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Meet the Barbican: Barbican Trust Chairman Emma Kane

Emma Kane
25 Oct 2014
4 min read

We meet the Barbican Trust Chairman, Emma Kane to find out more about the importance of collaboration in the arts, her Barbican experiences and discover more about her own artistic pursuits. 

Welcoming Emma Kane, our new Chairman of the Barbican Centre Trust, we find out more about the importance of collaboration in the arts, her Barbican experiences and discover more about her own artistic pursuits – and why she needs a boiler suit…

What are you most looking forward to in your new role at the Barbican?
It has to be working closely with the fantastic Development Team and being part of the Barbican family. We need to raise a lot of money from individuals, companies, and trusts and foundations to support the Barbican’s wonderful programme – a challenge that I definitely relish.

Talk us through your average working day.
The alarm usually goes off at 6am and, whenever possible, I kickstart the day with a coffee in Leather Lane with my husband at the Department of Coffee & Social Affairs. After that, no day is the same in the world of communications. Typically it will, however, include liaising with the Barbican Development Team and often meeting with potential Patrons and corporate supporters.

What is the best part of your job?
Working with a team where every person has a passion for what they do and are real experts. Chairing the Trust is a huge honour. It is very motivating to know the support we secure makes such a huge impact on the lives of so many people whether the employees of our corporate members, members of the public or the young people who participate in our Creative Learning programme.

What is the most challenging part of your job?
The biggest challenge is to educate the City about the incredible cultural oasis it has on its doorstep. There is something for everyone – cinema, art gallery, music and theatre as well as great conference spaces and the largest conservatory after Kew Gardens – these are the ingredients that make it one of the largest multi-arts centres in Europe. The Barbican secures fantastic reviews for its arts and creative learning programmes; we now need to ensure that all the major financial and professional services institutions in our neighbourhood know about the significant benefit their support can have on millions of people as well as their very own employees.

The biggest challenge is to educate the City about the incredible cultural oasis it has on its doorstep

Do you have a favourite spot in the Barbican Centre or Estate?
Actually I have three! I love the Barbican Shop – there are so many quirky, beautifully designed goodies in there – I can never resist. I also love sitting in the foyer with a lovely cup of coffee and experiencing the general buzz of watching people of all ages and from all walks of life heading through, full of conversation and thought about the experiences they have just had, or the expectation of what is to come. And I love being in The Fountain Room full with other supporters just before a performance – I always end up having fascinating conversations with interesting people I might not otherwise get to meet, brought together by our shared love of culture of some form.

What was the first performance or exhibition you saw at the Barbican?
I am ashamed to say that I can’t remember exactly what I saw; it was 1986, the RSC and I was a guest of the then merchant bank, Hill Samuel Bank – I suppose that at least that proves that corporate entertaining works as I still remember being thrilled to be their guest.

What is your best Barbican memory or experience?
There have been so many so I will pick the most recent. Digital Revolution completely captivated me. I loved the trip down memory lane at the start and the feeling of having seen the future by the end. I can’t remember ever having experienced a more immersive exhibition. It was thrilling to be there for the launch event too when around 950 of the coolest people filled the foyers as guests of the sponsors Bloomberg and Google, not to mention the appearance of

Outside the Barbican, what is your favourite thing to do/favourite place in London?
There is nothing I love more than escaping to my studio on an industrial estate up by Staples Corner near the M1 where I can usually be found most Saturdays and Sundays. I would say my weekend look is very Breaking Bad – googles, respiratory mask, boiler suit. Currently most of my work is in stone which I source in Carrara and ship back although my large garden sculptures are still in bronze.

It is a career for team players – it is all about collaboration

Do you have any advice for people interested in pursuing a career in arts charities?
To be successful in career in an arts charity you need to have a passion for the arts and really want a career not just a job. Above all, it is a career for team players – it is all about collaboration; engaging with the specialists in the arts and working as a team with your fundraising colleagues to maximize the full potential of every opportunity. You need to be a strong communicator both in attracting supporters and then in updating them on the difference their donation has made.

Describe the Barbican in five words.
Democratic. Inspiring. Surprising. Seductive. Stimulating

Emma Kane started her working life as a tenor saxophonist having studied Jazz & Popular Music. Her improvisational skills were honed when she moved into PR; today she runs Redleaf, the leading City PR agency she founded. Her private passion is sculpting.

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