a digital portrait of michaela butter

The Director's Blog

Michaela Butter is the Director Attenborough Arts Centre and has years of experience working in the arts sector. Her insight and expertise has helped to shape our centre and has big plans for the future. Here she talks about her strategy, goals and whatever she is passionate about.
Michaela laughing in the gallery

March 2022 - A Farewell to My Readers

After 12 very happy years at the AAC and over 43 years in the sector, I am officially retiring! In this, my last blog, I reflect back on some of the highlights from my time at the University.

Some of you may know that my career has spanned both the Heritage and Arts sectors. After 20 years involved in museum curatorship, I spent 10 years at Arts Council England fostering regional and international partnerships while also overseeing Capital development project across the East Midlands. In hindsight this was all great experience for my role as Director – my last paid job in the Arts!

I arrived at the AAC in 2000 to cover their then Director’s maternity leave. Being on a temporary contract was a liberating experience in terms of creative risk taking. I was delighted, if not a little scared, when the then Vice Chancellor, Sir Bob Burgess, extended my contract to a permanent one as I then had to follow through on my suggestions!

With the support of the Vice Chancellor, I initiated a campaign to create a new extension for the building that would provide Leicester with a contemporary art gallery once again, after the much-loved City Gallery had closed its doors. One thousand donors later with the very generous support of the Attenborough family, Arts Council England and the Garfield Weston Trust, we achieved our fund-raising target of £1.5 million and began the task of creating the wonderful space you all see today.

It is my greatest pride and joy to see how successful the galleries have become and I will always be grateful to the sculptor, Jo Fairfax, and Digital arts specialist, Uzma Johal, for agreeing to be part of the design team from the beginning of the project. Their creativity in future proofing the building by insisting on flexibility and height have guaranteed the spaces can adapt to any creative challenge ensuring that exhibiting artists always have a positive experience.

A long shot of Gallery 1 with Mik Godley's exhibition.

Visual Arts Programming

We opened with an exhibition that celebrated the history and impact of the Disability Arts movement, followed by powerful new work by internationally acclaimed artists Lucy and Jorge Orta.  That set the standard for all of our programming which was committed to raising awareness of important social and political issues as well as celebrating high quality artists. It has been a privilege and a pleasure to welcome old and new friends from the region and nationally to exhibit their work, such as Yinka Shonibare, Chatwin and Martin, Aaron Williamson, John Newling, Mik Godley and the late Sargy Mann. I have taken particular pride in how we can promote both disabled and non-disabled artists through high-quality exhibitions, whilst actively seeking new ways to engage audiences and remove barriers to access. This can be seen through our initiatives such as our sensory suitcases and family workshops.

Our Outreach Programme

Securing support from Arts Council England enabled me to expand the staff-base at AAC and initiate new strands of incredible programming. It has been wonderful to see the expansion of our Outreach team that has developed award winning programmes, which have brought the arts to children with complex needs and City centre schools. Highlights for me have included the Pop UP Play interactive digital project, Max Literacy poetry project, Paul Hamlyn funded Sensory Atelier – which works with SEN schools across Leicester – and the 6 year BBC Children in Need project.

I have loved seeing the wealth of work created by children in response to our exhibition programme and the enthusiastic response to our Summer Garden parties at the University Botanic Gardens.

COVID was a challenging time for all, but I was so proud of the way staff responded to the challenge by creating new Digital assets that ensured we could continue to engage with young people and schools as well as continue to support artists.

Young children drawing on a large white sheet of paper which is coloured in colourful drawings.

Performance Programme

Although I have commissioned site-specific work as a curator, programming an all year round performance programme was a new challenge for me.

Initially we started small responding to the creative ideas of locally based artists. Personal highlights for me were the Improvised dance evenings involving the wonderful German dancer, Gabrielle Richter, and the talented dance staff from DMU as well as the Live Art and Experimental theatre programme curated by the artist collective Hatch and then Tetrad.

I truly loved working with the Spark Festival to bring ambitious, immersive performances for young people and have been proud of our track record in promoting disabled performers and inclusive companies as part of our mainstream activity.

Other highlights have included the ambitious De Stress Festival with associate artistic Director, Gurdeep Sian, which resulted in artist’s commissions from Priya Mistry, Bobby Baker and Dave Parkin to trial new ideas and ways of working.

A women dancing on a stage.

Disability Programming

When I started here, I wanted to build on Lord Attenborough’s vision to embed opportunities for disabled performers and inclusive companies into our programme but initially it was really challenging to source such work.

My first trip to Edinburgh felt like a maze without a map, but I was lucky to be supported by great disability activists like Caroline Bowditch and Jo Verrent. Organisations like Unlimited, Dash, Access All Areas, Shape, Corali, Frozen Light, Tourette’s Hero, Anjali Dance Company, Stop Gap and Epic Arts have transformed the landscape of disabilities in the arts, with active encouragement from the British Council. As I write this, it seems like there has never been such an incredible range of confident and talented disabled creatives developing new opportunities and creating change across the sector. It has been wonderful to present a whole range of solo shows uncovered at Edinburgh by great performers such as Cian Binchy, Brian Lobel, Dan Daw, Kiruna Stammell, Caroline Bowditch, Gareth Berliner, Lawrence Clarke, Liz Carr and Robert Softley Gale. Over the past 12 years we have welcomed 1000s of performers to trial new work, take part in showcases or simply include Leicester on their touring schedule.

Tingle Moments

The AAC performance space is intimate and informal. This intimacy has enabled us to trial brand new talent as well as host more established companies, and part of the job I have particularly loved has been discovering talent through attending degree shows. I was at one such event were I first encountered the multi-talented Olwin Davies and Lewys Holt.

Olwin Davies and Lewys Holt performing in the woods.

This talent scouting has enabled what I call ‘tingle moments’ where, as an audience member, one becomes completely absorbed into the creative process and the work leaves an indelible memory. Outstanding ‘tingle moments’ for me over have included the hosting of work by local companies such as Hubbub, Movers, Maison Foo, The Gramophones, Le Pelles Factory, Bamboozle, 1623, and Zoo Indigo. We have worked with companies from across the UK and beyond such as the brilliant Two Destination Language, Action Hero, Rhum and Clay, Goat and Monkey, Milk Presents, Made in China, and Paddleboat Theatre, as well as through solo performers such as Michael Pinchbeck, Daniel Bye, Ollie Smith, Caroline Horton, Priya Mistry and Paula Varjack.

My own particular passion has been in fostering international links, such as working closely with partners such as Unlimited, Serendipity and Shape. It has been exciting to see our partnership with We Are Epic and Epic Arts in Cambodia develop, with the creation of the beautiful co-commissioned dance piece, Buffalo Boy, with plans for future creative exchanges with the exciting new inclusive dance company, ID dance, based in our building.

A man kneeling in front of glowing green and lilac outlines of trees.

Supportive partnerships

Joining Sarah Brigham, the artistic Director from Derby Theatre, to set up In Good Company to support talent development in the region was a particularly satisfying achievement that has led to the creation of our popular, Check In Festival, that demonstrates our ongoing commitment of presenting work by the most promising local talent. Alongside this, helping to set up UCAN UK network for University Arts Centres and City Classroom the Cultural Education Partnership for Leicester have also been equally rewarding. The wider Leicester based group of Arts Council funded organisations are working hard to raise the profile and impact of our work on the City. I was delighted to lead on the creation of our joint prospectus celebrating all of our work, and I am also excited to see what the longer term impact will be of our joint ambitious Black Lives Matter Framework for Change, now underway, to transform opportunities in areas such as Leadership, employment, and programming.

Creative Learning

Throughout my time as Director, our incredible team of tutors have continued to offer first class quality teaching that is accessible to all who want to learn a new skill or refine their knowledge in everything from Art History to Jewellery making. It felt very special when we were able to celebrate some of their extraordinary talents by commissioning two exhibitions in the new galleries when they first opened.

In recent years we have begun to forge exciting new opportunities to connect with academics who offer incredible resources for artists. Our new Creative Engagement Fellowship scheme promises to foster these relationships by inviting artists and academics to work collaboratively on research topics. Alongside this students are beginning to understand the added benefits we offer to health and wellbeing through our courses and programmes.

In Conclusion

Working at the University has been an honour. I have never stopped being grateful for the artistic freedom the University environment fosters – that sense of enquiry and challenge embedded into the DNA of its values. Working with my amazing team we have been able to promote a programme that is steeped in social justice, which challenges preconceptions and assumptions whilst championing those whose voices are not usually amplified. This will be the part of my job that I will most miss, along with the incredible people with whom I have been privileged to work alongside.

It has been wonderful to feel so supported by the Attenborough family through Lord Attenborough’s son, Michael and his brother David. It is my one regret that I never met Richard to thank him personally for supporting the campaign to build the centre in the first place and to champion our work over his lifetime.

It has also been a pleasure to have worked with the Attenborough Arts Centre Board, that has been comprised with passionate and talented members throughout my career that have helped guide and mould the centre for the future.

I wish my successor, Andrew Fletcher, all the very best and look forward to watching how the centre enters into its next phase of development as a national centre of excellence for inclusive practice whilst growing its role within the University.

Michaela Butter MBE   Director (2010-2022)

Eduating for Empathy

February 2022 - Creative Engagement Fellowship Phase 1 Completed

February is an exciting month for us with not only Leicester Comedy Festival coming into full-swing, but also Spark Festival across Leicester. It has been so wonderful to see our centre full of artists, performances, and passionate audiences, looking to experience all avenues of art, culture and our communities. However, today I want to celebrate one of our newest achievements of the year: the completion of Phase 1 of the Creative Engagement Fellowship scheme headed by our Public Engagement Manager, Dr. Marie Nugent.

Our Public Engagement post was provided by the University to enable the AAC to create connections between our academic colleagues and our artistic programme.

Marie had identified a gap within research surrounding collaborative work between researchers and artists while working with the Wellcome Trust and the NCCPE to support public engagement. Her research revealed that it was popular for researchers to work with artists for supporting engagement, however this relationship tends to be mostly commissioned-based instead of a direct role within the project.

From her research and experience achieved while working with the community-led partnership engagement project, U.matter, Marie secured funding from the Wellcome Trust’s Institutional Strategic Support Fund (ISSF) to develop the Creative Engagement Fellowship with Attenborough Arts Centre and the University of Leicester. The scheme itself sought to bring together academics and creative practitioners to develop projects that would allow for a mutual exchange of skills and expertise within their practice, while creating a more inclusive and diverse academic culture through interdisciplinary research. The research itself would aid in improving community’s well-being as well as engagement levels between everyday people and academics.

