At the age of just 12 years old, Jude Kelly knew she wanted to be a theater director. But she soon realized that there were few female role models in the field, and just as few stories about women in the canon of literature and theater. “I decided I was going to make a body of work which in every single sense was going to be questioning the place that women’s stories have in art, culture, and in everyday civil life and political life,” says Kelly. “And I was going to do everything I could do to make those stories matter at a different level.”
Today, Kelly is one of the most powerful arts leaders in the U.K. She served as artistic director of the Southbank Centre, Britain’s largest cultural institution, for 12 years. Under her leadership, the institution launched bold new initiatives like Women of the World (WOW)—a global network of festivals that honors women’s achievements, with the goal of inspiring the next generation to continue the fight for gender equality—and drew some of the most diverse audiences and staff of arts venues across the U.K.
This year, Kelly stepped down from the Southbank to focus on leading WOW. Here, she talks to Artsy about the adversity she’s faced in her career and the work that’s still left to be done—and offers her advice to young women struggling to find their own voices. “It’s about recognizing that between us all, we have a mutual responsibility to value our own story,” she says. “We’ve stood on the shoulders of women who’ve gone before, who’ve got us education, who’ve got us the ability to not be property, and we’ve got to keep that fight going.”