‘Fight on!’ says outgoing Wac Arts charity chief

Farewell: Celia Greenwood at her leaving party from Wac Arts

Farewell: Celia Greenwood at her leaving party from Wac Arts - Credit: Nigel Sutton

Famed Camden charity Wac Arts has appointed a new chief executive as Celia Greenwood steps down after 38 years of service.

The outgoing charity leader and co-founder said the “new landscape in arts funding” required skills that she “[doesn’t] necessarily have”.

In a scathing attack on cuts to the arts, Ms Greenwood said the fundraising landscape had “got so much tougher”.

“You’ve got a pincer movement. On the one hand there’s no public funding and on the other hand you’ve got the push from the government saying the arts curriculum has no real value and STEM subjects must be taught to everybody. So arts are being devalued.”

Wac Arts was set up in 1978 by Teresa Noble, Ed Berman and Celia Greenwood in response to the lack of performing arts provision for young people - particularly those from black and minority ethnic and disadvantaged backgrounds. Today Wac Arts has seen over 30,000 students pass through its doors, including the actress Sophie Okonedo and Mercury Prize -winning singer Ms Dynamite.

“Everyone is entitled to experience and enjoy the arts. Not just those who can pay hundreds of pounds to do so,” she said.

“We’ve had many years when we’ve been on the verge of bankruptcy. It’s stressful when you’re trying to do things for young people that the system is not really facilitating. Such as when you’re dealing with a young person who’s threatening suicide and you’re trying to get them urgent mental health support and it’s not there.”

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Tommy Edwards, who has worked at Wac Arts for four and a half years, said he “will always remember” how his former bossed challenged his viewpoint. “Once I was indignantly complaining about young people changing because of technology,” he said.

“Celia showed me that was a narrow way of thinking. She said young people will always be young people and never conform. That’s why they’re great,”

The drama teacher said she is proud of all the students and staff she has worked with - whether they have gone on to win awards or “become parents of loving, stable families, of which they had no experience themselves”.

Hedi Dori, 37, who joined Wac Arts when she was five years old and came back to volunteer in her twenties, said: “When I was younger we all went on a camping trip. I had never been before and was quite nervous. But Celia made me feel relaxed and happy. She had time for everyone and no favourites,”

Ms Greenwood will continue “doing what I would do even if no one paid me”: teaching drama and speaking out about the lack of diversity and opportunity in the arts.

Karen Napier has been appointed the new chief executive. She trained as a dancer, and has for over two decades been responsible for building and leading teams in the arts world, including at Swarovski Foundation, London Business School and Southbank Centre.

Ms Greenwood’s message to her successor and the team is: “Fight on! Learn from your amazing staff team because they’re great - and vice versa.” To the students, she said: “You can be anything you want to be if you just want it enough.”