In August 2020, the call-out was made for academic hosts to participate. Their proposed project had to be based off of one of two core themes: Black Lives Matter 2020, to address systemic racism within our society, and Beyond Ableism, to tackle the inequality faced by disabled people within our society that links to the AAC’s commitment to accessibility for all. In total, 18 applications were received with 5 chosen to be taken forward by a panel consisting of myself, Dr Marie Nugent, Clare Hudson, and Alistair Burns. There were so many incredible applications to choose from with phenomenal approaches to the core themes, however the ones chosen really nailed the brief and opened up exciting areas of research and engagement. From here the creative practitioners were matched up with the projects, with the projects beginning in January 2021. The five projects were as follows:

This Is Me

“Psychology Professor John Maltby and writer & theatre-maker Angela Clerkin constructed a five-week series of workshops targeted at marginalised groups – particularly women and non-binary students, students of colour, and those with accessibility needs – to explore creative ways of expressing identity. The workshops demonstrated the positive impacts arts can have on improving research-related engagement and inclusion to provide wider opportunities for better representation, which in turn improves wellbeing.”

All the Things We Are Navigating

“The UoL Doctoral College collaborated with writer, Paula Varjack, to create “All The Things We Are Navigating” – an interactive sound piece, developed for internal usage, that explored minority ethnic postgraduate researchers relationships with mental health through alternative methods other than the written form. The project featured UoL staff and black, biracial, and non-ethnic postgraduate researchers to build understanding around the challenges they face, thus allowing for greater communication of their needs through the development of alternative routes.”

Empathy in Medical Training

“Director of the Empathy Museum, Clare Patey, and Dr Rachel Winter, of Leicester Medical School, collaborated to further the conversations about nurturing empathy within medical students through creativity. Research has shown that building empathy not only benefits professionals, but also the patients’ healthcare. Building upon this, five coffee mornings were created to develop teaching resources with the help of medics, artists, and thinkers, with the discussions focused upon mental health and inclusivity of disabilities.”

Dementia & Ethnicity

“By developing storytelling methods combined with knowledge of mental health issues, specifically dementia, psychology Professor Elisabeta Mukaetova-Ladinska and theatre company, Phizzical, worked to address the relationships South Asian communities have with mental health. The project worked to promote person-centred healthy cognitive ageing, through understanding the communities’ media consumptions and social roles. The research informed the creation of immersive cultural events, such as ‘ladies sangeet parties’ – environments that promoted open conversations about mental health for all.”

Racial Equity in Museums

“Both graduates of Museum Studies, Dr Katherine Bunning, and visual artist & researcher Emii Alrai aimed to find greater avenues for expression and examination within the museums sector, to grow inclusive institutional cultures. The collaboration resulted in new relationships for future research and the design of a shared online space to support greater sector engagement within racial theory research while exploring new concepts within practice.”

As of this month the projects are all completed with all the information of their research, journeys, and outcomes on our Creative Engagement Fellowship webpage, with all the materials, resources, and evaluations for all the projects collected within the University of Leicester’s Figshare platform that can be viewed by clicking here.

On the 1st March, Dr Marie Nugent will be hosting an incredible webinar about the Creative Engagement Fellowship scheme, detailing it first phase, the outcomes, and how the project will be moving forward. This online event is open to all and you can book your place by clicking here.

I am also thrilled to say that Phase 2 of the scheme has been approved funding from the Wellcome Trust, with support from Attenborough Arts Centre and the University of Leicester.

Seeing Attenborough Arts Centre establishment itself as an institution not only for arts and culture but also for inspiring research as well is an incredible step forward that is fully supported by our close connections with academics and researchers from the University of Leicester and across the UK. With further research on the horizon, I cannot wait to see what we are able to achieve moving forward within Phase 2 of the Creative Engagement Fellowship and other research opportunities.

A woman sat on a rug in a busy market, with a crt tv

January 2022 – A busy start to the new year

Wishing all of our customers and partners a Happy New Year! I want to start by announcing that we have been awarded a further year of funding from Arts Council England to extend our existing funding agreement until March 2023 which has been a fantastic way to start the New Year.  It is a testament to my talented staff and their commitment to delivering the very best inclusive programme they can to provide access to all for the arts. Thank you so much Arts Council England for your ongoing support.

Despite the ongoing COVID challenges, the AAC is gearing up for one of its busiest seasons as we join partners in celebrating three major festivals over February and open a brand new exhibition by local artist, Loz Atkinson 22nd January. I am discussing this now to allow you time to grab tickets as we are already seeing a lot of interest in tickets and I do not want you to miss out!

Staff are busy reviewing our procedures in the light of the new OMICROM variant to make sure that we remain as safe a space as can make it for you to enjoy your visit.

Visual Arts

World is a Work in Progress (closing on 16th January)

This exhibition has had record numbers through our doors, despite COVID fears so I do recommend you grab your last chance to see this powerful if dystopian vision of the future by some of the most exciting and socially engaged artists working in Britain today.

Loz Atkinson
a hexagonal image of spaceWith a private view on Friday, 21st January we are finally able to welcome Loz to our new Gallery 2 programme of exhibitions by early career artists. In the year when the new Space Park will be opening it feels particularly relevant to celebrate through the wonderful imagery of Loz’s rich paintings. Inspired by Carl Sagan’s thirteen-part television series ‘Cosmos: A Personal Voyage’ (1980), the ‘Imagined Nebula’ works grapple with the problem of how to accurately represent something so vast that it is almost impossible to measure or understand, especially when we are a fundamental part of it. The paintings that make up this series portray scenes of an imaginary cosmos, complete with starry constellations and jewel-coloured nebulae. Also on public display for the first time is a new sculptural piece, ‘The Cosmos Within’, commissioned by Attenborough Arts Centre.

UK New Artists Leicester Festival 24th – 27th February

A woman sat on a rug in a busy market, with a crt tvUKNA returns to Leicester for the first time in three years with a celebration of new talent from across different art forms following an open call-out to all new artists across the UK, supported by a network of Midlands based Universities.

We will be hosting a stunning exhibition of selected new artists, curated by Saziso Phiri. With work drawn from across the country, you will be able to see some of the potential stars of the future.

Performing Arts

Leicester Comedy Festival  2 to 20 February

Working closely with our partner producer, Dan Nicholas we have a varied and fun programme for the Leicester Comedy festival in which talented comedians such as Helen Duff and Boorish Trumpson are welcomed to our venue with their brand of anarchic and dark humour and we will be running our popular Comedy Tours around our Undiscovered Island Installation (which runs between 30 January and 15 February).

Spark Children’s Festival 7 to 13 February

mellow bakuSpark Children’s Festival returns in its new February time slot and has provided us with some of our most exciting opportunities to showcase ambitious children’s work that I think is particularly ground breaking.  We have the chance to trial a new approach to engagement with Undiscovered Island, an inclusive, family friendly installation designed to stimulate imagination and storytelling.

I am particularly thrilled that we have been able to bring the magnificent Le Gateau Chocolat to Leicester to present their retelling of the Ugly Duckling fairy tale.  I saw this at Edinburgh before Covid struck and have been dying to present it to adults and children alike – it is unlike any other fairy tale show you will have seen – completely unforgettable!

Also delighted that our joint commission with Spark  for local artist ,Mellow Baku can be premiered Mmm Ahh Whoosh will be another show that is sure to delight our audiences with its mix of music, imagery and spoken word.

And finally, but by no means least do sign up your young persons to our 14/48 UK takeover workshops! The show will conclude our Spark programme on Sunday 13 February.

Creative Learning

blue watery paintAlongside all of these special events, we have also launched our new Creative Learning programme that features several new tutors and courses. Many courses are now fully booked but there are still some spaces available so I would urge you to make your New Year’s resolution a creative one and join our friendly group of new and regular participants!

xmas postcard2

December 2021 - Our highlights, triumphs and joys over the year

The year of 2021 has been one of ups and downs for not only the country, but the world. Keeping everyone from our teams and communities safe within the centre has been our top priority, however, due to our passion to share art with all we have been able to deliver incredible events, exhibitions, research, and more this year. I am so proud of the work of our teams have delivered, and I wanted to share our highlights, triumphs and joys with all of you for the last blog post of 2021.


  • Dr Marie Nugent joined the senior management team and began a new research project, the Creative Engagement Fellowship. The aims of the project were to connect artists and academic researchers to collaborate on work addressing either racism or ableism within our society, to improve public engagement and the accessibility of academia for all.
  • Launch of the Spring commissions, called Unexpected Tales, in which we encouraged artists and companies to create new digital work that allowed them to be as creative as they liked with our full support.
  • The launch of our first online exhibition, with artist Tim Neath. His exhibition, ‘Cowboys Invaded’, explored DIY special effects in homage to the B-movie genre by utilising recycled materials.
  • Internally, we started staff bingo sessions over zoom every Wednesday for team-building fun.


  • Through amazing collaborative work, we helped Leicester Comedy Festival deliver their festival digitally to an audience of 22,464 people.
  • We commissioned a collaborative exhibition with Next Gen. Creatives and artist, Christopher Samuel, as part of a joint project with UKNA. The final artwork reflects young people’s collective experience of lockdown, along with a glimpse into the various ways it has affected them individually.
  • Our partnership programme ‘Joint Practice Development for Teachers with Sightlines Initiative’ drew to a close, which embedded the principles of Reggio Emilia inspired educational philosophies in 9 SEND schools.


  • To celebrate Trans Day of Visibility, we began our Trans* Post Project. For this we sent out 250 postcard packs containing three new artist commissions to trans* people and allies across the UK. We received 30 creative responses and exhibited them within our online gallery.
  • We received funding from Paul Hamlyn Foundation for our SENsory Atelier programme to deliver digital and in-person artist residences with young people across found SEND schools.


  • Launch of the Summer commissions, Unexpected Tales, in which we encouraged artists and companies to create new digital work.
  • Took part in Good Friday, a collaborative digital stream with over 20 music venues, promoters and artists who joined together for a set of unique performances. The event raised money for organisations who are involved in Leicester’ live entertainment scene and affected by COVID-19.
  • With No Jobs in the Arts, we commissioned six early career artists based in Leicester/shire to undertake a one day micro-residency at home. The resulting exhibition was called ‘In Residence’ and was displayed in our online gallery, alongside responses from a Next Gen. workshop.
  • We launched a free interactive resource called ‘Ask The Astronaut’ with astronaut Tim Peake.


  • With our partners Derby Theatre and IGC, we digitally delivered the ‘Check In Festival’ for a week full of workshops, work-in-progress, performances, and discussions with 12 artists.
  • The Nurture network, hosted by Attenborough’s Sensory Artists Network, attracted over 70 freelance artists across the world to share best practice within the arts when working with disabled young people and adults.
  • The completion of the first Creative Engagement Fellowship project called ‘This Is Me’ – a collaborative project between Psychology Professor John Maltby and writer & theatre-maker Angela Clerkin that constructed workshops to engage with marginalised groups – particularly women and non-binary students, students of colour, and those with accessibility needs – to explore creative ways of expressing identity.


