Unexpected Leaders – building a new, fairer world

Community | Opportunities | Spotlight

What is the Unexpected Leaders programme?

We think that by transforming leadership and shifting power, we can change the arts.

There are rafts of passionate, well intentioned, white, straight, middle-class, non-disabled people working hard to make a difference in the arts. But more often than not, they are the very people getting in the way of change. What is needed to make long lasting, systemic change is a greater variety of people in charge.

The arts need leadership from people who have insights into overcoming barriers, who have lived experience of the obstacles to creative careers and participation. Over the last 6 years we have been developing a national network of Unexpected Leaders – people who might not usually be recognised for their leadership potential.

Unexpected Leaders timeline

In 2015 – 2016 Unexpected Leaders from communties in Southwark, Stoke-on-Trent, Blackpool & Wyre, Stratford London and Bristol gained experience working with  Extraordinary Bodies circus company. Ten leaders followed a professional coaching programme to develop leadership skills and all received a bursary for professional development.

In 2017-2018, we worked with Clore Leadership to identify a cohort of disabled people to become new professional coaches working across the arts and working in particular with Unexpected Leaders.

In 2020-2021,  Connecting Communities enabled us to coach another 6 new leaders in Dorset, Plymouth and Salford alongside working creatively with their communities, and supported by a National Lottery Covid Emergency grant.


In 2020-2022, we are working with five different organisations as part of the ACE funded Transforming Leadership programme.  We are partnering Clore Leadership, The School for Social Entrepreneurs, Women Leaders South West, Rising Arts Agency and Jerwood Arts to try new approaches to diversifying leadership and sharing power. This is the way forward.

If you would like to know how you can support us to shift power in the arts please get in touch and sign up to our newsletter to hear more.

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Diverse City

Diverse City is an award winning organisation committed to diversity and equality in the arts. We are an engine of artistic and social change.

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