CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Famous arts college’s future is under threat, claim former pupils

WAC Arts referred accusations to Charity Commission

16 July, 2020 — By Dan Carrier

WAC is based in the old Hampstead Town Hall

A GROUP of illustrious alumni, patrons and users have written an open ­letter to the board of a famous arts college with allegations about how it is managed.

The Weekend Arts College (WAC), based in the former Hampstead Town Hall in Haverstock Hill, has been a go-to place for budding musicians, actors and dancers to learn their craft for more than four decades.

Its alumni include singer Ms Dynamite, pianist Julian Joseph, music educationalist Wozzy Brewster and playwright Roy Williams.

The letter, sent to the New Journal and signed by 82 former pupils, staff, parents and supporters, accuses the board of failing to meet them to discuss the issues while imposing cuts to the college’s programmes.

The signatories have come together to form the WAC Arts Concerns Group, and say calls to hold a meeting to air grievances have so far fallen on deaf ears, adding: “We are concerned that the very future of WAC Arts is being put at risk.”

They also say claims have been made of a series of “micro-aggressions, cultural insensitivity and patronising attitudes”, adding: “Our working-class associates and staff have also sought a meeting with all board members to discuss their meticulously documented testimonies of class arrogance, obfuscation, obstruction and a feeling that profit is placed above people for some years now.”

The sense of crisis has been heightened by board chairwoman Liz Cleaver’s tenure ending soon without her replacement having been announced.

The signatories added that they were concerned WAC has registered a loss since 2016 and the scale of arts programmes has shrunk.

The group’s statement said: “There are concerns about financial management. We want answers around the highly unusual turnover of six finance officers in four years. Regarding educational delivery, we want to know why WAC Arts is only operating one-third of our former range of programmes. It would appear that the organisation has steadily reduced its commitment to its core constituency of disadvantaged young people.”

The group told the New Journal it had been forced to make their concerns public after approaching the board of trustees.

Describing the board as “100 per cent corporate”, it said: “[It] currently has no student representatives, no staff representatives, no arts or education practitioner specialisms and no disabilities and inclusion specialisms – yet all these elements are at the core of their charitable aims and the communities they serve.”

It added: “We in no way wish to make things more difficult for an organisation that sits so warmly in our hearts and is struggling in challenging times. “But neither are we willing to be ignored by a board that has no interest in our knowledge, advice or our robustly supported concerns.”

A statement from WAC said it had referred the allegations to the Charity Commission.

It added: “The board of WAC Arts takes any accusations made against it extremely seriously, especially where they are without foundation. We adhere to high standards of governance and are mindful of our responsibilities to the diverse community in which we operate.

“Whilst we do not recognise any truth in these allegations, which until July 5 were all made anonymously, we have made every effort to engage with the complainants over a two-year period, including carrying out an independent cultural review. “We have already self reported the matter to the Charity Commission, as a matter of good order.”

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