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Monday, 27 January, 2003, 13:48 GMT
Sydney arts boss heads for Wales
Judith Isherwood comes from the Sydney Opera House
Judith Isherwood comes from the Sydney Opera House
The woman credited with transforming the role of Sydney Opera House has been appointed to run the Wales Millennium Centre project.

Australian Judith Isherwood was the director of performing arts and acting chief executive of the Sydney Opera House and her move to Wales is seen as a coup.

Bryn Terfel
Bryn Terfel: Leading role

The 104m arts complex in Cardiff Bay is due to open in November 2004 with a gala performance featuring Welsh-born opera baritone Bryn Terfel, who recently laid a symbolic piece of Welsh slate at the foundations.

Ms Isherwood begins her new job as chief executive at the end of March and will immediately be busy organising the centre's gala opening night.

She will also be hard at work creating a programme of performances to reflect the blend of art forms the centre will host, from West End shows, to major musicals, opera and dance.

Judith Isherwood:
1982 - Graduated in technical production from Sydney's National Institute of Dramatic Arts
Executive director of Arts Access
General manager of the Melbourne Fringe Festival
General manager, organisations and arts development at Arts Victoria
Director of performing arts and acting CEO, Sydney Opera House

At the Sydney Opera House, she directed her energies on bringing in resident arts organisations to work alongside one another.

Her 20 years in the arts includes a strong background working on technical issues and bringing together a range of resident arts groups to work in a multi venue arts complex.

Ms Isherwood said the WMC presented a diverse range of challenges.

"I think it is one of the most exciting and ambitious developments I am aware of in the world," she told BBC Radio Wales.

"The attraction was irresistible to take up that ambition."

Ms Isherwood the centre would become a "heart and soul" for the arts community in Wales and be a major focal point for touring productions.

Millennium Centre: 104m project
Millennium Centre: 104m project

"If it was just opera it would be a less exciting and more difficult proposition," she admitted.

The incoming director said she was also aware about the financial pressures on the arts in the UK.

The English National Opera was threatened with losing a third of its chorus to balance the books, but secured additional funding from the Arts Council.

The WMC project has also had a chequered history - the centre was born out of a failed bid to build an opera house for Wales and the scheme has suffered lengthy delays.

But Ms Isherwood is certain she has the skills to run a complex arts programme and keep within budget.

"It is about balance. There is no doubt that this business is about selling tickets," said Ms Isherwood.

Wales Millennium Centre:
Opening November 2004
Funding: 37m -Welsh Assembly Government; 30.7m - Millennium Commission; 9.8m - Arts Council of Wales Capital Lottery Fund
Venue for musicals, opera, ballet and dance
Home to Urdd Gobaith Cymru, Welsh National Opera, Diversions Dance Company of Wales, Ty Cerdd Music Centre, Hjinx Theatre, Touch Trust and Academi.

"We do not want it to become an entertainment centre. We want to combine work of artistic merit with populist work which is commercially successful.

"I think all the art forms sit nicely together; opera against dance, dance against traditional ballet and I think that spread of that kind gives a balanced programme."

In her role in Australia, Ms Isherwood has overseen running 2,500 performances at the Sydney Opera House, which operates from five venues.

Jenny Randerson said: "I am delighted with Judith Isherwood's decision to take up the position of chief executive of the Wales Millennium Centre at such an important time in its development.

"The speed and scale with which the building is progressing is evident and there is now a sense of what an impressive, striking building it will be.

WMC chairman Sir David Rowe-Beddoe said: "Judith's appointment, a unanimous decision by the board.

"It represents the perfect marriage of artistic leadership with technical knowledge, venue management and experience of working with resident companies - a tall order.

"We all look forward to welcoming Judith to Wales and together ensuring that Wales Millennium Centre fulfils its very great potential."

BBC Wales' Jon Gower
"There was worldwide competition for the post"

More from south east Wales
See also:

21 Jan 03 | Wales
07 May 01 | Wales
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