Wac Arts: Patrons including Ms Dynamite and Simon Callow step down
- Credit: Polly Hancock / PA
High-profile figures including Simon Callow and Miss Dynamite have resigned as patrons of the Belsize-based arts charity Wac Arts.
Last summer a group called Wac Arts Concerns group presented the charity with a critical open letter raising issues around the charity's governance.
It was signed by more than 80 students, alumni and staff including West End stars such as Sheila Atim and Jamael Westman.
Now, all eight of the charity's patrons - Owen Teale, Jonathan Butterell, Martina Laird, Simon Callow CBE, Danny Sapani, Dr. Ann Mitchell and Niomi Maclean-Daley (Ms. Dynamite) - have resigned.
They wrote: "Each of us was honoured to be asked to become patrons, and all of us had the pleasure and privilege of working with the young people directly, an inspiring experience.
"With success came expansion; with expansion came organisational changes, until, little by little, a formerly unthinkable situation occurred."
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The patrons said concerns about "institutional racism, intimidation and gaslighting" had been dismissed by management.
Citing "lacerating cuts" and a "rigid" position from Wac's bosses, the patrons also said: "Wac as presently constituted is no longer the Wac that we so admired and to which we passionately committed ourselves."
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It's understood the complaints include the closure of the three-year diploma program and date back to 2016.
In response, Wac Arts' chair of trustees said the charity has a "zero-tolerance" approach to racism, and said it has increased provision during the pandemic.
Justina Cruickshank continued: “Wac Arts is grateful to the patrons for their historic role, and I wish them well with their new ventures."
She said she had promised to listen to the concerns raised over the past year and had investigated the issues raised.
Policies and practices had been changed "where it was appropriate to so in the best interests of Wac Arts", she said.
Regarding the allegations of racism, she said "historic policies of concern" had been changed. She said staff and trustees were to undergo anti-racism and unconscious bias training.
She said an "equality, diversity and inclusion" working group would be created.
Justina added: "Real long-lasting change does not happen overnight, and I have been clear from the outset that this requires time and investment from all parties as over a decade’s worth of issues need to be addressed."
She praised work done by the charity's staff.