Fanfare! Introducing Rachel Gibson, Executive Director of South East Dance

Last month we announced the appointment of Rachel Gibson to the position of Executive Director.  Rachel was recruited on an interim basis back in March 2018 and helped steer the organisation through some challenging times so we were thrilled that she applied to stay on.  Having worked for over thirty years in the dance sector, Rachel is highly respected as a strategist, business planner and operational manager.  We asked her to share some of her history, thoughts and musings on the industry.

Hello Rachel, great to have you with us.  You’ve had a long career in dance; how was your interest in dance initially sparked?

My degree was in music and English, but I had always wanted to work in arts management.  I was lucky enough to land a job as Admin Assistant at The Place in 1984, at a time when some amazing companies were just starting out – The Cholmondeleys, DV8, Adventures in Motion Pictures (now New Adventures).  It was seeing companies like this and being immersed in a dance environment for two years in the early part of my career that got me completely hooked on dance and I have never looked back.

Have there been particular artists or works that you think have had a groundbreaking impact on the sector?

There are so many to choose from but for me Celeste Dandekar-Arnold and Adam Benjamin founding Candoco in 1991 was a hugely important moment.  The company’s success has been absolutely key in challenging perceptions about what dancers look like and how they dance, as well as creating some truly extraordinary work and being the first contemporary dance company to appear on Strictly!

Can you tell us about a career highpoint?

Being appointed Executive Director here at South East Dance has been pretty good!  

In terms of breadth of knowledge and experience gained, I couldn’t have done without my six years as Principal Dance Officer at London Arts Board in the early to mid-1990s, enabling me to work with so many fantastic artists and organisations across the capital and see groundbreaking work.  It was at this time the National Lottery launched and the transformative effect of its funding began to impact on the building infrastructure for dance, with early beneficiaries including Sadler’s Wells and Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance.

And a career low point?

Perhaps not a single low-point, but more a gradual attrition with the pressure on Local Authorities through the 2000s resulting in many having to significantly reduce their investment in the arts and culture.   This has not only had an impact on their ability to support the arts financially, but also on the extent to which they are able to develop local arts strategies and spearhead initiatives.  I had many positive experiences of working in partnership with arts teams in a number of London Boroughs on dance projects focused on place-making and community cohesion and seeing opportunities such as these ebb away in parts of the country is sad.  At South East Dance we are hugely fortunate to have such strong and sustained support from Brighton & Hove City Council – amongst others - to develop The Dance Space.

Do you have any particular fears or hopes for the dance industry?

It’s an obvious thing to say at the moment, but I fear the impact of Brexit, not just because it will make international collaboration harder in practical ways but because of the effect it is having on societal attitudes, fostering division and giving credence to intolerance and narrow-minded attitudes.  And my hope (and expectation) is that dance will play its part in challenging these new mind sets with works that question, critique and kick-back against the negativity that Brexit has unleashed.

What are you most looking forward to?

Opening The Dance Space next year and seeing it develop as a vibrant and creative meeting point for dance artists and the people of Brighton & Hove and beyond.

© Jack Bould
Fanfare! Introducing Rachel Gibson, Executive Director of South East Dance