  • Re-opening of our building with a major new exhibition by Midlands based artist, Mik Godley, showcasing his ‘Considering Silesia’ The exhibition encompassed 20 years of work, exploring the context of our evolving relationship with the internet, which increasingly enables us to virtually ‘visit’ parts of the world and connect with strangers without leaving home.
  • To further our links with the College of Life Sciences at the University of Leicester, we returned to staging regular art exhibitions within the George Davis Centre. Funded by the Wellcome Trust ISSF grant and curated by Nicola Middler, the first exhibition was by local artist Theo Miller responding to recent UoL research on child trauma and migration by Prof Panos Vostanis.
  • We took a leading role in the student festival over the summer, to engage with our student audience and build upon our communities.
  • Welcomed back theatre audiences to AAC with 14/48 festival – an ambitious blend of live-streamed and pre-recorded theatre between Attenborough and The Arena in Wolverhampton.


  • Attenborough Arts at Home launched! A new service that offered people a chance to study remotely and learn new craft skills: the launch was extremely successful, selling over 70 packs in its first few weeks.


  • The launch of a new project commenced in collaboration with the British Museum. Working with 12 young people within the Leicester-area who identify as LGBTQIA+, the participants were brought in as co-producers of their own exhibition within the Attenborough programme.
  • The end of the first phase of our Inclusive Art project supported by BBC Children in Need, with a wonderful sensory garden party and commissioned film that can be seen here.
  • We began the first phase of our partnership with Bootworks Theatre, to work with nine 9-year-olds to understand what was important to them to further inform the creation of a new performance and film.


  • To celebrate the University of Leicester’s centenary, we launched our first arts-based centenary project called ‘Hands of Freedom’. Developed by artist Vishal Joshi, the project aimed to honour the unique and diverse makeup of the city of Leicester.
  • We opened our autumn exhibitions, ‘The World is a Work in Progress’ and Yambe Tam’s ‘Cosmic Garden’, curated by Rachel Graves. The first invited local artists, communities, and our visitors to share their visions of the future, while Tam’s multi-sensory work created a Zen and interplanetary feeling through the use of sculpture and sound. The opening was a great success, attended by over 100 people.


  • The launch of ‘My Land Your Land’: a collection of stories from migrant and refugee families, exploring the ideas of home and what home means to them growing up in Leicester. This was part of the University’s centennial events alongside the launch of ‘Our 100 Book’.
  • Opening of the new Salmon family gallery – a social space for all within the centre itself.
  • We hosted the University of Leicester and LSO centenary events celebrating 100 years of the university and its place within the city today.
  • The return of our ever popular Craft Fair, which showcased the best craft art from across the Midlands. This year we had over 40 exhibitors and 700 visitors.
  • With China Plate First Bite, we selected Keiren Hamilton-Amos and Georgia Kelly to be commissioned to showcase their theatre work across the Midlands.


  • The ‘Little Inventors in Space’ exhibition completed its journey exhibiting through schools and Leicester Design Season, finally taking place at the University’s new Space Park. The exhibition features four invention ideas for space, created by young people from three SEND schools.
  • Once again, we hosted our Music Scholarships to support emerging musicians and singers across Leicester. The Scholarships helps to develop the winners skills and create life-long connections with working professionals.
  • The first ever Leicester Art Week began in November. A collaboration between various cultural arts institutions across Leicester, to bring our communities together through exhibitions, events, walking-tours and more.


  • We hosted Royal Academy artist Bob and Roberta Smith ‘Teacher’s Twilight’ – an online discussion that allowed for participants to gain insight into creative processes, to develop a creative pedagogy, and the ability to explore practical skills for teaching art and design.
  • ‘See Me As Me’ exhibition launched, showcasing social justice and LGBTQIA+ identities in partnership with Attenborough Arts Centre and Pedestrian. The exhibition was produced as part of the national ‘Where We Are’ programme, organised by the British Museum and supported by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation.

Moving into 2022, somethings remain uncertain for all of us. However, I am so proud of the work completed by the team at the AAC, our collaborators, and our communities. Our work constantly strives for diversity, inclusivity, and accessibility within all that we do. We look forward to seeing you soon in the New Year.


November 2021 – AAC role as a working building and community asset

Our building was designed to be an exemplar for inclusive practice,- an award winning, innovative design that considered a wide range of access needs beyond simply ramps and door widths.  The use of light, texture and acoustics were integrated into the design concept making us a flexible and welcoming place that could meet the needs of many different access needs.

Besides our own programmes of activities and events, we offer a range of opportunities for community groups to use our space for creative purposes on a regular basis. Increasingly we are seen as a safe place for such groups to socialise and participate in a range of activity.  Due to our Arts Council funding, we are able to subsidise the use of our facilities to particular target groups balancing this against our need for financial sustainability through more commercial venue hire.

I have often thought we need to find ways to celebrate the central role our facilities play to foster community engagement and well-being through these wider services.  Despite the pandemic, we now have a thriving portfolio of regular users offering vital services to some of the most vulnerable in society.

We have been subsidising a number of charities who support local people for many years and in the blog this month I would like to highlight some of those groups.

Beacon’s Voice Choir

This group come to us every Monday evening for their weekly practice and are a choir with a difference. The members are all young people in care and range in age from 7 to 16 and was set up in 2011 by Leicestershire County Council. Beacon Voices have taken to the stage in locations such as Leicester Cathedral, De Montfort Hall and Sheffield City Hall performing to audiences up to 500.

BrightSparks – Arts in Mental Health

BrightSparks is a community of mental health service users, volunteers and other interested people who use the arts to promote positive images of mental health and wellbeing. They exist to support and showcase the creative talent that exists within the mental health community through a growing number of creative groups and projects, three of which we host at AAC.

The Comedy Asylum

Comedy and writing workshop, participants are encouraged to participate and share their thoughts, experiences and art, with a bit of arts therapy based activity too.

Showcase Collective – creative writing workshops.


An opportunity for mental health service users to get together in a safe and sociable environment to undertake a variety of artistic endeavours.
For more information about the groups and classes visit https://www.brightsparksarts.uk/

Tea Dance by VALUES

VALUES which are part of Voluntary Action Leicestershire are a group which specialise in helping people with learning disabilities in Leicester to be independent, make new friends and have fun. The project runs a range of different sessions out in the community host Tea Dance on Mondays at AAC. In these sessions the participants can dance to pop music or just listen, and bring along a packed lunch while meeting up regularly with friends.

Commercial venue hire is also a key strand in what we do at Attenborough Arts Centre and we host a variety of events from film nights to children’s birthday parties. From only £20 per hour the public can hire our spaces for a range of different events including performances, creative activities, meetings and workshops.

One event I would like to highlight, which is happening at AAC at the end of this month, is a film screening for World AIDS Day, which is being hosted by Trade Sexual Health in our Main Hall. This is a fundraising event with a showing of the film ‘The Normal Heart’, with snacks and refreshments provided.
Tickets are available to book on our website via https://attenborougharts.ticketsolve.com/shows/1173618167

For more information on our venue hire offer or to make an enquiry please email our Venue Officer Emily on eg269@le.ac.uk

Michaela talking at a podium, in front of a large, textile art piece

October 2021 – The return of our Autumn programme

October sees the full return to our autumn programme. It is wonderful to see the campus full of students, artists rehearsing or presenting exciting new work in our spaces and our classes teaming with enthusiastic customers keen to develop their crafts skills or learn new topics.

The launch of our two new exhibitions on 24th September, World is a Work in Progress and Cosmic Garden was a very happy evening with over 100 people in attendance.

These two shows are the first fully realised by our curator, Rachel Graves, since she joined us just before lock down and our exhibition programme was delayed by 18 months.  Every curator has a particular way of looking at the world so I have been excited to see how Rachel’s vision and approach would inform these exhibitions and am delighted with the sensitive and imaginative way they have been realized that reflects our commitment to inclusion and access.

two people sit on a green sofa, in frontt of pink tentacles on the wall World is a work in progress invites local communities, contemporary artists and our visitors to come together to share their visions for the future. Encompassing tactile tapestry, spaces for thinking and dreaming, brand new sculpture and protest banners, the exhibition features newly commissioned works, co-produced projects and several significant loans by artists whose work actively engages with the conditions and issues of our time. Artists include Bob and Roberta Smith, Ruth Beale, Michael Forbes, Khush Kali, Vince Laws, Kai Syng Tang and Jessica Voorsanger.

The artists represented in this exhibition respond to these themes in markedly different ways, but their practices are connected by an interest in social and political activism, co-production and concepts of futurity. Some highlight the inequalities and prejudice that exist in our societies today, acting as a call to action in the here and now. Other works explore a variety of possible futures and invite us to collaborate in imagining the future that we want for ourselves and our communities. If the world is a work in progress, what do you want to change? What might the next 100 years have in store?  We will be running an extensive education and outreach programme to encourage such debate and to actively encourage young people and their families to articulate their visions for a future where social justice can be achieved.

In my September blog I talked about the unique way in which University of Leicester was founded 100 years ago.  Local people came together to create a living memorial to those who had sacrificed so much in the Great War.  Clearly the foundations of the University demonstrate that we, as individuals, and as communities  can all make a difference, we can all make small gestures that collectively can make a significant impact. In our new Salmon Gallery on the ground floor, we have Help Art Save Lives by Bob and Roberta Smith and Jessica Voorsanger, a project with which everyone can get involved you can have a genuine impact on the lives of people around the world by buying an artwork created primarily by schoolchildren from across Leicester/shire. It seems a fitting contribution to the Centenary celebrations now under way across campus.

grey sculptures sit in black volcanic sandCosmic Garden– is a wonderful installation, by American born, London based artist Yambe Tam. It is an exhibition that will grab you by the senses. It is multi-sensory including sound and a sculptural installation, which together create a feeling of being interplanetary and out-of-this world.  It is a “must see” show, which draws on the ancient practice of the Japanese Zen garden with the inclusion of a strong dose of science and technology. Somewhere for contemplation and peace outside of earthly time and space, which links with the University’s, space science research and developing Space Park.

two people, a boy and man, hold models of houses on their palms And finally, just to draw your attention to the sound installation in the Salmon Gallery during October. My Land/Your Land has been created by Edinburgh-based theatre company Two Destination Language with generous support from a private donor. It draws on the experiences of children whose families have come from elsewhere in the world, to live in Leicester.  The company worked with 80 children over the summer to explore what ‘Home’ means to them. The sound installation created draws on some of those experiences and is a joyful, moving tribute to the rich cultural diversity of Leicester and amplifies the voices of those young people.

a watercolour of the charles wilson building in blues and purples

September 2021 – Launch of the University’s unique centenary celebrations

The Attenborough Arts Centre is playing an active role in the University centenary celebrations, launched this month.

