Introducing Anthony Baker, CEO of Barnsley Civic

Anthony Baker has more than 20 years in the arts. A passionate advocate for the arts and its ability to transform people and communities, Anthony previously worked for Dance City and spent almost a decade making its dance programme, further and higher education delivery and community dance classes a huge success.

Anthony has also been Executive Director and joint CEO of the Freedom Festival, a key festival producer and year-round arts delivery organisation in Hull.

He joined Barnsley Civic in September 2021 and has made incredible strides towards its regeneration with additional funding from the local authority, an uplift on their ACE NPO funding of over 50%, trusts and foundations and an Arts Council England capital grant to refresh and renew the existing used section of the building. With Anthony’s visionary leadership, there will be an artist creation space, spaces for artists and community groups and a new look and feel for visitors to enjoy for generations to come.

In our latest instalment of our Arts, Heritage and Culture ‘conversations with’ series, Rebekah Abbott sat down with Anthony to reflect on the current challenges facing the arts, heritage and culture sector, how the Civic is regaining its rightful place as the go-to venue in a rejuvenated Barnsley and about his experience working with us to recruit the new Head of Programme.

Watch the full interview here.

In your experience, what are the current challenges facing the arts, heritage and culture sector?

In the past few years, a lot has changed for everyone, especially in the culture and creative industries.

In the wake of the pandemic and in the current cost of living crisis, people’s habits have shifted. Many now seek risk-free enjoyable experiences, making it challenging for us to offer a diverse breadth of programming.

In Northern towns such as Barnsley, it’s tough for people to make ends meet. Some can’t even afford to travel here, even for free gallery exhibitions. When they do have some extra money, they prefer a guaranteed enjoyable night out over taking risks.

As an organisation, our goal is to provide a guaranteed good time for everyone, even if the show is something they wouldn’t normally choose.

Ensuring people have a great experience here is crucial for our future.

I was struck by the breadth of brilliant shows that you put on and by the amount you’ve done to really enliven Barnsley Civic on a cultural and creative platform as part of its wider regeneration.

Barnsley has undergone an incredible transformation with new developments such as the Glass Works and Eldon Street just opposite us which is being redeveloped as part of the High Street Heritage Action Zone — and we are a vital part of this change.

The front of our building has been closed for 26 years, and many locals didn’t even know we still existed because the entrance has been inaccessible for so long. With it reopening early next year, that will allow us to reconnect with the people of Barnsley and our borough.

We’ve worked hard to focus on understanding the community’s ambitions by not just offering a good night out but listening and aligning our programme with their needs.

People want familiar experiences and of course, we will continue to offer that but we also want to introduce exciting new events — hoping they trust us to explore these together. Our mission is to bring fresh, engaging content and strengthen our bond with the community.

What are your priorities for the new opportunities you have on the horizon?

Bringing the panto back to the Civic for the first time in 26 years is a huge opportunity to reach a wide range of audiences who haven’t been back to the Civic since it re-opened 12-13 years ago.

The pantomime was such an important part of everyone’s lives, as I’ve spoken to countless people who have said they came to it as children, brought their children and some were even in the panto.

We’re incredibly excited to have it return and thankfully, it’s proving to be popular.

As part of the rejuvenation of the front of our building, we will be transforming that space into a welcoming Café Bar and on the third floor, we’re going to have lots of workshops and other opportunities for people to get involved in great culture and creative activities back at the Civic.

We can’t wait to welcome everyone back to be part of a great culture and creative opportunity here in the town and borough.

I think people are hungry for great experiences and I think if we get those experiences right, people will find that little bit of money to visit us.

We’ve also lowered our ticket pricing as part of our programme to attract new audiences back into the building.

You’ve touched on a lot of priorities there, and I know one of those is your outreach work?

The outreach work has been key to our growth and development, along with our work on our NPO – I think it’s beholden upon us to reach as many people as possible, to give them great culture and creative experiences.

One of the ways we are doing that is to focus on different areas of our borough each year over the next three years, collaborating with groups and libraries, understanding their needs, and enhancing their existing offerings. This initiative, part of our Arts Council funding, is exciting.

In Wombwell, we’ve built a strong relationship with Netherwood Academy. We’ve taken two of our exhibitions to their school, introducing thousands of students to art.

We’ve hosted workshops and taken local artists down to introduce the children to their work and to highlight the different roles open to them in the cultural sector, beyond being an actor. Many don’t realise it takes a village to run our venue, from technicians to coordinators to programmers.

Could you give me an overview of what it was like working with us?

We’ve been on quite a journey with this post and what’s really helped us has been the care and attention you’ve shown us.

You worked closely with us throughout, listening to our needs, and gathering feedback from everyone involved, including stakeholders and partners, to create the right job description.

Your team then managed the entire process, which is no mean feat. You talked to hundreds of people, guided applicants, and supported them at every step. Peridot then handled long listing, short listing, and was part of the interview process, which was a lot of work.

We had an excellent pool of candidates, and your constant communication and checking-in ensured everything went smoothly.

I felt your approach was thorough and thoughtful, and we found an amazing candidate in the end. I would highly recommend working with Peridot due to your dedication and support throughout the process. I would do it again in the future if I was looking to recruit because it’s been a real joy.

You initially tried to manage the recruitment process in-house. What challenges did you encounter that were eventually solved by appointing Peridot as your search partner?

Our main challenge was reaching potential candidates who weren’t actively job hunting, as our job ads were only reaching those already looking for work.

I found Peridot’s strength lies in its extensive network, something we lack as a small team. You were able to reach out widely and use your knowledge and experience, which we don’t have in that area.

You also involved a lot of your team throughout the search and provided us with weekly reports which showed extensive efforts were being made on our behalf — something we couldn’t achieve on our own.

Working with a recruitment partner like Peridot means they dedicate substantial resources to finding the right candidates.

What value would you say Peridot added to your search for the new Head of Programme?

For us, finding the right candidate was crucial but running our organisation took priority.

We lacked the extensive network and skills for recruitment and admin tasks like arranging the long lists, short lists, meetings and interviews. Peridot took care of all these details, allowing us to focus on our availability. For a small organisation, this is a great benefit to working with a search partner.

Although you took care of everything and managed the process, we still led it which was great. You respected our input, listened to what we wanted and what was important to us and then tailored everything accordingly. You mentioned the process taking approximately 80 hours — this saved us a lot of time and effort.

Investing in a recruiter is worthwhile, especially for senior positions. Considering the substantial time and resources it would have taken within our organisation and the fact our previous attempts to recruit independently didn’t yield results, partnering with Peridot was a great investment in our future.

If you’re looking to recruit talented and motivated people to your arts, heritage or culture organisation, please email Rebekah, or connect with her on LinkedIn.

Rebekah Abbott is our Head of Arts, Heritage and Culture Appointments. With over 20 years’ experience in the sector, including having founded her own music-based not for profit, Luminosa Music, Rebekah has a first-hand understanding of the importance that having the right leaders in the right roles at the right time, can have on the success of an organisation.