Wac Arts: Charity unveils new board chair and lays out plan to ‘reflect community it serves’ and engage with ‘passionate’ campaigners
PUBLISHED: 09:50 27 October 2020 | UPDATED: 09:50 27 October 2020
After a summer which saw Wac Arts debating its future and governance in public, a new board chair has been appointed – and the charity’s chief exec has ambitious plans to ensure more people than ever are given opportunities to break into the arts.
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The new chair is Justina Cruickshank – and she begins in the role by helming a review into the charity’s governance designed to improve representation in its upper-echelons.
She told the Ham&High: “The role combines my love of the arts and passion for reducing inequality. The way that Wac Arts do that is just really inspiring.”
READ MORE: Wac Arts plan ‘governance review’ to rebuild trust locally
The governance review was launched after a high-profile group of Wac Arts alumni, staff and students including playwright Che Walker and Olivier-award winning actress Sheila Atim – part of a group called Wac Arts Concerns – wrote a letter publicly criticising the way the charity was being run and a lack of diversity on its board.
The group met with Wac Arts’ board in September and since then relations are in the process of being rebuilt.
Justina said she was well aware of the issue, and said it was positive that the charity has such a “passionate community”.
“One of my immediate priorities is to help stabilise the charity so we can withstand ongoing challenges particularly around the pandemic,” she said. “And we’re looking at how we keep developing community engagement. We are having conversations with our stakeholders looking at how we can go about reforming the board’s composition so it better reflects the community it serves.”
Meanwhile, Darius Khwaja, the charity’s chief exec who has been in the job for 15 months, told this paper how Wac Arts had been affected by Covid-19. He said: “In lockdown the first thing we had to do was to assess the financial impact and how we could and would continue to run our programmes. It was an extremely challenging situation. I am really proud of how we’ve done and how hard staff have worked.”
Discussing the critics, Darius said: “The important thing is that the organisation listens and finds constructive ways to bring in the community.”
Looking forward, both Darius and Justina said they hoped the charity could “reach more people than ever” and act as an exemplar of the benefits of a proudly diverse community.
Justina said she had been immeidately inspired by meeting members of Wac’s youth advisory board – she said: “I didn’t necessarily understand what it would be like but speaking to then had a profound effect on me. They were telling me what life had been like before Wac, what there was for them before that, and how much it had changed their lives.
Darius discussed how Covid-19 had proved a massive challenge. He told this newspaper: “The first thing we had to do was to asses the financial impact and how we could and would continue to run our programmes. It was an extremely challenging situation. I am really proud of how we’ve done.”
He explained how it was vital to safeguard “the work we do with the most vulnerable”, and highlighted the new Wac Arts Online programme as an example of how the charity had adapted.
Going forward, he said he was hoping – once the pandemic no longer restricts face-to-face contact, to increase the number of people who interact with Wac Arts – both in its Haverstock Hill building and at home.
he said: “I think we can do more with out building. And then by making more of online we can reach far more people too.”
Both Justina and Darius spoke of how Wac Arts, as a organisation representing a diverse community, was keen to act as a standard-bearer highlighting the benefits of a heterogenous arts scene.
“I am a massive supporter of the postive things about being a diverse culture,” Darius said. “I want to celebrate that and Wac is a beacon of that.”
Directly addressing criticisms aimed at cuts to Wac Arts’ programming – Darius said reductions had been a “direct result” of the pandemic, and outside of that in the long term, his aim was to see the charity expand.
He said: “We have got a burgeoning offer. We are looking to really expand programming and reach sections of the community we haven’t before. Our plan long-term has always been ‘how do we grow our classes?’.”
Justina added: “The ultimate goal is to creat a high-performing charity that can help preserve Wac’s radical arts legacy.