The story of the founding of the University is a unique and moving one.  Set up through public subscription as a living memorial to the sacrifices local families made in the First World War, we are the only university in Europe, and only one of two in the world created in this way. 

So that they may have life” is the powerful motto of the University that underwrites all that we do and has influenced our current focus on supporting staff and students to be Citizens of Change.

As you can imagine, I believe the Arts and our work at the Attenborough Art Centre, perfectly reflect these values and we have embedded artists across many strands of the Centenary celebrations – whether it is creating new work, contributing to a lecture public lecture series or fostering community engagement.

Over the summer, we have been working on a number of projects that will feed into the Centenary. Hand of Freedom is a public art project, co-commissioned with students by local artist Vijay Chowdry in which members of the community were invited to contribute drawings of their hands to be incorporated into a new piece of sculpture.

We commissioned two world-class theatre companies, Two Destination Languages and Bootworks to work directly with children to create new work – My Land. Your Land, a sound installation about what is home and a new theatre piece NINE, on what it is to be 9 years old.

Graphic artists were selected to create a graphic novel and outdoor exhibition, based on 100 of the most memorable moments in the University history as nominated by local people (in which the AAC is mentioned several times!)

An exciting new exhibition ‘The World is a Work in Progress’ will present work by 6 artists selected from both national and regional contexts including Bob and Roberta Smith and Jessica Voorsanger who will also be presenting their extraordinary ‘Help Art Save Lives’ campaign in which people are invited to create their own work to sell and can buy work created by young people in return for a small donation to a lifesaving charity.

The World is a Work in Progress is an exhibition that invites local communities, contemporary artists and our visitors to come together to share their visions for the future. Encompassing tactile tapestry, spaces for thinking and dreaming, brand new sculpture and protest banners, the exhibition features newly commissioned works, co-produced projects and several significant loans by artists whose work actively engages with the conditions of our time.

September will also see the launch of our public programme of creative learning classes for all those keen to develop their skills across a wide range of the arts – music, creative writing, craft, sculpture and visual arts whether back in our workshop spaces or in the comfort of their own home through our Attenborough at Home range.

Delighted to note that much of our performance programme is booking up very quickly demonstrating how keen people are to return to live events.  Highlights for me however are the return of fantastic companies such as Zoo Indigo or M6 and solo performers such as Mellow Baku and Seth Kreibel.

next gens at yinka

Summer 2021 - Community Engagement

As we reach the end of this academic year, I wanted to shine a light on our work with communities during this difficult time. The past 18 months have bestowed an unprecedented collective trauma on us all, where connections, creativity, and cultural engagement have been challenged, and as a result, mean more to us than ever before.

Our venue is home to many local groups that support wellbeing through the arts, as well as schools, families and artists – you make our venue vibrant and inclusive and we have missed you so much – we are so happy to be welcoming you back into our centre over the summer.

For those of you who haven’t met them yet, I would love to introduce you to Attenborough Arts Centre’s Learning team : Marianne Pape-Scahill, Bob Christer, Hannah Pillai and Caroline Rowland. They produce ongoing high quality cultural engagement activities for our local communities, children and young people, schools and families working collaboratively with artists, companies and colleagues from across AAC and the University. You can contact them here: arts-education@leicester.ac.uk

When lockdown began, our team worked quickly to respond to the most immediate needs, to maintain communications and connections with people most impacted by the pandemic. This meant learning (a lot!) about procedures / technology / blended approaches, co-commissioning work online and remotely, and how to deliver authentic sensory arts activity through a screen! As the months passed, and we learned more, refined our methods, consulted further and established new partnerships.

We have made some incredible discoveries and developed approaches that have provided much needed social connections during this devastating time of isolation. Looking forward to a period of creativity and recovery as we move through this pandemic, we are refining our offer for schools, local groups and communities to help us get through this time together. We continued to liaise with funders, consult with partners and participants and develop projects remotely, all with the aim of reconnecting us and supporting resilience through this time.

Our exhibition at the time, Kelly Richardson’s Mariner 9 had only launched a few days before the first lock down, and much of our community and school engagement work was designed in response to this.

We commissioned new performances inspired by Mariner 9, developed resources and explored new ways to engage people remotely. We distributed 500+ packs of materials and crates of materials to Special schools. These were designed to be opened alongside new artist commissions filmed with Studio Attenborough which were then live streamed or pre-recorded and facilitated to enable children to access great cultural experiences from the safety of their own homes.

We have now reopened our beautiful venue and launched our free resources gallery – The Salmon Gallery. Generously supported by The Salmon Family and The Art Fund, our Learning and Curatorial teams collaborated to create an engaging, ambient and flexible space for you all to dwell, reflect, and play together.

Our free family gallery workshops start up again this August on Wednesdays and Saturdays 1pm – 3pm – where family bubbles can book a space to respond to our Mik Godley Exhibition – Considering Silesia, with all materials provided and support from our friendly team.

From September, we launch The World is a Work in Progress, a group exhibition that invites us to consider our power in shaping the future. Featuring work by Bob and Roberta Smith, Ruth Beale, Khush Kali and Michael Forbes, we will invite you to #HelpArtSaveLives and be part of a movement to raise funds for life saving charities that have been made even more essential by the pandemic.

Some of our key projects for this year include…..

Watch this Space


Across the last 15 months we commissioned and co-commissioned 3 performances for digital access at home. Lori Hopkin’s space themed mars exploration, ‘The Mariner’, Infuse dance company’s ‘Bloom’ and Foan & Fortune’s ‘Little Mess’! co-commissioned with Little Angel Theatre.

All are suitable for family audiences and have been designed to be inclusive and accessible for young people with learning differences and disabilities.




SENsory Atelier


Our first 2 years of the SENsory Atelier programme have seen us working with 9 local special schools and an international community of artists, businesses and educational experts to develop a creative educational pedagogy for young people with learning differences and disabilities.


In this time we have developed:

Our community of learning with Teachers exploring the Reggio Emilia approach to education within the unique contexts of their schools.

Nurture Network, a bi-monthly get together for artists interested in developing their practice in working with young people and adults with SEND.

Artist Residencies in Ashmount, Ellesmere, Nether Hall and Children’s Hospital Schools.

An emerging evaluation framework to evidence best practice in creative, collaborative approaches to education, gallery education, and embedding arts across the curriculum.


More information on the programme, including the previous two year pilot, can be found on our blog:



Little Inventors in Space

Little Inventors is national programme that brings the imaginings of children to life. Working with 3 Special Schools from our SENsory Atelier programme, Nether Hall, Ashmount, and Ellesmere College we supported children with learning differences and disabilities to think about what they could invent to help an astronaut survive in space. Working in partnership with Inspirate, Meggitt, artists Helen Duff, John Berkavitch and Sian Watson Taylor, we created a cohesive series of films, lesson plans and resources that supported children to explore science and abstract space concepts to come up with inventions.

Tim Peake worked with us to create a digital resource to help contextualise life aboard the international space station, which is now available free of charge to all education settings. The project embedded Arts Award evidencing, and experiential play through designing inventions with a range of unusual an intriguing scrap store materials. 6 of the children’s inventions were selected to be brought to life by magnificent makers Tom Cleaver, David Wilson Clarke, Meggitt and Sean Clark.

This exciting project has resulted in a new way of working for Little Inventors, and an exhibition of inventions currently on tour in the schools, before transferring to the launch of the new Space Park in Leicester as part of the University’s centenary celebrations.

Sign up to receive the Tim Peake Resource here: http://eepurl.com/hwZQ11



SENsory Atelier at Home – with Sian Watson Taylor

In March 2020 we responded to the first wave of lockdown restrictions by creating accessible resources for home based Atelier explorations. Designed by artist in residence Sian Watson Taylor, we produced a series of resources aiming to utilise everyday household items to explore the properties of materials and environments including paper, colour, light, space and paint.

Activities were designed for large scale and table top activities catering for ASD, SEMH, MLD, SLD & PMLD, creating opportunities at home for discovery, play and learning.



Inclusive Youth Arts Programme – Wai Sum Chong, Helen Duff, Louise Kay, Sian Watson Taylor

For 6 years, we have provided free, out-of-school cultural and creative activities for children and young people with the most complex needs and the least access to the arts, generously supported by BBC Children in Need. During this time, hundreds of families have taken part in workshops, performances, and exhibitions co-produced with artists and companies that specialise in sensory and inclusive practice.

Hannah and Caroline worked even more closely with families during lockdown to design activity that explored access in all its forms, pushing the boundaries of what it meant to work remotely, engaging parents and carers as creative collaborators, supported by skilled practitioners. We experimented with pre-recorded and live performances, workshops and packs of props and materials sent in advance, with visual timetables, tailored to the needs of each individual child. The outcomes have been outstanding, and we are delighted to be finally bringing everyone back together in August for our first in-person event since the pandemic – our annual Sensory Garden Party at the Botanic Gardens.

We are incredibly grateful for the 6 years of support this work had received and wish to thank BBC Children in Need for helping us make a difference to children’s lives.

We are thrilled to have secured an additional year of funding from the Peter Sowerby Foundation to continue this important work.


START Arts Awards – Catherine Infants School

We have been working with Catherine Infants School in Leicester for 3 years through the START cultural education programme. The pandemic had a devastating impact on this area of Leicester and we were keen to maintain an offer for the school, and we were able to do so thanks to support from The Mighty Creatives.

We adapted our Arts Award project with Catherine Infants for a safe, blended distance-learning approach. We commissioned Sian Watson Taylor to create video challenges for 120 children in year 2. Inspired by Mariner 9 by Kelly Richardson, the children created space characters and puppetry that was then displayed in school. 105 children achieved their Arts Awards and we are so proud of their brilliant work!

We are now extending this project with support from the University of Leicester for the net academic year to support the school on their Gold Artsmark journey.


UKNA Outreach – Between the Lines, with Christopher Samuel

Between the Lines is a collaborative outreach project led by artist Christopher Samuel, AAC Producer Hannah Pillai and NextGen. Creatives, a group of disabled and non-disabled young ambassadors at AAC. Samuel and NextGen. Creatives worked collaboratively to explore their lived experiences of shielding from Covid-19, and coping strategies for living, the power of communication and the politics of redaction in messages.


Samuel introduced his practice and ‘Exploring the Voice behind the Redacted’ series of works, and the team worked remotely over Zoom, post and email to create a new digital artwork, installation and interactive elements. Young people invited audiences to rethink how Covid-19 has affected some of the most marginalised and vulnerable young people in Leicester.


This was a new way of working for all of us. We build it a lot of relationship building and delivery support into the project, to ensure communication and pedagogy could be as effective as possible working with a blended approach.


