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Staff Changes Follow Allegations of Racism at London’s Barbican Centre

Staff Changes Follow Allegations of Racism at London’s Barbican Centre

ART NEWS

Staff Changes Follow Allegations of Racism at London’s Barbican Centre

The Barbican Centre has overhauled its staff in the wake of the June publication of Barbican Stories, a dossier compiling 98 anonymous accounts of alleged racism and discrimination at London’s prestigious performing arts venue.Sir Nicholas Kenyon CBE, the music critic and broadcaster who has served as the institution’s managing director since 2007, will step down next month, The Art Newspaper reported. Will Gompertz, who recently joined the Barbican’s staff as director of arts and learning, and Sandeep Dwesar, currently the institution’s chief operating and financial officer, will together serve as interim managing director. “Our immediate priority is those colleagues who have suffered racism from within the organisation, and advancing our anti-racism action plan,” Gompertz and Dwesar said in a joint statement. Joining the Barbican’s senior staff as interim director of equity, diversity, and inclusion is Nina Bhagwat, who previously held a similar position at Warner Music Group.According to its press release, Barbican Stories was written “by current and former Barbican employees from Global Ethnic Majorities” and “funded by white Barbican staff members and friends” in response to what the authors characterize as “the Barbican Centre’s inadequate response to the Black Lives Matter movement and protests of June 2020.” Contributions to the book detail racist and prejudicial comments and behavior from Barbican visitors and staff, as well as a culture of casualized labor and limited professional advancement for employees of color. One author recounts that their job title changed from “manager” to “assistant” without explanation; another describes a “pattern of POC being hired into precarious contracts and trainee positions. There is such a stark contrast in the daily realities between white staff, with permanent contracts, and the more precarious trainees they work with, which can cause microaggresssions. . . that impact the work environment, making us feel alienated and ashamed.” Ironically, the release of Barbican Stories coincided with the beginning of Gompertz’s tenure as director of arts and learning, and was conceived, in part, as “a silent protest marking the lost opportunity to hire a candidate for this position of power beyond the usual (or expected) demographic.”  Gompertz came to the Barbican from the BBC, where he had served the arts editor since 2009; before that, he was director of Tate Media. Prior to his time at the Barbican, Dwesar, a chartered accountant, consulted with local governments on management training and privatization initiatives.  In addition to restructuring its staff, the Barbican announced that the law firm Lewis Silkin LLP will conduct an external review into staff experiences of racism, and promised to implement several reforms, including “robust” reporting practices and support structures for employees affected by racism in the workplace, and inclusivity targets for staffing. The institution also pledges to develop “new ways of working to ensure the casual staff are part of the Barbican’s community.” The outgoing Kenyon, who on Tuesday was hired The Telegraph’s opera critic, welcomed the external review and the changes ahead. “It’s now time to hand over the next stage in the life of this great institution to others,” he said, “and for the Barbican to have fresh leadership for a new generation.”

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