London's Barbican shakes up staff following racism allegations published in tell-all book

Former BBC culture editor Will Gompertz steps into joint managing director role with Sandeep Dwesar

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Contributors to the book Barbican Stories say that the Barbican’s work culture as “subtle and insidiously” racist Photo: © Kim Fyson

Contributors to the book Barbican Stories say that the Barbican’s work culture as “subtle and insidiously” racist Photo: © Kim Fyson

The Barbican Centre has carried out an extensive staff reorganisation following the publication of a book in June that included more than 100 instances of alleged prejudicial behaviour at the City of London cultural venue.

When Nicholas Kenyon steps down as managing director next month, the current director of arts and learning, Will Gompertz, and chief operating and financial officer, Sandeep Dwesar, will share leadership as joint interim managing directors.

Gompertz’s appointment was announced in March; he was previously the arts editor at the BBC and a director of Tate galleries. Dwesar worked as a consultant within local government on business process engineering and privatisation initiatives.

Meanwhile, Nina Bhagwat will join the Barbican’s senior leadership team this month as interim director of equity, diversity and inclusion “to drive the Barbican's anti-racism work, and to ensure the Barbican’s inclusion agenda progresses at pace”, says a statement.

More than 100 stories of discrimination and prejudicial behaviour dating back to 2014, written by current and former employees, are included in the book that was compiled by an organisation known as the Barbican Stories Collective. The dossier of claims was funded by “white colleagues” in solidarity with the contributors who described the Barbican’s work culture as “subtle and insidiously” racist. The book also cites many examples of racism from visitors to the centre.

One of the stories in the book says: "I've only seen one black person in a managerial role, this person has now left the Barbican [...] I've only seen white apprentices or interns get jobs in the organisation after. People of colour who intern don't get taken on long term. That's a pattern of employment I've seen in the Barbican offices."

When the book was published, the art criticism website White Pube said on Instagram that “this is a worker-led direct action triggered by the Barbican’s inadequate response to Black Lives Matter in June 2020”. The Barbican released an anti-racism action plan on its website in June 2020 which stated that the multi-arts venue was “committed to eradicating racism in all its forms”.

The City of London Corporation recently announced that the law company Lewis Silkin LLP will conduct an external review into staff experiences of racism at the Barbican. Kenyon says: “We very much welcome the external review into staff experiences of racism at the Barbican. The Barbican must be a place where everyone feels safe to work free from racism or discrimination and we will fully support both the review process and the implementation of recommendations for change.”

Gompertz and Dwesar said that their immediate priority is assisting colleagues who have suffered racism from within the organisation, and advancing the organisation’s anti-racism action plan.

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