Creative Learning, Education, Exhibitions, Gallery, News, Theatre and Performance

A History of Attenborough Arts Centre: Celebrating 25 Years of Creativity

Richard Attenborough at launch appeal for funds for building of the AAC

It’s roughly two weeks since Attenborough Arts Centre 25th anniversary, where we celebrated the historical milestone of a wide range of communities coming together to forge a bond of diversity and inclusion in art.

The need for our space was widely publicised by Richard Attenborough, but funding came from all areas of Leicester and Leicestershire to form what is now everyone’s centre.

So, scroll on and find how we started.

In The Beginning…

Richard Attenborough and Princess Diana at the opening of Attenborough Arts Centre

Caption: Richard Attenborough and the Princess of Wales at the opening of Attenborough Arts Centre, from University of Leicester archives

Before the building we have today, there wasn’t a defined multi-use facility for our purpose. Jenny Grevatte, an art tutor of 25+ years as well as one of many local fund raisers from sales of her paintings, said “We were holding classes in the old studio in a basement underneath the Percy Gee building for about 15 years before the Centre was built.”

As a space dedicated to making the arts accessible to disabled communities, a studio in a basement was far from ideal. This lack of physical access to the site was identified by our founder, Sir Richard Attenborough, who recognised the need for accessibility within all areas of art and culture.

A voice across film, social injustice, and diversity in art, Sir Richards passion for the local community came from his father, and former University of Leicester Principle Frederick Attenborough.  This lead him to campaign for many years with local Leicester communities to raise the funds for our Attenborough Arts Centre. Within our history many members of the Attenborough family have become involved in our work.. After Richard’s passing, his son Michael Attenborough became our patron and will be speaking at one of the year long events to mark 25 years of our communal space.

On the day of our launch 25 years ago, we were honoured to have the Princess of Wales, Diana, there to cut the ribbon and welcome in our new era. Known for her compassionate work for human and social rights, Richards’s friendship with Diana actually started when she asked him to help with writing speeches, as despite the eloquence and charm of Diana in her later years, she struggled with confidence when she first began her journey as the Princess of Wales. Their connection added a moment of real history in 1997, when Diana met Richard in Leicester to open everyone’s Attenborough Arts Centre.

“Art is not an elitist gift for a few select people. Art is for everyone” Richard Attenborough


Our Communities

Studies into the benefits of the cultural arts within our society have shown that people from under-represented communities feel the most isolated, least engaged with the arts due to cultural and systemic barriers. Our aim is to use art to break those barriers, by giving platforms to those who are not heard, who are not represented, and who are overlooked to tell their stories. We aim to work with artists, performers, researchers and communities who have important messages that are radical, inclusive and ambitious, so  that we can create a world for everyone.

“In this beautiful building, I have seen what I thought was impossible”

Princess Diana on the Attenborough Arts Centre

We pioneer the idea of an arts centre specifically designed for diverse communities, with accessibility and inclusivity our core values, and we encourage openness from audiences, performers and staff alike.

This is a message felt throughout Leicester as funds from all areas helped in the creation of our centre and also continue our growth today.

In 2016 our updated and expanded gallery was opened by David Attenborough with the first exhibition bringing together his love of nature with Richard’s love for art, but a massive part of the £1.5million donation came from over 1000 local fundraisers. Our director at the time, Michaela Butter, said it best:

“This is a fantastic moment for us. Five years in the making and it’s really only happened because of the generosity of local people in providing us with the funds to make it happen”


Attenborough Arts Centre Today

Attenborough Arts Centre today

Caption: Attenborough Arts Centre today

So where are we today?

Originally titled a Centre for the Disabilities and the Arts, we soon become a cultural and artistic representation of diversity for Leicester and Leicestershire.

We offer a variety of spaces in our multi-use facility, which include a gallery, café, shop, garden and creative learning spaces. All host a number of subjects, such as:

  • Art exhibitions: a stunning Sam Metz exhibition recently moved on, but the artistic behemoth Bruce McLean’s Black Garden Paintings are here from the 25 of June, click here for more information.
  • Creative courses: want to polish those pottery skills? How about an Alcohol Ink Masterclass? Or maybe you prefer capturing a feeling on canvas? All creative classes listed in the AAC within June.
  • Family events: there’s fun for all the family, from raves, painting workshops and educational gameshows.
  • Theatre and performance: seductive jazz or lunchtime concerts with professional as well as up-and-coming musicians; glamourous burlesque shows; poetry with acclaimed author Maria Taylor; and dance workshops. A plethora of contemporary theatre and performance to choose from.

For more of What’s On, click here

The Attenborough Arts Centre is celebrating 25 years with a year full of exciting, diverse events.

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2 thoughts on “A History of Attenborough Arts Centre: Celebrating 25 Years of Creativity

  1. Sherrie says:

    Such knowledgeable information about the center and all it stands for . Well done for such an interesting read .

  2. Liz says:

    Really interesting to see how the Arts Centre developed over time, and the very high profile support it has had. Good luck for the next 25!

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