Thursday 22 November 2018


Five leading figures in arts and culture have been appointed to Arts and Creative Economy Advisory group at the British Council

As part of the group, chaired by John Newbigin, OBE, the new members will help to shape the British Council’s global arts strategy.

British Council’s Director Arts, Kate Arthurs said:  “Our new members have varied backgrounds and specialisms, but one thing they all have in common is a sophisticated view of the UK’s cultural relationship with the rest of the world. That is the heart of our mission here at the British Council. I welcome them to the group and look forward to their contributions which I know will be of great value."

John Newbigin OBE, Chair of the British Council’s Arts and Creative Economy Advisory Group and Chair of Creative England, said:  “As its name suggests, this group exists to help British Council staff build strong cultural relations around the world.  “We do this drawing on expertise and inspiration from our membership, who represent art forms, creative industries, communities, nations and regions right across the UK.  These wonderful new additions to the group will help us achieve that more effectively than ever before.”

The new members are:

Elena Schmitz

Elena is Head of Programmes at Literature Wales, the national company for literature development in Wales. Originally from Osnabrueck in Germany, Elena came to the UK in 2004 as part of her MA in British Studies at the Centre for British Studies at Humboldt University, Berlin. She has worked for a wide range of arts organisations in Wales, including Wales at the Venice Biennale of Art, Wales Arts International, g39 Gallery and Chapter Arts Centre. She is particularly interested in collaboration, working internationally and in interdisciplinary work and passionately believes in the power of art to achieve social change.

Jenny Sealey MBE

Jenny co-directed the London 2012 Paralympics Opening Ceremony alongside Bradley Hemmings (GDIF). She has been Artistic Director and CEO of Graeae since 1997 and has pioneered a new theatrical language, coining the term “Aesthetics of Access”; the creative integration of sign language and audio description within performance. Additionally, Jenny has directed work, run workshops and given presentations internationally including Russia, Japan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Brazil.  In 2009, Jenny was awarded an MBE in the Queen's Honours and became the Artistic Advisor for the Unlimited 2012 Festival.  Jenny has been awarded the Liberty Human Rights Arts Award, is an honorary Doctor of Drama at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and at Middlesex University and is a Fellow of the Central School of Speech and Drama and Rose Bruford College. In 2015, Jenny won the Outstanding Contribution Award at the Signature Deaf Awards.

Abdul Shayek

Abdul Shayek is founder Artistic Director and CEO of Fio, a Cardiff based theatre company working across the UK and internationally, bringing world class socio-political stories to local audiences. He has directed 'Swarm', Fio's devised site-specific show about migration, Katori Hall's 'The Mountaintop', Ariel Dorfman's 'Death and the Maiden', 'Resonate'- a devised show about displacement and most recently Athol Fugard's 'The Island'.  He has also led and delivered on numerous participatory projects for Fio including work in prisons and with young people. Abdul is a National Advisor to Arts Council Wales and was Vice Chair and a founding member of Youth Arts Network Cymru.  He is a Clore Cultural Leadership Fellow (2013-14) and sits on the steering group of the National Alliance for Arts in the Criminal Justice System.  He is also on the Board of Dawns Powys Dance. 

Kenneth Olumuyiwa Tharp CBE, FRSA

Kenneth is Director of The Africa Centre. From 2007 to 2016, he was Chief Executive of The Place, the UK’s leading centre for contemporary dance development. As one of the leading dance artists of his generation, he performed for 13 years with the internationally-acclaimed London Contemporary Dance Theatre and then with other leading companies during a 25-year career as a performer, choreographer, teacher and director. Kenneth is a devoted champion of the arts, cultural learning, creativity and diversity. He has served on various arts Boards, including The Royal Opera House. He is currently a Patron of Akademi and The Place; a Trustee of Sir Matthew Bourne’s dance company New Adventures; the Chineke! Foundation and Orchestra, and is a School Governor.  In 2017 he was made a CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list in recognition of his service to dance.

Jenny Waldman CBE

Jenny is Director of 14-18 NOW, WW1 Centenary Arts Commissions, working in partnership with cultural organisations across the UK to commission leading UK and international artists for a programme that has reached over 35 million people.

Jenny was Creative Producer of the London 2012 Festival for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. She created the outdoor programme at Somerset House, including the iconic ice rink, film and concert seasons and spent 5 years as Director of Arts Centre Programmes at the Southbank Centre. Jenny is a Cultural Fellow of Kings College London.

The Arts and Creative Economy Advisory Group will support the British Council to achieve its ambition by 2021 to increase the number of cultural connections between the UK and the world, doubling the scale of international activity of the UK culture sector. We will achieve this by partnering with and/or lending support to more artists and organisations worldwide and positioning the UK as a global hub for collaboration, for capacity building, and policy development.


Notes to Editor

The five new members join existing members Marina Salandy Brown (Founder, Bocas Lit Fest), Paul Seawright (Professor of Photography and Head of Belfast School of Art), 

Simon Groom (Director of the Scottish National Gallery), Ruth McCarthy (Artistic Director, Outburst Queer Arts Festival), Vivien Bird (former CEO, Book Trust), Dave Moutrey (Director and Chief Executive, HOME), Indhu Rubasingham (Artistic Director, Tricycle Theatre), Claire Whitaker (Director, Serious) and chair John Newbigin. 

The British Council’s work in the arts has grown substantially over the last five years, operating in over 100 countries around the world covering the full breadth of UK creative industries. In 201617 the British Council’s work in the arts reached 17.1 million people face-to-face and a further 241 million people online and through the media.