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New WAC Arts chair pledges: ‘I’m listening’

Justina Cruickshank tells CNJ she will review how the college is run and protect its legacy

22 October, 2020 — By Dan Carrier

Justina Cruickshank spoke to the CNJ this week her plans for the famous college in Belsize Park

THE new chairwoman of the celebrated Wac Arts college has vowed to listen to staff and pupils as she lays out a new vision for the future.

Justina Cruickshank was appointed last week at a pressure point moment for the charity in Belsize Park, which has over the years helped some of music and drama’s biggest names take their first steps. It has lost income due to the Covid-19 pandemic but has also been challenged by some disenchanted staff, students and alumni over how it is managed.

“I want to understand what has been happening, talk to people, see where they are coming from and hear their experiences,” Ms Cruickshank told the New Journal. “We need to look at the legacy we want to preserve, stabilise Wac and make sure we survive the economic shock of the pandemic.”

She will hear from the WAC Concerns Group which has called for reforms to make the management more diverse and increase participation from students.

The college, based in the old Hampstead Town Hall in Haverstock Hill and formerly known as the Weekend Arts Club, has a glittering roll call of former students including pianist Julian Joseph and the singer Ms Dynamite, who is honoured with a plaque outside.

Ms Cruickshank said she would spend around six months reviewing how the college is run: “The need for Wac Arts is greater than ever before. We need to find ways to make sure everyone has access to develop their creativity, whether amateur or professional.”

Ms Dynamite on the day a plaque was unveiled for her at Wac Arts

Ms Cruickshank will implement a “community engagement plan” in answer to criticisms raised by the Concerns Group. With a number of trustees stepping down from the board, Ms Cruickshank said: “We want to reform its composition, focus on increasing diversity, and improve the board’s range of skills and backgrounds.”

Her CV includes managing her own publishing group that focuses on increasing diversity, and she is also the vice chair of the Electoral Reform Society.

She said: “A lot of society’s problems stem from an unequal voting system. Proportional representation would lead to more diversity in parliament and a greater range of voices heard.”

The government has announced new packages of financial support for some art projects and venues. Ms Cruickshank said she has so far been disappointed with Whitehall’s response. A recent advertising campaign suggested artists should retrain. One poster used a ballet dancer unaware that her “next job was cyber”.

Ms Cruickshank said: “They have not been supportive enough and that has been clear in the language they use talking about the arts. The idea that artists should ‘just’ retrain is incredibly disrespectful. It ignores innate talent, and years of training to develop. It is dismissive of the sacrifices people make. But the arts is a resilient sector and Covid has forced people to be creative in different ways.”

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