and Battersea Arts Centre, six ADF members have been catapulted into artistic leadership positions at two iconic London theatres.

There are few main-stage directing opportunities afforded to culturally diverse theatre makers

This new programme to champion the new generation of culturally diverse leaders comes at a time when out of over 230 professional theatres in London, there are only four culturally diverse artistic directors running theatres: Madani Younis (Bush Theatre), Indhu Rubasingham (Tricycle Theatre) Nadia Fall (Theatre Royal Stratford East) and the most recent appointment, Kwame Kwei-Armah (Young Vic Theatre).

At a time of concerning disparity between BAME and non-BAME artistic leaders of mainstream theatres, the Up Next intervention comes at a crucial moment to support the diversification of leadership in the UK arts sector. At ADF, we understand that there are few main-stage directing opportunities afforded to culturally diverse theatre makers and even fewer managerial opportunities and therefore, by providing tangible and meaningful leadership opportunities, we hope to begin to create an even playing field.

Our Up Next artistic directors will have the same responsibilities as the current artistic directors

We received over 40 applications from culturally diverse theatre makers. The six candidates appointed onto the programme came from a wide range of cultural backgrounds: African, South Asian, Middle Eastern, varying in disciplines from theatre, film and dance with an impressive track record. Appointed to run the Bush Theatre are Tobi Kyeremateng, currently the producer at Apples and Snakes; Sita Thomas, a PhD graduate and freelance filmmaker, theatre director and choreographer and Ruthie Osterman, freelance playwright and award-winning theatre director. Appointed to run Battersea Arts Centre are Lekan Lawal, freelance director and winner of Best Director at The Stage Debut Awards 2017; Tarek Iskander, one of the founders of The Yard Theatre, freelance director and recently appointed interim Arts Council England Director of Theatre, and Saad Eddine Said, independent documentary filmmaker, social entrepreneur and co-founder and director of the non-for-profit company 'Terre Sans Frontieres' in Morocco.

In their newly appointed roles, our Up Next artistic directors will have the same responsibilities as the current artistic directors: fundraising over £70,000, programming a new season of work, pitching ideas to boards and managing a staff team.

Battersea Arts Centre and the Bush Theatre
© Morley Von Sternberg/ Philip Vile

Artistic Directors of the Future plan to create more iterations of Up Next in London, regionally and internationally. We understand that this is the start of a new journey to redress the balance of cultural leadership in the arts sector and in addition to the Up Next programme, we hope to offer a wide range of opportunities that will provide our members with an insight into leadership and high-level vision at producing theatres across the globe. This process has already enabled us to recognise the areas that require further attention and investment.

Up Next speaks directly to Mark Shenton’s all-white list of potential successors for the Young Vic and artistic directors, head-hunters and board of directors who struggle to name a single culturally diverse successor and says…here’s six contenders….and we have a lot more to come!

WhatsOnStage will follow the journey of our Up Next artistic directors through two blogs written by Tobi Kyeremateng and Lekan Lawal.

Stay tuned for more blogs from two Up Next participants on how the scheme has worked for them so far.