Let's change the arts

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.

The arts need leadership from people who have insights into overcoming barriers, who have lived experience of the obstacles to creative careers and participation. Fresh voices, new perspectives and clear sightedness on the subject of existing problems will make for lasting change if they’re given the opportunity to become decision makers. 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 communities 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.


From 2020-2022, we worked with five different organisations as part of the ACE funded Transforming Leadership programme.  We partnered 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, and developed a new cohort of Unexpected Leaders as part of that process.

We’re now engaging in partnership with seven venues around the UK, identifying Unexpected Leaders in their local communities, and then drawing on those leaders to take part in the design and delivery of a large scale evaluation process, as we tour diversity led circus with Extraordinary Bodies.

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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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