Between the Lines now exists as a short film, which appears to run like one of the zoom sessions. The young people present their work and reflect on their experiences of lock down. It is presented alongside an interactive artwork, of a magnetic photograph of an empty supermarket shelf, where participants curated a series of objects and things they miss that have been taken away / restricted by the pandemic. Audiences are invited to restock the shelves and curate the space with the redacted objects.


The young people’s artwork is also printed as a set of cards, with the invitation for visitors to the gallery to write/draw on the back the things they have missed most during this unprecedented time.


You can see this important work at The Salmon Gallery until 26 July.



NextGen – Semaphore Poetry with Emma Lewis-Jones

Our young ambassadors also work with interdisciplinary artist Emma Lewis-Jones to explore forms of communication, movement, and owning our space during lockdown. We wanted to hold space for our participants, enable them to be however they needed to be, and to carve space for creativity under the most challenging circumstances. The created a series of flags from materials packs that reflected their experiences, and then moved with them, filming semaphore dance motions and messages.


Gallery Outreach + Where We Are: British Museum

The pandemic hasn’t stopped our gallery engagement work – you can access all our interactive prezi’s and resources packed with activities, films, prompts and ideas for creative activities inspired by our exhibition programme here:

We are building on the brilliant work of our curatorial trainee Jenny O Sullivan and the Trans Postcard Project with a new project : Where We Are… :

Where We Are… is a new collaborative project with young people identifying as LGBTQIA+ aged 18-24 from Leicester, Pedestrian, AAC and The British Museum.

If you would like to get involved in this paid opportunity, work with artists, respond to our autumn exhibition The World is a Work in Progress, please sign up here: https://www.pedestrian.info/apply/


Nurture Network

We have established a new bi-monthly forum for artists specialising in Sensory Arts and Inclusive Practice. With over 50 members, this vibrant network includes a key note speaker, breakout sessions, and time to think and reflect on best practice for creating work tailored to the needs of participants and audiences with learning differences and/or complex needs.

We are looking forward to the start of next term, cautious and hopeful about our next season of work. Schools are welcome to visit our galleries again, and we look forward seeing you then!

A wall of brightly coloured art work

June 2021 - Welcoming you back!

So the time has finally arrived and we can welcome you back safely into our venue!  We have been busy making some changes that we think you will really like.

Salmon Gallery – a new way of thinking about art

We have been so grateful that the Salmon family have agreed to renew their generous support and provided funding along with a grant from the Art Fund that has enabled us to completely rethink our ground floor gallery space, formerly known as Gallery 3.

This wonderful new space will provide an informal and playful opportunity to introduce visitors to the main themes, techniques and background to our main exhibitions.  It will be a place to relax, read and explore with a whole range of sensory and child-friendly approaches to engagement.

Sampling the University Art Collection

The University has collected or acquired a large range of modern and contemporary artwork over its last 100 years including drawings, paintings and photography. The  AAC has now been given curatorial responsibility for the collection so will be increasing public access by creating a series of  small exhibitions on the Balcony Gallery as well as taking a more active role in commissioning and purchasing of work when budgets allow.

George Davis Centre community exhibition space

We are delighted to be further developing our links with the College of Life Sciences, including the School of Medicine across the road, with a return to staging regular art exhibitions. Funded by the Wellcome Trust ISSF grant, everyone is welcome to visit the exhibition space situated in the Entrance Foyer where you can see work by local artists linked to areas of research, health and well-being. Curated by Nicola Middler, this month’s exhibition is by local artist Theo Miller responding to recent UOL research on Child trauma and migration by Prof Panos Vostanis.

Considering Silesia project

Nearly 20 years in the making we are delighted to be welcoming Midlands based artist, Mik Godley, to celebrate his astonishing Silesia project.

I have known Mik for over 30 years, from his early days as artist in residence at Nottingham Castle Museum through his campaigning to secure dedicated artist studio spaces and his work as lecturer and teacher.  He is one of the most extraordinarily gifted draftsmen that I know with an ability to capture both people and landscapes across many different mediums from large scale oil paintings to detailed Digital drawings.

‘Considering Silesia’ observes the context of our evolving relationship with the internet, which increasingly enables us to virtually “visit” parts of the world and connect with strangers without leaving home. The exhibition explores the artist’s Anglo-German heritage, cultural memory, displacement and migration.  Despite having never visited his mother’s homeland, Lower Silesia, Mik’s has documented the landscape and architecture of the region through images, video footage and maps found online.

Alongside major paintings and digital works, there will also be a selection of small sketches and works on paper that give further insight into how the project has developed over time, through Mik’s own evolving artistic practice and the technological developments that have offered increasingly detailed and immersive experiences of physically distant places and people.

Michaela Butter

this is me

May 2021- Championing Public Engagement - An exciting new research programme at the AAC

As the AAC gears up to opening our doors again in June I am delighted that we could host our wonderful annual Check In Festival with our IGC partners, Derby Theatre This festival may be on line this year but is  packed with exciting opportunities to spot the stars of the future as well as participate in a number of thought-provoking and stimulating discussions. In recognition of the economic challenges facing our sector we are inviting you to pay what you can for performances so as many of you as possible can participate. 

This month I want to focus my blog on the topic of research.  The University of Leicester has supported us in an exciting new development that provides the AAC with the resources to pilot new creative approaches to arts-based action research.  

 Firstly I would like to welcome Dr Marie Nugent, Public Engagement Manager for the University of Leicester, to the Attenborough Arts team. Marie has joined us to support the development of an arts and culture-led engagement strategy for the University, and to support a growing area of importance for our sector and funders: research and impact. 

Marie brings with her four years of experience in developing research engagement, and community engagement with health, for the University as part of a sector-wide agenda to develop Higher Education Institution Public EngagementOver that time, she has created a variety of projects that link together academics, students, community groups, artists and organisers to develop mutual understandings and collaborative spaces for engagementOne such project is U.matter, a community media platform for arts and culture-based engagement with health and wellbeing.  

Marie is keenly interested in exploring the role the arts and culture sector can play in promoting good practice for community participation in research and within public sector institutions. With this goal in mind, she has found a new home in Attenborough Artswhere inline with Arts Council England’s Let’s Create strategy, she will be enhancing our academic engagement to support our contribution to research and knowledge exchange. 

Strategic Areas of Focus 

This is a fairly new and exciting area of development and as such Attenborough Arts will be active champions of co-creation opportunities between arts, community and researchers and play an active role in stimulating dialogue and knowledge exchange opportunities within the University, and in bridging to external partners such as artists. 

Our vision as the AAC has been redefined and sharpened to more properly reflect the campaigning role we see for ourselves not only in our support for artists but in this field of research 

Breaking down barriers to the arts, we are inclusive, radical and ambitious. Bold in our creativity and action, we are citizens of change. 

To achieve our ambitious goals, we will focus our research engagement around the following areas: 


  • Bridge connections between researchers, artists and communities to foster collaborative working opportunities 
  • Create platforms/projects whereby these groups are supported to co-create together 
  • Increase visibility of cocreation that happens at UoL and beyond 


Evidencing Impact: 

  • Build research capabilities within AAC by establishing clearer links to active research(ers) at UoL, REF/KEF reporting teams and other relevant working groups  
  • Actively seek and generate opportunities to develop better understandings of good practice for evidencing impact across arts, culture, community and research 
  • Focus developing improved techniques within PPIE and PAR research activity within Health and Social Sciences at UoL  
  • Build a better picture of how arts support other forms of research engagement at UoL 


Skills Exchange: 

  • Create and develop training that provide cross-fertilisation of knowledge and skills across arts, culture, communities and research 
  • Develop effective networks that bring together artists, creatives, communities and researchers to showcase and share their tacit knowledge in engaging the public and evidencing impact  
  • Increase the visibility and access of this work to support better sharing of knowledge 

These pillars interlink to enhance each other and will overlap in terms of the kinds of activities they will support: 


Creative Fellowships Scheme 

This new approach to research for our work at AAC has been kicked off with a new scheme supported by the ISSF, ( Institutional Wellcome Trust funding), the Attenborough Creative FellowshipsThis scheme takes inspiration from a similar scheme  at Exeter University and has been adapted to build upon our existing work in developing advice and guidance for supporting collaborations between artists and academics for public engagement. To read the desk research on this work, click here. 

 In recognition of the need to create more open, creative, coproduction opportunities for artist-academic collaborations, this scheme match-makes artists and academic departments to creatively critique barriers to engagement for a particular area of work, and allows open space for deeper exploration of the challenges at play with a view to fostering a more creative, equitable pathway for solutions to be found.  

At the heart of the scheme we embedded the principles of Racial Equity and Beyond Ableism to build on our programming. 

An initial open call out to academics produced an amazing range of ideas and proposals. We have so far funded six projects as part of our initial pilot phase of this scheme, all focused on supporting inclusive approaches to engagement. Our projects include: 

  • This Is Me: creative writing meets psychology  
  • Racial Equity in Museums: enhancing decolonised approaches to practice 
  • Cultural Connections for Dementia Care in South Asian communities 
  • All The Things We Are Navigating: exploring postgraduate mental health experiences 
  • Empathy in Medicine: training tomorrow’s doctors  
  • The Other Place: exploring reimagining our spaces 

The scheme aims to understand how cocreation between artists and academics can impact on the quality of the engagement that can occur between collaborators and their participants.  

This Is Me 

Our first Creative Fellowship to complete is This Is Me, a collaboration between Angela Clerkin and Prof John Maltby exploring creative writing approaches to understanding psychological constructs and identity.  

Angela Clerkin is a working class, London-Irish, queer woman actor and theatre maker. She has toured the UK with 4* shows The Secret Keeper and The Bear, and directed a candle-lit cabaret with drag kings, at Shakespeare’s Globe. Angela runs ongoing Through The Door improvisation/devising workshops for women and non-binary people.  She has short stories published in various LGBTQ anthologies. Angela is an Associate Artist with Improbable & Chris Goode and Company, she is one of the 2021 Artists of Change at the Albany Theatre.  

Angela joins Prof John Maltby, whose research focuses on personality, individual differences, social psychology, and well-being. A key feature of John’s work involves exploring models of resilience and the assessment of well-being. Together, they devised a series of workshops targeting marginalised groups: particularly women and non-binary students, students of colour and/or with additional accessibility needs. The students were engaged over a 5week series to explore creative ways of expressing identity, based on psychological constructs related to John’s research area. The students explored a variety of topics through conversation, improvisation and writing which has been captured in a booklet which can be viewed here. 

