Page last updated at 10:43 GMT, Saturday, 5 September 2009 11:43 UK

Arts centre's head to stand down

Judith Isherwood in the Wales Millennium Centre
Judith Isherwood says her decision to leave is full of 'mixed emotions'

The chief executive of the Wales Millennium Centre is to quit her job to return to her native Australia after six years in the post.

Judith Isherwood joined the arts centre as it was being built in 2003, facing the challenges of it opening and the struggle to juggle its finances.

She leaves to become the new chief executive of the Melbourne Arts Centre.

The Millennium Centre's board chairman, Lord Rowe-Beddoe, said it had been a "stimulating" partnership.

"Judith returns to her home town to head up an exciting and challenging development project, as well as benefiting from being closer to her immediate family," he said.

Wales Millennium Centre
We've gone a long way to really dispel that myth that it was only about high art, about opera
Judith Isherwood

He added that she would leave with his "greatest appreciation" for her work at the centre in Cardiff Bay.

Announcing her intentions to leave, the chief executive said she had "very mixed emotions".

"I am as passionate and enthusiastic about Wales Millennium Centre now as I was on my first day. However, my desire to return now to Australia and explore new challenges is equally strong," she said.

However, her time at the centre has not been without challenges, and controversy.

The Queen, accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh and Prince of Wales, officially opened the £109m performing arts centre in November 2004, as it became one of the most iconic buildings in Wales.

Funding

But three years later, there were warnings from auditors that it was in danger of insolvency.

In 2007, the assembly government agreed to wipe out a £13.5m debt, and treble its annual funding from £1.2m to £3.7m.

"I don't think it was a matter of anything going wrong," insisted its outgoing head.

"I think the experience of any of these sorts of projects, not just in the UK but anywhere across the world, is that once they are open you look at what you want to achieve with these sort of operations.

"There is a balancing out of support from government with the revenue that these sort of businesses can generate. Where we are now, that balance is right."

She also argued that the Millennium Centre's success in attracting 1.5m visitors a year showed that early detractors were wrong to voice concerns that it would become an opera house for the cultural elite.

"We've gone a long way to really dispel that myth that it was only about high art, about opera, because the truth is the breadth of the programme that we deliver is so much more than that," she added.



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SEE ALSO
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Arts venue debts to be wiped out
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Gala opening at Millennium Centre
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