(Photo credit: Vanitas Arts)
The Leeds 5 - a group of five pioneering Black and Brown female cultural leaders in the city, including our CEO and Principal Sharon Watson MBE, have released a film titled 'Be Bold, Be Brave'. Together, they aim to challenge the pace of change and promote fair representation and equality within the creative industries.
Our newly-appointed Student Union Manager, alumna Zara Lee, reflects on the film in a short blog below
“To be a black woman and to own your existence takes courage. To be a black woman who takes space and commands the respect that’s due is to be bold. Here we see Sharon Watson CEO and Principal of Northern School of Contemporary Dance reflect on what it means to be a black woman in power, tackling racial injustice and leading future generations in cultural change. Amongst her are four other strong women of colour, Kathy Williams OLY – CEO and Creative Director of RJC Dance, Kully Thiarai – CEO and Creative Director of LEEDS 2023, Amanda Huxtable – Co-Director of Vanitas Arts, and Keranjeet Kaur Virdee – CEO and Artistic Director of South Asian Arts UK, who have done the impossible in today’s society and have reached a pinnacle point in their professions. Despite all the odds, each of these women has navigated their way through the murky mist of the arts world, that was not created for them, with them or because of them. What an inspiration, and what a great representation of what’s possible for all the other cultural artists in this world.”
“Be Bold Be Brave sets out to outline the fruits of the laborious work each of these cultural leaders has had to undergo to be able to sit in front of you today and share their experiences and wealth of knowledge. One might say we are all very lucky to be able to witness this, on the other hand, we see the struggles they have experienced to get to this point. As an independent force, these women have radically changed the way we experience the arts industry, by taking a stand against societal racism and inequality in all its forms, to ensure that future generations have a fair chance to succeed within the arts sector. Each of them has single-handedly paved the way for change and commanded that it be done with haste and in the right way. I saw this in the way Sharon Watson stepped in to post, at the height of the Black Lives Matter Movement in 2020, due to the death of George Floyd and countless others as a result of racism. As part of the fight, she demanded that we begin to systematically dismantle ourselves and the systems that are so deeply rooted that they continually fuel the problem. I see this in how the decolonisation of the curriculum slowly changes the experience of being a dancer and is reflective of the community and culture in which the institution stands.”
“Growing up as a black, queer, gay person was not the easiest thing in the world, especially when trying to enter the world of the arts. Culture was not always something to be seen, and very rarely represented in a way that was supportive of those who needed it most. The phrase ‘representation matters’ has always resonated with me on a personal level, because it is vital for all those growing up to see that their goals are achievable and that they matter as a person. This is not always something that I saw and felt, so to see it represented by the Leeds 5, makes a huge difference and feels not so impossible. So often we get so used to just accepting that things will always be one way, that when that change does happen and a person of colour finally reaches that place of authority it feels like a win for everyone. I never knew how much I needed to see that happen until I did, and I was astounded by how much comfort it brought me.
It is awe-inspiring to see these five women come together and sit in the same space. To have a wealth of knowledge and the ability to share that is quite incredible, we need more of this and less of the pain from searching, trying, and doing just to get to an adequate position in life, where nobody takes you seriously. We should learn from these women and make our voices heard regardless of the repercussions, because ultimately what we have to say is just as important as anyone else, and we can be pioneers if we want to be. So let’s continue learning from them and pushing for a more diverse, equality-driven and racially-just industry, society and world.
Thank you to the Leeds 5 for showing us that anything is possible!“
You can read more about Zara and their exciting plans for leading the Student Union here.
Find out more about the Leeds 5 below:
Kully Thiarai – CEO and Artistic Director: Leeds 2023 Year of Culture leeds2023.co.uk
Kathy Williams OLY – CEO and Director: RJC Dance (Reggae, Jazz, Contemporary Dance) rjcdance.org.uk
Keranjeet Kaur Virdee – CEO and Artistic Director : South Asian Arts (SAA-UK) saa-uk.org
Sharon Watson MBE – CEO and Principal: Northern School of Contemporary Dance nscd.ac.uk
Amanda Huxtable – Co-Director: Vanitas Arts vanitasarts.co.uk