Message from our CEO

As a migrant in the UK, I was often confronted with questions that are centred around who gets to make decisions and who doesn’t. I found myself in environments where I felt that I had no power to shape any matter that impacted me and my surroundings. My voice was absent and my participation seemed inconsequential, creating a profound sense of exclusion and invisibility.

This experience became a catalyst for my commitment to ensure that every individual, regardless of their background, has a seat at the table and a voice in the conversations that shape our communities and futures. As the CEO of New Art Exchange, I am deeply invested in transforming these insights into actionable change, to create a space where everyone can shape the future.

It is this same insight and understanding that led us, two years ago, to articulate an ambition to become a national and international blueprint for citizen-led cultural institutions worldwide. Following this, we have led a quiet but radical transformation to build the foundation to support our vision. This includes the establishment of an embedded and ongoing citizen-led decision-making process.

We have involved dozens of citizens from all backgrounds, including artists, local residents and industry peers to shape and make important programming decisions on behalf of NAE. Within the last twelve months, a 190k investment has been made by these panels. The funds are used to support local talent as well as regional and national Global Ethnic Majority artists to deliver major work in our gallery, venue, and neighbourhood. This approach further advances our commitment to a fair, equitable and inclusive industry for all.

As I reflect on our path to this point, the journey resonates deeply with the broader questions that initially propelled us forward. How can we build a model that reflects our mission, achieves operational excellence, and, importantly, resonates with the community’s needs and aspirations? How can we listen to and act upon the insights of the voices that matter, ensuring they lead and shape our collective future? How can we design a blueprint for reimagining and remodelling an institutional leadership that delivers on these aspirations?

Today, and after all we’ve learnt, we are pushing this reflection even further, by sharing a statement of what we believe institutional leadership could look like.

Today, we become the first major cultural organisation worldwide to launch the integration of a permanent Citizen Assembly as a core part of our leadership structure to shape all of our neighbourhood’s overall strategy, investments, programmes, and policies.

Today we share an ambition and a vision with the hope that it might contribute to a wider reimagining and redefining of how we, as a sector, hand in hand, with citizens, can push beyond participation and beyond co-creation to engage with real citizen leadership and decision-making to build a stronger foundation for co-shaping the future. We call it our VOICE Assembly.

While citizen assemblies have been utilized globally in various contexts—from climate change to urban planning—what sets the VOICE Assembly apart is its permanent integration into the core leadership structure of NAE with the ambition to design and articulate a blueprint for other major cultural institutions.

The VOICE Assembly operates in synergy with the Executive team and Board of Trustees to create a robust leadership model. This structure ensures that strategic decisions benefit from professional expertise, governing oversight, and, crucially, the lived experiences of our community members.

The Assembly’s integration is cyclical; members are selected through a lottery system to participate for up to 24 months, ensuring fresh perspectives continually inform the vision and strategy behind our work in Hyson Green. This process underscores our commitment to evolve with our community’s heartbeat and to embody a dynamic and democratic approach to leadership within the cultural sector.

Our journey, to this point, has had its fair share of challenges and we recognise that sharing and handing over power can be scary. We have experienced many moments filled with doubt and times when the path forward seemed unclear. However, we have also witnessed numerous milestones of collective celebration that continue to strengthen our commitment and excitement about our work and vision. This is where we find our inspiration. This is where we find our purpose.

Our aspiration for the future is simple: A neighbourhood where culture is driven and defined by its citizens. We dream of a community where everyone feels profound pride, belonging, and ownership over their community’s future, building an international and replicable blueprint that showcases the potential of citizen-led cultural regeneration. Driven by, crafted for, and built with the people, because your VOICE matters.

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