With so many arts graduates female, but so few women at the top of some of our creative industries, Jennifer Tuckett, Course Leader on the MA Dramatic Writing at Drama Centre London, Central Saint Martins, explains why there’s a scheme which aims to tackle this imbalance. 

University Women in the Arts is a new one off scheme to provide access to the advice of fifteen of the women leading the way in the arts in the UK.

The mentors include Vicky Featherstone, Artistic Director of the Royal Court Theatre, Tamara Rojo, Artistic Director of the English National Ballet, Lucy Kerbel, Director of Tonic Theatre, Jude Kelly, founder of the Women of the World Festival and Artistic Director of the Southbank Centre, Elizabeth Freestone, Artistic Director of Pentabus and others.

The scheme is being run in a partnership between Tonic Theatre, the Women in the Future Programme which runs the Women of the Future Awards for women aged 35 and under and the Asian Women of Achievement Awards, and the MA Dramatic Writing at Drama Centre London at Central Saint Martins, which I am Course Leader of, and my company Writer at Work Productions, which aims to work with the industry to increase access and diversity in the writing and arts industries and in arts education.

So why are we running the scheme? When I joined Central Saint Martins three years ago to set up their first ever creative writing degree, one of the things I was struck by was the statistic that at the University of the Arts London, Europe’s largest arts university which Central Saint Martins is a part of, over 70% of students are female.

However, according to Tonic Theatre, British Theatre Consortium figures, UAL figures and BFI figures in the industry only around 30% of professional playwrights are female, 30% of professional directors are female, 30% of professional artists in London galleries are female and 15% of professional screenwriters are female.


One of the reasons we thought might be important, and why we created the scheme, is that it is still difficult to get access to the advice of women who are leading the way in the arts and to see how they have got there, whether they faced and overcame the same challenges or not and how they overcame these challenges.

So far we have run two University Women in the Arts public events (with Kate Rowland, founder of BBC Writersroom and the former Creative Director of New Writing at the BBC, and Vicky Featherstone, Artistic Director of the Royal Court Theatre) and it has been interesting to see three similar pieces of advice and experiences emerge – that it is important you have confidence in yourself, that you need to create projects yourself and not wait for things to happen, and that you need to resolve conflict yourself.

For example, at her event, Vicky Featherstone said: “Be self sufficient. Don’t expect other people to make it happen for you. If you really care about it, make it happen. Don’t wait for the moment to come to you. Because if it doesn’t come to you, you’ll become embittered and frustrated and not in control of your own life.”

Similarly, Kate Rowland at her event advised: “One piece of advice is, when people say “I’ve got a play, I don’t know what to do”, I think “put it on”. Now with technology, you can do anything – you can publish, you can put on plays. Don’t wait for somebody because quite often they’ll only go with what they know and what they like, they might not take those risks. See if there’s a way you can do it yourself, and don’t be afraid of it. It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money.”

I think you have to:

  • Do your research:

A quote I often use is by Stephen Butchard, and it’s the ABC, – it’s the art, it’s the business, it’s the craft. And quite often those 3 things collide.

So if you want money how do you find it? You could raise it via crowd sourcing, the Arts Council. Do a bit of digging. There are so many different foundations and trusts so if you think about your piece of work, it would fit somebody’s criteria somewhere.

  • However there’s a quote from Maya Angelou who said “ a bird doesn’t sing because it has an    answer, it sings because it has a song,” so don’t try to make your work fit something like a funding module if it doesn’t feel right because the song you have to sing is the important thing.

Those are two sides of the coin – one is making it work, the other is who you are as an artist, as a performer, that’s your song. Have that self belief.

We’re looking forward to seeing whether similar experiences continue to emerge in the other 13 sessions.

All of the sessions are free to attend and you can sign up to the mailing list here: www.universitywomeninthearts.com

The next session is on November 9 with Anne Edyvean, Head of BBC Writersroom, and will take place at the BBC, offering a chance to see inside the BBC as well as listen to Anne’s advice and learn about the challenges she has faced, how she has overcome them, and also the blessing she has encountered and how she has embraced them over the course of her career.