The project has been a delight to support and despite being a short-term pilot has given indicators of huge potential impact in three main strategic areas of interest: 

  • demonstrating the potential positive impact arts can have on improving research-related engagement and inclusion, such as Patient and Public Involvement & Engagement (PPIE) in health, wellbeing and psychology research 
  • demonstrating the impact supported cross-sectional engagement projects can have on innovative thinking and perspective for both the artists and academics – creating a fantastic opportunity for CPD and providing a wider opportunity to create better representation in university activity 
  • demonstrating the huge impact that arts and culture activity that engaged staff and students can have on their sense of wellbeing  

Possibly more interesting is the impact the collaboration has had on the partners themselves and their future work. John is particularly excited about the opportunity to take a more intentional arts-based approach to PPIE. He started this project being interested in whether it will produce interesting data, to being much more interested in how to build better connections and understanding between researchers and participants as the project and partnership developed. 

Angela had not taken a leading role in co-creating activity with an academic before this project and has expressed a keen interest in exploring this further. She also expressed how great this opportunity has been to think and work differently, having really enjoyed working with our students and staff. 

Students were blown away by the open, creative, non-judgemental, non-competitive space that had been created in these sessions and the wider connection it gave them to others and in building their confidence in self-expression. Keeping in mind it targeted potentially marginalised students, this is highly significant to their experience and sense of belonging at university in the context of a wider conversation happening aiming to unpick systemic discrimination and racism in our institutions and wider society. 



Although in the early stages, we are thrilled with the Creative Fellowships scheme and the work it has produced so far through open collaborative work between artists and academics. We are incredibly excited to continue developing Attenborough Arts’ contribution to university engagement, raising the profile and value of arts and culture across society, and developing meaningful connections between communities 

Filming in Studio attenborough

March 2021 - The digital revolution

Now that the Government has set out its indicative roadmap for coming out of lockdown, it feels like a good time to review what lessons the AAC team have learnt from this challenging and tragic event.

 COVID has completely altered the cultural landscape and impacts on all aspects of our work.  It may take many years to fully recover levels of income and audiences and it has changed forever ways of working operationally, environmentally and artistically.

What has been clear during this crisis is that more people than ever before have sought comfort through the Arts, and we need to find ways to build on this recognition of cultural value to health and well-being both within the context of the University’s staff and students but also within the wider communities across Leicester and beyond.

The Digital Revolution

In a few short weeks we all had to embrace new technology as we moved onto digital and social platforms. These platforms have offered us the potential for greater reach and connectivity than ever before, and by necessity we have tried new approaches in terms of programming, marketing, partnerships and collaborations, generating income, training, and community engagement. It is already clear that it is unlikely we will return to more traditional patterns of working after this crisis with a greater than ever emphasis on sustainability and better work/life balance connected to how we view and plan travel, meetings, programming and distribution.

Within the context of disability and inclusion it has both increased barriers for access but also opened opportunities to increase access through new blended approaches to technology.

Increasing our virtual reach

Moving our Creative Learning, exhibitions, performing arts and Learning and Outreach programmes into blended learning and engagement models has opened new routes for distribution and income generation we are keen to explore further.  Increasing online content has brought us new audiences and opportunities to extend the life of our commissions and exhibitions whilst enabling us to animate our website with more artist led content.  Moving forward, if resources allowed, we consider a more blended approach to artistic presentation between live and digital content makes a lot of sense in terms of improving access and inclusion

We are reaching significant new audiences –during the Comedy Festival alone our commissions had over 21,000 views with over 40,000 viewing our performing arts programme including our new bite size, micro commissions, Unexpected Tales.  With a very small physical space at the AAC that seats a maximum of 70 people these digital audiences highlight the potential to connect artists more widely to new audiences who, for whatever reason, have not felt able or confident to attend our venue before.

We think, therefore, that there is potential added value for artists to be supported to continue to create tailored digital content but we are debating whether, in the future, simply recording performances designed for Live Audiences may not be as artistically and creatively as desirable other than for archival purposes.  A lot more research is required to properly understand what the appetite will be after Lock Down for digital work and we hope to work with our cultural partners to properly understand this.


COVID prevented us from supporting artists through normal routes such as access to our rehearsal spaces, touring and exhibitions so we are keen to re-start these as soon as it is safe to do so as we are aware of the financial hardship of many artists and small companies across the country.

At the start of COVID we set up Studio Attenborough to support artists and societies to record content as well as supported the distribution of small scale shows that had already been recorded.

We quickly realised there were benefits in providing financial support to artists by investing in micro and major commissioning of online, artist led, creative content, and we want to build on this experience through our ongoing Studio Attenborough programme.

Working with Disability Arts Online our visual arts commissions for disabled artists attracted over 80 applications and resulted in 5 artists selected to explore their artistic practice during these challenging times without the expectation of creating finished artwork. Mentoring and professional development are at the heart of this initiative.


This opportunity to support artists to have time to research and explore ideas, not necessarily connected to delivering physical performances and exhibitions, feels like a potentially exciting role for us moving forward.

Our partnership with 14/48 led to experimentation with online performance, collaborating with 117 artists and generating over 19,000 views.  Our new digital offer for families also included regular Baby Discos’ live streamed into homes, tailored family friendly programming during the Comedy Festival and Spark with our first 14/48 theatre event created by children a huge success.


Creative Case and Well Being

COVID-19 has highlighted the value and importance of the arts on people mental health and well-being, and we were pleased to support our partners delivering Word spoken word nights to move online to continue to support people with mental health issues. Nevertheless, we know that our regular users have missed the company and contact offered by our venue as a safe place.

Audience feedback suggests however that for some of the most vulnerable and those with mobility impairment enabling them to connect with high quality artistic product online has been very much appreciated. However digital poverty means we must remain aware not everyone has access to computers or smartphones and that we should all consider other ways of engaging people to remain inclusive.  During COVID-19 our education team have provided resource materials that is being posted to families to work alongside digital content.

We have developed a stronger role within the university in support student mental health during Lock Down and we were commissioned to deliver online arts content as well as our regular Wild Card Wednesday activities with audiences increasing every week with some of the highest engagement figures for student facing activity. Moving forward this will become a major plank of our work


Our work with schools and young people

We had to completely rethink how we could deliver our ground-breaking work with disabled children and young people. We created over 300 physical gallery resource packs and interactive Prezi for Tim Neath and Kelly Richardson’s exhibitions, and pre-recorded sensory stories to support families during lock down. We collaborated with and commissioned artists to explore digital outreach in new ways. This included the new Watch This Space commissions for Lori Hopkins and Infused Dance, producing new, finished performances, filmed to be experienced online, with live streamed workshops to enable children to respond to themes of the pieces.

We launched an online Teen Club for our Inclusive Youth Arts members aged 13-18 in response to consultation with families and begun live streaming our monthly Wheelchair Dance sessions which are working well.

Our START project continues to be extended until we can deliver face to face in schools, with increasing elements of the project being adapted for home learning – including Arts Award delivery.

We supported 1 young person with SEND to complete a Bronze Arts Award from home, and a whole class of 16 year olds from Ashmount School to complete their Bronze Arts Award – with much of the artist-led prompts/challenges being pre-recorded with physical assets and materials sent to the school.

We adapted our Little Inventors Project with 3 of our SENsory Atelier schools – developing the first Little Inventors iteration tailored specifically for SEN schools, to be delivered remotely. This includes an interview with Tim Peake which has been curated as an Arts Award resource which will be shared nationally; partnerships with Engineering companies and the new UK Space Centre which will result in a touring exhibition of special schools. This is the highest quality learning and engagement development which is developing new ways of working for all involved.

We launched our Joint Practice Development programme to provide teachers dynamic Reggio Inspired development which allows them to meet with other schools and teachers to share learning and experiences. Our Next Gen Young Ambassadors Programme with young people is now delivered entirely online and has resulted in commissions with artists that explore the lived experiences of shielding and isolation during this difficult time.

In another example AAC worked with Spark within the context of the CEP working group to identify an opportunity to work collaboratively with schools on responses to a Recovery Curriculum with funding secured and a programme delivered within weeks.



Another positive has been the relative ease to connect with peers across the country and to create new networks of communication with freelancers, venues and other organisations. Moving forward the environmental and cost benefits of continuing to work collaboratively on in will be important we attended weekly meetings set up by In Good Company to demonstrate our support to freelancers as well as setting up our own Nurture network to support freelancers wishing to work within community settings

We took a lead in bringing together a network of Leicester based NPOs which culminated last March in the creation of a shared cultural prospectus.  Post Covid this network has been reshaped into a senior level action group working collaboratively on line to explore partnership working in important areas around Equality and Access, Building Audiences and reaching Children and Young People.

Responses to world events have been quickly pooled such as the new collaboration that emerged in response to Black Lives Matter across the Midlands with Directors of all the key arts organisations coming together to identify options for addressing racism and removing barriers to employment, programming and policy making – a conversation mirrored within the Leicester NPO network too. Over this coming year there is an appetite to develop joint initiatives to develop more opportunities for culturally diverse people within our organisations with a long term aim of diversifying leadership roles through the newly published Black Lives Matter Framework document.

The Leicester Visual Arts Network which AAC Chairs has continued to meet remotely and was able to continue to deliver its annual Art Week online.  Moving forward we are keen to build connections and shared programming,



A greater digital output has enabled more people to view our artistic product than ever before without having to leave their homes. New ways of working are emerging linked to improving the environment and reducing travel, reducing paper based marketing, working SMARTER, flexible working and questioning how we plan large scale networking meetings or conferences

Risk Assessments, Insurance, contracts and customer services were all radically altered and made more robust to take into account the hard lessons learnt through COVID.



There are lessons to learn about improving customer experience – less crowded exhibition spaces, more informal approaches to performing spaces and maintaining a blend of live and digital work moving forward whilst recognising that digital poverty impacts on the ability of the most disadvantaged to access work.  Over the coming year we will be championing Pay as you Can not only to woo back nervous audiences but also in recognition of the financial hardship facing many as a direct result of COVID rather than returning to traditional ticket prices.

 Within a university context we increased our profile and reputation in playing an important role during COVID by supporting the mental health of students and young people. The lock down has exposed how vulnerable and isolated some people and students can become.  Mental health issues abound.  Digital product can help connect people and contribute to the sense of community and engagement but it is clear that people will want a return to real experience shared with others. We want to build on our advocacy campaigns in linking the arts to well-being both within the university and to wider communities.

4 silhouetted figures in front of a red martian landscape

February 2021 - 5 years of our Gallery

Hard to believe that it is just five years since we welcomed David and Michael Attenborough at the Attenborough Arts Centre to officially open our new galleries with an exhibition by internationally acclaimed artists and environmentalist champions, Jorge and Lucy Orta.

When I came to Leicester it was just as the wonderful City Gallery was closing, leaving Leicester with very limited spaces to see contemporary visual arts. When I talked about this with the University I was told that if I could raise the funding the University would be happy to offer the land to build a new creative hub for Visual Arts for the City, capable of hosting and creating high quality exhibitions of local, national and international artists with inclusivity at its core.

