Episode 11 – Jude Kelly CBE

I love the arts and I love making work but the bigger thing for me is definitely change making in society.

Jude Kelly (@JudeKelly_) is founder and director of The WOW Foundation (@WOWisGlobal), an accomplished leader in the arts and an award winning theatre and opera director.

Jude began her career as a theatre director, going on to direct over 100 theatre and opera productions, win a Southbank Award, two Olivier awards and work with an incredible range of artists and organisations. Alongside her accomplishments in making work Jude founded Solent People’s Theatre, was the first artistic director of Battersea Arts Centre in London, the founding director of West Yorkshire Playhouse and founded Metal Culture, an artistic laboratory championing the need for investment in artistic innovation in the UK.

In 2006 Jude was appointed artistic director at Southbank Centre in London, Europe’s largest centre for the arts, a position she held for 12 years. Under Jude’s leadership the organisation focussed on opening up both the venue and the artistic programme to as wide an audience as possible. Festivals proved to be an effective method of broadening access points into the programme and increasingly formed a substantial part of the offer. One of the most successful festivals was WOW – Women of the World (WOW).

Founded in 2010 WOW Festivals celebrate the achievements of women and girls and take a frank look at the obstacles they face. The festival has been held in London each year since, as well as rapidly finding homes and a following around the world. At the time of recording WOW has staged over 65 festivals and events across six continents reaching more than two million people. Online, Jude’s 2016 Ted Talk ‘Why women should tell the stories of humanity’ has been viewed more than 1.2 million times and counting.

In 2018 Jude left her role as Artistic Director of Southbank Centre to focus solely on the development of WOW as an independent charity and formed The WOW Foundation.

Over the course of our wide ranging conversation we talk about:

  • Windsurfing, competing with yourself and being creative without being controlling
  • The value of like minded peers and being grown up in your ambition
  • People’s human right to realise their dreams
  • Encountering sexism and other obstacles
  • Wrestling with self doubt her approach to overcoming it
  • Working to make the arts for everyone and other sources of inspiration
  • The vision and mission behind the festival model at Southbank Centre
  • The inception of WOW Festival, it’s growth into a global movement and the creation of the WOW Foundation
  • Cultural activism and the role of art in unlocking thinking and facilitating change
  • Jude’s approach to interviewing some of the world’s leading thinkers
  • Writing a book about being a woman in the arts
  • Doing scary things and stepping into spaces of uncertainty and doubt


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