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  • Writer's pictureClaire Venus

Arts Council are looking for diverse voices for the 'Area Council Development Scheme'

Are you passionate about the arts and creativity? Do you want to influence how we support artists, organisations and culture in your region or know someone who does?

Arts Council Area Councils help us make local funding decisions and represent regional interests. Currently, there is no-one on North Area Council under the age of 35.

Arts Council are looking for six people who are early on in their governance career. This could mean that you have sat on a steering group, an advisory board, or this could be your first step. You might live and breathe the arts, or you might be a quiet spectator – either is perfect – you don’t need to be an expert. All you need is an interest in arts and culture and want to help us make sure that the art we fund has the widest reach.

We caught up with Arts Council employee Afreena Islam-Wright about the BRAND new scheme Arts Council (ACE) have launched to encourage more diversity in leadership.

The Area Council Development Scheme in the North is an opportunity is for people who live, work or study in the North of England, are aged between 18 – 35, and aren’t currently a trustee of any other arts organisation.

Q - Would you tell us a little about your role with ACE and career background?

I am the Relationship Manager for Diversity in the North, and co-Project Manager of the Area Council Development Scheme.

I joined ACE in September 2020 from the arts sector, as an artist and producer. The last role I had was Project Manager for Diverse Actions - a national project championing culturally diverse artists in live art and contemporary performance.

I also toured my solo show, Daughters of the Curry Revolution, for 2 years prior to that.

Q - Can you tell us more about the scheme and the opportunities?

The scheme exists because we recognise that there are voices missing - there is currently no-one under the age of 35 on North Area Council. I think this is down to a number of factors; people don’t know what Area Council is, they’ve never heard of it - or they know what it is but don’t feel confident, they might feel it’s ’not for them' - or the most likely factor being that our traditional recruitment methods just don’t work in reaching that wider demographic.

So the scheme serves two purposes;

  • ...for us to reach new voices, and

  • provide training for people early in their governance careers to encourage them to apply to Area Council or other trustee roles on finishing the scheme.

Q - Have you had any personal early career experience with leadership you'd like to share with those thinking about applying?

I was a Trustee at Manchester theatre Contact for 6 years - I joined when I was 23. But it really didn’t happen out of nowhere. I consider myself incredibly lucky that the chair of trustees at that time was Charles Lauder.

I had been a member of Contact’s Young Company when I was 18, I watched everything that was on, Contact felt like a second home to me.

I never imagined that the Chair of Trustees was aware of my existence.

One evening, I was at a party at Contact when Charles pointed at me - I looked behind me and he said “no, you” - and he asked me if I’d be willing to have a meeting with him.

And from there, Charles explained what a board was (I didn’t really know what one was!), encouraged me to apply, and that genuinely changed my life. So this scheme is really important to me. I want to be "Charles" to as many people as I can!

Q - Wow such passion - it sounds so exciting! Why do you think it’s a good opportunity for people aged 18-35 in the North East?

This scheme is built upon all the things that me and my colleague Lao Lee (co-project manager of this scheme) would want in a leadership development scheme - beyond the actual area council meetings.

Being a trustee requires practical skills that need development - for example how to read board papers, confidence in public speaking - and we’ve left some of the training open so that we can respond to the needs and wants of the cohort - a bespoke package of training designed around them.

Expenses are covered, and a fee is included for anyone who would be prevented from accessing the scheme due to financial barriers. I would want to take part in this, and for that reason I want to encourage as many people aged 18 - 35 to go for it!

Q - How will Arts Council consider diversity in making decisions on the successful applicants?

I’m a Diversity Relationship Manager, and Lao is an Officer in the National Diversity Team - I think that it’s no coincidence that we’ve been tasked with this job!

Diversity is always my priority - and I have seen what it brings to a governance setting first hand. Diversity is the point of the scheme - we are missing valuable voices and we want to rectify this.

Q - In terms of the work setting, will applicants works directly with the cultural sector and/ or artists?

The scheme is very much an insight into how decisions are made at the highest level at Arts Council.

Area Council definitely focusses on the bigger picture, and though North Area Council has members that are artists, the day-to-day work of engaging with artists falls to people like me and my Relationship Manager colleagues. To be able to influence and shape the sector for the better feels like a really rewarding experience!

Q - How can people who are interested find out more?

We are holding a Webinar on Friday 24th Sept at 12.30pm - this will be recorded and shared on our website. For more information including how to apply, please email or They can take any questions.

Read more about the scheme here.

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