Receiving a grant of £600,000 from Arts Council England was the catalyst that initiated an energetic fundraising campaign that saw over 1000 people donate towards our dream and in a record four years we realised the project within a modest budget of £1.6 million.

The new galleries created the largest space in Leicester for exhibiting contemporary art with the environmental infrastructure to host museum quality exhibitions within a set of four, very flexible indoor and outdoor spaces, building on my teams’ experience of working on a range of Capital projects across the East Midlands and through the generosity of advice from architects, artists and technicians.

Our vision was to show exciting and high quality work that would promote disabled artists within the context of a mainstream gallery as well as well as tackling important issue based themes to build on our role of championing inclusion and challenging prejudice. Looking back over the range of shows we have offered I think we have done this.

We have now hosted over 20 shows that has included over 200 artists in a mix of solo and group exhibitions which have been visited by over 143,000 visitors. We wanted to introduce audiences to early and mid-career artists or those that we felt had not had the recognition they deserved.  Over half of those who have exhibited with us were disabled and a third were ethnically diverse demonstrating in promoting inclusion and diversity within our Multi cultural city .

The new galleries has enabled us to collaborate with national partners the Arts Council Collection, Hayward Touring, New Arts Exchange, Dash  and Shape as well as international galleries such as Stephen Friedman Gallery, Cynthia Corbett Gallery and Flowers Gallery.

There are too many exhibition to be able to review all of them so I am claiming Director’s privilege to highlight some particular memorable moments for me.  Tony Heaton’s disability car swinging precariously above the then Chair of Arts Council England, Sir Peter Bazelgette.  Ryan Gander’s little Degas ballet dancer curled up asleep on the floor of the Arts Council touring show Night in the Museum, work by our talented tutors celebrating the Industrial history of Leicester, and the superb solo shows that highlighted a man in a yellow long coat and no shirt, with chain mail trousers holding 3 dogs' leadswork of exceptional artists that were perhaps less familiar to audiences including American portrait photographer Laura Swanson, sculptor and film maker Amartey Golding’s powerful anti-knife crime work, colourist painters Sargy Mann and Lucy Jones and the performance artist, Aaron Williamson with his first major retrospective re-imagining a museum.

I am also very proud of our ambitious and impactful De Stress festival curated by guest curator, Gurdeep Sian, with the powerful installation about the experience of Manic Depression by Dave Parkin and other artist with lived experience of mental health challenges.

Finally, and by no means last the privilege of working with the Arts Council Collection to commission Yinka Shonibare to bring together a wonderful group show, Criminal Ornamentation, including new work by him that has led to him becoming a Patron alongside Grayson Perry whose portrait we commissioned from Lucy Jones.

a young girl and her mum looking at a marble statueI have been particularly excited to see how our education and outreach team has been able to blossom using the gallery content as creative stimulus for sessions with community groups, young people and their families.  Over 5 years over 10,000 Children and Young people have accessed our exhibitions with some award winning and ground breaking support put in place from our Sensory Suitcases to technology to enable young people without speech to create poetry about the work on display with funding from Max Literacy Project!  Our weekend family workshop programme has grown from strength to strength alongside provision of tailored educational packs, masterclasses and children creating their very own exhibitions in response to the art work and artists they have met.

A woman breakdancing in the galleryIt has been wonderful to be able to commission new work by artists of the calibre of the Ortas, John Newling and Lucy Jones as well as support other creatives to use the spaces as their blank canvas from dancers like Lewys Holt and Katherine Hall to Live Artists like Priya Mistry and a range of comedians as well as host multi-faceted arts events through our free Gallery Late programme that was building new and younger audiences for the AAC until lock down happened.  Now during COVID we are using the galleries to record events to reach you at home with Podcasts, Music and performances.

I had hoped to talk about exciting new developments for our galleries this year but will save that for another blog when we know when we can physically welcome you back into the building!

MB 3

January 2021 - A New Year

A Happy New Year to all of you and a fervent wish that we will see an end to the current challenges over this coming year so we can welcome you back to our building – we are missing all of our regular customers so much!

AAC will have to remain closed for at least the next two months and we are reviewing how we can further promote access to our artistic content and although we are currently unable to open our gallery doors, our visual arts team are working with artists to take our visual art programme online. Tim Neath’s solo exhibition ‘Cowboys Invaded’ will now take place digitally, and will feature the video piece that AAC commissioned especially for his planned show.

The AAC education and outreach team continue to provide ground breaking and innovative approaches to their work with schools, families and young People. Alongside ongoing commitments such as Wheelchair dancing, Bronze Art Award and training and development opportunities for local teachers there are some very exciting projects underway.

Key highlights for January include

Little Inventors is a City Wide initiative being led by local artist producers, Inspirate, Little Inventors and AAC funded by the UK Space Agency and match form our Paul Hamlyn Funded SENSory Atelier programme.  The project seeks to stimulate children’s imagination, connecting science and the arts in a new way, and treating children’s ideas seriously.  With Leicester’s growing reputation for space research and innovation and the opening of the University’s new Space Park, the Little Inventors project invites children to create an invention that helps, or makes life more fun, for an astronaut aboard the International Space Station.

Tim peake and the little inventors AAC is taking the lead in ensuring 3 of our SEN school partners are actively engaged in this project by developing tailored educational packs for young people with special educational needs and disabilities. We were particularly proud and pleased to have secured the support of astronaut Tim Peake who agreed to be interviewed for an interactive resource using the young people’s own questions about life in space.

 Nurture is a brand new initiative to create a support network of artists committed to working within inclusive community settings.  Our aim is to provide opportunities for skills sharing and training as well as a safe and creative space for freelancers during these difficult times. Our first meeting featured guest speaker Debbie Bandara (https://www.debbiebandara.com/) and attracted 18 artists internationally to share practice and address challenges.  Further events are planned bi-monthly, sign up to the newsletter to be kept up to date with the network’s activity https://attenborougharts.us2.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=4047779f7fe6d67c865aedfcc&id=ccdf72f7e5

Between the Lines – work continues with artist Chris Samuel and our Next Gen Creatives young people Ambassador scheme as part of the community outreach programme linked to  UK New Artists Festival that was planned for February.  Whilst the future of the actual Festival is uncertain our project continues with over 8 young people busily creating artistic content for our digital platform.

Living Well with Parkinsons – this fantastic partnership project with People Dancing offers the opportunity for dance based activity to support foster mobility and confidence of people with Parkinsons, working with some of the country’s leading dancers.

In terms of our support to performing artists, January will see the start of a new digital season of Unexpected Tales – a set of micro-commissions selected from a range of performers designed to keep you entertained on a cold dark night.  Last season performances ranged from murder mysteries to cosmic encounters, archaeology to psychology with breath-taking monologues, poetry and physical theatre to make you laugh or cry and sometimes both!

We will also be working with Tightrope, our new artist collective partnership, to bring a Showcase of new talent this weekend (17 January), and available to catch up on any time.

We remain open to ad-hoc artist support from home, and I’d encourage you to contact the Programming Officer John Kirby (john.kirby@leicester.ac.uk) to see how we may be able to support you.”

Also we launch a new programme of Creative Learning with a range of Art History courses, Yoga and Life Drawing to keep you busy.

Our doors may be closed but our creative heart remains open – come and take a look!

Best wishes

Michaela Butter

An assortment of creative tool, brushes, pencil, and a camera

December 2020 - A year in Review

Well 2020 was certainly not the year any of us saw coming!  All those Risk plans and Future Scoping exercises over the years and I can honestly say a Pandemic threat never made it to the lists!

Despite our building being closed since March the whole team has been incredibly busy so I thought it would be good to take a look at what we have achieved since then.  I hope you will agree that it demonstrates so clearly what a fabulous team I have in my staff and board.  They have all been working tirelessly to find ways to still engage with audiences whilst supporting me to overcome financial challenges and find safe solutions in maintaining our commitment to access and inclusion for all.

As there are the 12 days of Christmas, I thought I would pick out 12 highlights over the past 12 months whilst sharing some of my own personal adventures during this time!

Two people looking at the Sargy exhibit

January saw the closure of the fabulous retrospective of the artist Sargy Mann with whom I had been privileged to work earlier in my career.  Sargy’s rich paintings brought much needed colour and sunshine to lighten up our spirits and

we were delighted when the BBC came to film the show for a thought-provoking programme about artists with Visual Impairment and how it impacted on their work.


February – whilst the staff worked hard to deliver a whole range of Festival activity from a world first BSL Comedy Festival to wonderful children’s activity during Spark,  I was off travelling around Columbia, encountering amazing street art, mining for emeralds, attending the world’s second largest street  carnival and visiting a whole range of galleries and museums.

group of people silhouetted against mariner 9

March – we opened the incredible Mariner 9 exhibition with a very popular launch party, with over 160 people in attendance, enjoying the art, stall from the Space Centre and meteorite collection. But then had to close the building for the safety of our customers and staff but not before creating 200 inclusive creative packs for our young people involved in our outreach programme,  honoured payments to all the artists we had booked for the season and organised the technology necessary to work from home.

artist making a flagApril –We worked with our Next Gen creatives – our young ambassador scheme who selected artist Emma-Lewis Jones to work with on an upcoming digital project.   We also saw the launch of the Attenborough Arts Centre podcast series, talking to the artists working with us as well as local Leicester artists. Since the launch we’ve had over a thousand downloads and had people lining up to take part.

May – In may, we started work on making our building as safe as possible in preparation for our return including new screens, signage and improvements to our toilets. We also helped to convert the popular student event, Leicester Fiesta, into a digital platform, celebrating the wealth of creative talent across the 1000 students involved in the arts.

No jobs in the artsJune – We finalised our new creative learning programming, taking a blended learning approach to ensuring our learners had access to the programme from the safety of their homes. We also worked with the disabled artist collective No Jobs in the Arts to create our very first Zine together, launching a commission for new and emerging artists across the East Midlands.

July We rolled out a summer competition for children asking them how they would want the world to be after COVID and created a calendar for the winners. Led by Jenny O’Sullivan from the visual arts team and working with the ERD team, the completed calendar was sent out in time for Christmas.

A bright, multicoloured house in LiguariaAugust We applied and received recovery funding from Arts Council England to support the loss of all of our income and launched our new website. I also managed to find new inspiration for public art commissions and our forthcoming Centenary in the hills and coastal towns of Liguria.

September. We secured funding to run an exciting new Creative Fellowship scheme giving the chance for 5 academics to work with 5 artists on projects that focus on equality and diversity, using our links to the university to start nationally important research.

Filming in Studio attenboroughOctober We launched Studio Attenborough to create new digital content not just for the AAC but to support artists and student societies to create and promote their work.  We welcomed back students on campus with a new version of Wild Card Wednesdays to be delivered in Halls of Residence and set up a new set of performing arts commissions called Unexpected Tales that went on line every Thursday building up to 250 attendances per week and providing much needed financial support to our freelance sector.

