Creative Director appointed for the Attenborough Centre

A Creative Director for the University of Sussex’s Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts has been appointed.

Laura McDermott, currently Joint Artistic Director of Fierce Festival, Birmingham’s international festival of contemporary performance, will take up her post at the centre later this year following its multi-million pound refurbishment.

Ms McDermott will be responsible for developing the Attenborough Centre (formerly known as the Gardner Arts Centre) as a leading performing arts resource, forging new bonds between the University, the city of Brighton and Hove, and the wider national and international arts communities.

The centre was renamed by the University in honour of its former Chancellor and acclaimed actor and film director Lord Attenborough, who died in August 2014.

Ms McDermott said: “I look forward to shaping the centre around the values that were important to Richard Attenborough in his life and work: human rights, social justice and creative education.  I hope to keep an international focus and to make connections between artistic and academic research.  The University of Sussex, with its history of progressive politics and support for interdisciplinary practice, is the perfect context for this ambitious, optimistic new arts centre.”

Since its closure in 2007, the iconic building designed by Sir Basil Spence and now Grade II* listed has undergone extensive refurbishment to create a modern environment with a flexible 350-seat auditorium, exhibition spaces, rehearsal studios, and new teaching and office space.

Ms McDermott began her career as a producer at Battersea Arts Centre (BAC) in 2005.  In 2007 she was lead producer for the Punchdrunk and BAC co-production The Masque of the Red Death – which had a seven-month sold-out run and was cited by The Guardian in a list of ‘productions that have transformed theatre’.

Since 2009 she has curated the internationally acclaimed Fierce Festival alongside her colleague Harun Morrison.  During their tenure Fierce Festival has collaborated with Birmingham’s leading arts institutions (including Ikon Gallery, Birmingham Rep and Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery), and produced work in unusual locations across the city: a Quaker meeting house, an Edwardian swimming pool and underneath the Spaghetti Junction road interchange.

In 2012/13 Ms McDermott was a fellow on the CLORE Leadership Programme, supported by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation.

The University’s Vice-Chancellor Professor Michael Farthing said Ms McDermott was a stand-out candidate to take the helm of the arts centre.

Professor Farthing said: “We are thrilled to welcome Laura on board. Our ambition is to see the Attenborough Centre become a dynamic cultural focus for the University campus and wider community and Laura has already demonstrated that she has the capacity to have that vision and to make it a reality.

“Richard Attenborough was not only an incredible actor and film director, he was also a great champion of the arts in all their forms and for all audiences. In naming the building after him and his family, we wanted to honour his remarkable contribution and to carry on where he left off.  With our revitalised arts centre and its new director, we now hope to fulfil that ambition.”

Notes for editors

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About the Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts (ACCA)
The Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts (ACCA) will form the dynamic cultural hub of the University of Sussex, creating a focus for the university and the wider community’s artistic endeavours. The centre will host conferences, workshops, residencies, exhibitions, and screenings, alongside a public programme combining contemporary art, performance, and digital technology.

Formerly known as the Gardner Arts Centre, extensive work has been undertaken on the original Grade II* listed structure since 2008.  The Centre is named in honour of Lord Attenborough, former Chancellor of the University, and as a memorial to his daughter Jane Attenborough, a Sussex alumna and leading arts professional, who tragically died in the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004. Lord Attenborough died in 2014.

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By: Jacqui Bealing
Last updated: Tuesday, 19 May 2015