An article by Laura Kriefman, CEO & Artistic Director, Barbican Theatre, Plymouth.
Image: Barbican CEO & Artistic Director, Laura Kriefman, directing our Neon Romance BBC Arts film commission at Smeatharpe Stadium (Oct 2021)
I started as CEO of Barbican Theatre, Plymouth 4 days before the first lock-down. The ludicrous situation and the decimation of our income created a permission for change within my organisation, board and city that has been immense. My team has been so committed, brave and provocative in their desire to work and walk in line with their morals, values and ethics in everything we do. We started to really see this working when we compiled our Covid 19 Impact Report.
This summer, now as the CEO and AD, still enjoying a turnover reduced by a third, I am increasingly disillusioned because I am hearing a lot of excuses being made across the industry suggesting that ‘change isn’t possible’.
I have written this article, from my heart, to prove otherwise.
It was always MY responsibility to present things in a way that makes it easy for my team and my board to change direction. The We Mean Business Coalition has been leading the way on this for years- providing the evidence that CEO/ COO/ CTO’s need to be able to advocate to commercial shareholders the environmental and financial imperative for dramatic business change. I applied the same principles in my first month when presenting a brand new 3 year business plan building on a 53% reduction in turnover. I will not, personally, forgive you for not being bothered to change your direction of travel.
We have been running a fully accessible and inclusive recruitment process across all roles at Barbican Theatre since spring 2021, based on the epic, open and honest leadership provided by the Watershed (and many other organisations). We have seen a dramatic shift in applicants for all roles including board recruitment (65% Female/ non-binary, 36% from the LGBTQI+ community, over 50% under 30, 20% world-majority, 27% identifying as having a disability).
It’s much more labour intensive for us - and we have had to give ourselves way more time to assess applications than we originally anticipated. However - that’s a great thing, as it means we hear more regularly, and honestly what people think about us as an organisation. If we slow down in anticipation of the quality of the interaction - the opportunity to meet and talk to new people who are excited by Barbican Theatre we are honouring their potential. Without fail we have had exceptional candidates who are not confident yet in conveying their strengths on paper but who have wowed us with their insights.
If you’re not doing these things as a minimum - I don’t think you are committed to change.
After successfully embedding inclusive recruitment practices into the Barbican, I encouraged two other NPO’s in Plymouth to use the methodology for a joint board recruitment campaign. I have ten new Board Members (because I couldn’t turn down such a brilliant set of new voices to help strengthen our future). Over the next three years we want under 30 yr olds to make up 50% of our board (check out Contact in Manchester and Rising Arts and Leaders Unlocked for their leadership in this area). It’s a joy to be creating a pipeline, and to be supporting young leadership growth across a range of initiatives - from young creative leadership support, mentorships to training opportunities.