November We had to close our building again but launched a new set of commissions in partnership with Disability arts online to support disabled visual artists during this difficult period as well as facilitating an Artists Take Over by the artist collective No Jobs in the Arts. We were delighted with the range and quality of the students who applied for the University Music Scholarships providing opportunities to work with both local professional artists and also Philharmonic Orchestra.

Bob interviewing tim PeakDecember. We had the amazing opportunity to interview the astronaut Tim Peake in preparation for a major new arts and science project next year called Little Inventors which will be working with a number of schools across Leicester including our SEN partnership schools involved in the Paul Hamlyn project. And finally we also had Keith join our team as the cinematographer for our new Studio Attenborough materials.


I leave with you the chance to listen to one of our fabulous new music scholars who also happens to work part time with us as our Visual Arts Trainee – Jenny O Sullivan playing the cello in the our Mariner 9 exhibition to mark its closure.

Wishing you all a very happy holiday season and look forward to welcoming you back to the AAC as soon as it is safe to do so.

Michaela Butter

A child building sculptures in clay as a tutor looks over

November 2020 - Children in Need

November has arrived and with is comes a series of important events and anniversaries for the Attenborough Arts Centre. Firstly, the fifth anniversary of our gallery space opening and hosting our first, the disability activism exhibition taking centre stage of the launch. Secondly, with the country plunged back into a lockdown with theatre and art spaces closed, we are so excited to be hosting the Attenborough Lockdown Festival to help keep people’s spirits up during these turbulent times. And finally, it’s the sixth anniversary of our relationship with Children in Need, who have been supporting our SEN programme.  

When I started writing this regular directors blog, I hoped to build up a deeper understanding of the scope and impact of the work that we regularly undertake at the Attenborough Arts Centre and as such I can’t think of a more rewarding and important topic to discuss than our successful and growing relationship with BBC Children in Need (CIN), especially as it is an aspect of our work that many of our regularly patron are unaware of.  

The impact of CIN’s support cannot be overstated. In six years, we are grateful to have been in receipt of over £174,000 in funding from Children in Need, all of which goes toward of SEN programme, working with specialist schools and education settings in and around Leicester. That figure on its own is quite understandably exciting, but what is more amazing is the impact the funding has had. Marianne Pape, the Education and Outreach officer at the Attenborough Arts Centre, has overseen nearly 150 events, giving over 200 children an access to the arts that was previously impossible.  

These statistics can only tell half the story. What really makes me proud of the work that we do is the feedback we get, not just from the children who take part in the groups, but from their parents, family and friends. It’s too easy to forget how many people are positively affected by supporting just one child, especially during the current lockdown.  

With people shielding and separated from their friends, normality now a seeming distant memory, to be able to bring joy to children through the arts has been a vital service. The work that the team has been undertaking is now more important than ever. They have adapted how they are working – now unable to visit children’s schools and centres, they have been commissioning digital work that people can access from home, such as the Wheelchair Dance Sessions.  

“During lockdown our daughter has had to be shielded so it has been difficult to keep her happy and motivated during this time. She’s not been able to see any friends. Doing the online dance has allowed her to do an activity she really enjoys from home which has been great.” 

As we enter the sixth year of our relationship we are very excited about what the future will bring. Although we aren’t able to go into more details currently, we are confident that the next 12 months will see a continuation of our programme with one or two very interesting events taking place.  

I’m immensely proud of our Education team and the work that they have achieved over the last 6 years and it’s something I unashamedly talk about when talking to other venues within our sector.  

Michaela Butter MBE 


November 2020 

Gallery Three with chairs and tables

October 2020 - Always Learning

October has arrived and we are delighted to welcome people back into our building after six months.  Early feedback from audiences is encouraging –being back in our welcoming space, to meet friends, and being able to see and make art. But we must also thank DCMS and Arts Council England for our recovery grant as part of the Cultural Relief fund.

Since my last blog we have had welcome news from Arts Council England that our Creative Diversity programme has been rated STRONG with helpful suggestions about how we could move to OUTSTANDING by strengthening the evidence of the clear impact of our work on emerging artists and disabled young people.  The team are now gathering powerful stories from those we have worked with which I will share with you in the future.

Normally I would have been up in Edinburgh in August discovering the latest talent and trends in contemporary theatre and dance, which always invigorates my own creativity.  Sadly this year due to the pandemic, I have instead been participating in some interesting webinars to get my fix.

One of the most fascinating was a discussion about Programming with Diversity in Mind organised by the Edinburgh Fringe. This was in important and timely intervention in the debates around Black Lives Matter as venues up and down the country challenge themselves to recognise that change is long overdue and I thought it would make an interesting topic for my blog this month, particularly as we move into Black History month.

The webinar was expertly chaired by Leicester based Pawlet Brookes, who runs the Lets Dance Festival and Black History season, with other speakers included Skinder Hundal from New Arts Exchange, Sharon Watson from Northern School of Contemporary Dance  and Stella Kanu from the International Lift Festival held in London.

It was inspirational to hear from Stella Kanu about how she is breaking down barriers of what she called “containment” – taking black work out to non-black spaces, using local expertise to inform and create work with community curators and stop thinking of Black work as “risky” in terms of commerciality. If we programme stories that relate and themes that bring about change we will attract audiences.

The following words really resonated with me and how Attenborough Arts Centre could support change

“Diversity is less about the gaze of white audiences and programmers – and as venues we need to create space and time, where people of colour can have their own conversations with others with similar experiences such as Windrush, hostile living conditions, everyday racism and then perhaps share with white audiences enabling them to understand more about the barriers and challenges. “ Stella asked for more time “for us” to understand ourselves, celebrate and understand our own hidden and common experiences and move away from the focus on trauma.

An important topic that is reflected in wider conversations across Universities such as our own at the University of Leicester is the need to de-colonise our programme, being aware of language, challenging accepted historic perspectives and looking for new voice, perspectives and source material.  If we shift language we also shift power by recognising “people of colour are not minorities but the global majority”.

With most arts organisations still failing to adequately reflect their local communities in the ethnic makeup of their staff, there was a strong recommendation to diversify teams to benefit from the richness of different cultural backgrounds and experiences working together.  Our traineeship programme aims to contribute to this diversification but we know we still have a long way to go.

The webinar ended with some practical suggestions that we will certainly be taking on board as we begin to plan for the coming year, which we will be using to shape our programming going forward.

We live in a disposable world – and we need to enable audiences to make their own choices not tell them what they are going to like.  Audiences are communities that create culture and we need to understand the psychology at play – pick and choose options are still valid and the shift to Digital consumption increases our chances for audience engagement as they can now pick the time to watch something in the comfort of their own homes.  We now have a great opportunity to build on new COVID audiences for cultural content

COVID has allowed for some important learning – importance demonstrated by audience demand for local cultural activity that could be shared such as people singing from balconies and dancing in the street. People now understand different forms culture takes and may be more prepared to take risks.  We can and should build on the thirst to be together again in social space but theatres need to shift to meet this more informal demand.  We need to invest in artists to increase their skills and knowledge about working in new ways that not only are socially engaged but socially distanced – also to build on evidence that collaborations can be developed quickly using new technology in ways not previously imagined.

The webinar ended with the following simple but dynamic recommendations which I loved. We need to be brave, take risks, and innovate. But above all, the Attenborough arts centre, along with the arts as whole, needs to have a clear future vision of change.

a silhouette sat in front of a martian landscape

September 2020 - Welcome to the Director's Blog

Welcome to the AAC’s new website which we hope will provide a more dynamic and interactive experience to our customers. As part of this new format, I’ve been invited to contribute a regular Director’s blog drawing on my experience of over 40 years in the arts and my past 10 years working at Attenborough Arts Centre.

Welcome to the AAC’s new website which we hope will provide a more dynamic and interactive experience to our customers. As part of this new format, I’ve been invited to contribute a regular Director’s blog drawing on my experience of over 40 years in the arts and my past 10 years working at Attenborough Arts Centre.

Part of the challenge for me, as the Director of such a special arts centre, is to reveal the wealth of activity that takes place behind the public programme of ticketed events, creative learning and exhibitions.  Much of what we do involves working directly with community and educational groups to foster confidence and break down barriers to access. This includes our weekly Tea Dance (a disco for those who have a learning disability and their support) and collaborations with community groups such as Brightsparks (arts in mental health) and Beacon Voices (Leics children in care choir). Our long term partnerships and projects with charities, schools and families are at the heart of what we provide to the community, and we are lucky to continue this work with the support of external funders like Children in Need and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation who have helped us launch ground-breaking new projects like SENsory Atelier.

Through writing a regular blog and inviting others to contribute, I hope you will build up a deeper understanding of the scope and impact of our work. I want to use this blog in a variety of different ways. To celebrate and share news about exciting new projects, to foster debate or raise awareness on particular issues linked to inclusion, disability or mental health or simply to share my passion about the importance the arts can play in wider health and well-being, within Universities and wider communities.

It has been a very busy four months for AAC, from closing down the arts centre and public programme in March, to planning our safe return.

 In the week leading up to the closing of our building, our Education and Outreach team prepared and posted 300 art packs to school children who have English as an additional language. This was part of the START project, which supports the delivery of a wide range of services designed to develop children’s learning skills. For the past 4 months, alongside this work, they have commissioned a new creative curriculum and sensory resources for nine Leicestershire schools partnered on our SENsory Atelier project. Our Next Gen Creatives group (made up of 14-18 year olds) have also been working with commissioned artists to co-create new work and a new blogsite.

During lockdown, over half of our staff team went on furlough, this left a small core team to carry forward the research and logistics planning of how we can re-open AAC safely and with fewer visitors. With this in mind, we will be aiming to re-open with a full public programme of performances and exhibitions in January 2021. Despite the cancellation of our public programme our Education and Outreach projects, artist rehearsals and commissions and student welfare will continue behind closed doors.

To support our wider regular audiences we are launching ‘Studio Attenborough’ with the aim to increase our digital presence, not only to engage some of our existing vulnerable audiences, but also to extend our reach to new audiences who have been engaging with arts content online during lockdown. We are aiming to reach out to customers who might be interested in seeing exciting small-scale theatre, dance and spoken word events produced by local artists from the comfort of their own home. We will also be offering some of our artist commissioning funds to create new content.

We will be launching ‘ Studio Attenborough’ to offer a digital platform for our Creative Learning programme. Offering a range of classes across many art disciplines, this will increase accessibility whilst still focusing on social connectivity through reduced capacity masterclasses or ‘click and collect’ options to create work at home.

We have lived through one of the most frightening and devastating challenges I can ever remember facing but I am hoping that we can remain as a safe and welcoming hub for cultural activity that everyone can enjoy.

Michaela Butter MBE


July 2020