Jude Kelly, formerly artistic director of the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds and the Battersea Arts Centre in London, will take up the new role in September. Her brief is to forge connections with other cultural bodies and bring vision to a centre that has spent years bogged down in largely unsuccessful redevelopment plans.
With a new riverside frontage of revenue-generating shops and cafés due to open next week and the refurbishment of the central Royal Festival Hall finally under way, Michael Lynch, the chief executive, indicated that he wanted to reinvigorate the artistic programming.
Ms Kelly, 51, will work alongside Mr Lynch to create the artistic vision for the centre, which includes the Grade I-listed Festival Hall, the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Purcell Room and the Hayward Gallery. Her future role in the Olympics is not clear, but she said she would continue to be involved and remains chair of the arts, cultural and education programme.
"There's nowhere else in the world that has the history of the South Bank and the potential future of the South Bank," Ms Kelly said. The centre was built in 1951 as part of the Festival of Britain, planned as a tonic for the nation after the Second World War.
Ms Kelly said it had been an amazing project that captured something idealistic, democratic and forward-looking about that period in a way that perhaps the current redevelopment, and the Olympics, could today. "This is a world space and it is up to us to make sure it maintains its sense of being a world space," she said.
Her first major mission will be to oversee the programming for the reopening of the Royal Festival Hall. Now work has begun on the refurbishment, the discovery of problems has forced the provisional opening date of early 2007 back to June that year. This means that at least one orchestra, the Berlin Philharmonic, which would have taken part in a spring reopening, will not be able to appear.