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“Performing Arts Institutions as Anchors for Community Economic Development” with Sir Alistair Spalding

Sir Alistair Spalding, speaking at Evans Hall on January 31, 2024.
Sir Alistair Spalding, Co-Chief Executive of Sadler's Wells Theatre, at Evans Hall on January 31, 2024.

SOM’s Economic Development and Arts & Culture clubs joined the Program on Social Enterprise, Innovation and Impact to host Sir Alistair Spalding, Artistic Director and Chief Executive of Sadler's Wells, the UK’s preeminent presenter of dance and other performing arts.  The lunchtime discussion focused on Sadler’s Wells’ new development in Stratford, East London, as part of the legacy plan for the 2012 Olympic site.

Sir Alistair opened the session by outlining the history of the Sadler’s Wells East project and situating it within the context of London’s East Bank development plans.  He saw the project as an opportunity both to expand the existing footprint and reach of Sadler’s Wells, as well as to support some of the least developed boroughs in London by catalyzing community economic development.

Sadler’s Wells has sought to do this via a series of community partnerships.  These include partnerships with local schools, education programs for new choreographers and dancers, family activities, and reduced tickets for younger audiences.  The physical space at Sadler’s Wells East is also designed to draw in local communities, both through performances outdoors and in the building lobby.

In response to student questions, Sir Alistair noted that Sadler’s Wells is currently engaged in extensive outreach to present the project and attract local talent to staff the new theatre, slated to open in December 2024.  Apprenticeship models are being implemented to address staff needs in certain technical professions.  He sees these early employees as playing a critical role in promoting opportunities for the community and drawing in local audiences. 

Sir Alistair recognized challenges associated with the project.  The demographic composition of East London is very different from Sadler’s Wells’ Islington site and a lot of the local population is also transient.  Furthermore, there was a risk that the various institutions moving into the area would raise property values and price out local populations. Addressing these risks is key to the project’s success.

Sir Alistair recognized previous examples of arts institutions having positive and negative impacts on the local communities.  “There is an overall issue with economic development in London”, he said, “but I really want to make positive differences all along the way.  Sadler’s Wells is going to do the best we can do.”