Say hello to the new leaders of British arts

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The Independent Online

They were hailed as the future of British arts, the men and women set to lead the cultural life of the nation in years to come.

In the summer of 2004, 27 curators, theatre managers and other administrators were named as the inaugural fellows of the new £1m Clore Leadership Programme, designed to tackle a perceived deficit in training for leaders in the arts.

It was hoped they would provide an answer to repeated problems of poor management in major national institutions and offer an alternative to the trail of Americans, Australians and Europeans who have arrived to head everything from the South Bank Centre to Tate Modern.

And, it seems, they have. Within a few months of the conclusion of their intensive year of tuition ­ in everything from financial planning to dealing with the press and local government ­ and secondments ­ at institutions such as the Tate and Royal Opera House ­ more than a third have snapped up new and bigger posts. A revolution in the management of British arts appears to be happening.

The emergence of a talented new generation of leaders boosted by high-level mentoring and management training could scarcely have come at a better time. The crisis at English National Opera has once more emphasised the problem of finding candidates with the right combination of business and artistic skills for the top jobs.

The Clore programme, set up largely with financial support from the philanthropist Dame Vivien Duffield, was established because of management problems at different points over the past decade at organisations including the South Bank Centre, London, the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Royal Opera House and English National Opera.

Some of the brightest business leaders in Britain, such as Dennis Stevenson of Pearson, formerly the chairman of the board of trustees of the Tate, have warned that running an arts organisation can be much more difficult than running an ordinary business, partly because the budgets are tight and because of the level of public scrutiny that goes with receiving subsidy.

The list of Clore successes is impressive. Nicholas Merriman, 45, formerly an academic and curator of the museum collections of University College, London, has been named director of the Manchester Museum. Gavin Reid, 39, is moving from co-ordinating the Manchester Camerata to be the new director of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, and Erica Whyman, 36, formerly artistic director of the tiny Gate Theatre in London is the new chief executive of the Northern Stage at the Newcastle Playhouse.

Other significant appointments include: Colin Bell as general manager of the Greenwich Theatre, London, Susanna Eastburn as executive producer of the London International Festival of Theatre, Ciara Eastell as senior project manager of the Reading Agency, Louisa Milburn as director of the Richard Attenborough Centre for Disability and the Arts at Leicester University, Eddie Nixon, an associate director of The Place dance centre in London, Moira Sinclair, director of development at the English Arts Council and Kathleen Soriano, director of the Compton Verney Gallery in Warwickshire.

Chris Smith, the former culture secretary who has led the programme since it was launched said they had hoped to help provide "talented confident, trained leaders". "Little did we imagine that it would happen so soon. The Clore fellows have developed their potential brilliantly," he said.

Erica Whyman, who took up post in October, said she had wanted to run something bigger but had felt under-prepared to do so.

"In some ways running the Gate teaches you a great deal because you're working with so few resources and people who are very inexperienced. That is invaluable. But doing the Clore for me was extraordinary. I feel much more clued up about other ways of thinking," she said.

Nicholas Merriman, who starts in Manchester in March, said the confidence gained from the programme mattered more than anything else. The move to Manchester would have seemed "quite a big step to take" before Clore.

Gavin Reid, who starts in Scotland next month, said his new job was one he would have hoped to have secured at some stage. "But it's a big step up. Clore has helped me get it a lot sooner than I would have.

Like all the fellows, he is grateful for the strong peer network created by the programme and for being introduced to some of the current top arts leaders.

Kathleen Soriano, 42, leaves the National Portrait Gallery to start at Compton Verney next month. She said the time for contemplation away from work was invaluable. All the fellows were selected from more than 440 people so those who succeeded knew they were being nurtured for their potential, she said.

Four to watch

* NICHOLAS MERRIMAN, 45

Director, Manchester Museum. Formerly curator of museums and collections, University College London, head of early London history and collections at the Museum of London; curator at Ely Museum.

* ERICA WHYMAN, 36

Chief executive, Northern Stage, in Newcastle. Whyman, above left, was artistic director of the Gate Theatre, London, artistic director of the Southwark Playhouse, associate director of the Tricycle Theatre, London, and assistant director for the English Shakespeare Company.

* KATHLEEN SORIANO, 42

Kathleen Soriano, director, Compton Verney Gallery, Warwickshire. Previously head of exhibitions and collections management at the National Portrait Gallery and education/exhibition assistant at the Royal Academy of Art, London.

* GAVIN REID, 39

Gavin Reid, above right, director, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. Formerly general manager of Manchester Camerata. Previously a freelance trumpet player as well as the education co-ordinator for the Manchester Camerata and the Bridgewater Hall Community Education Trust.

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