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Jude Kelly is an artist whose career has been driven by her belief in the power of stories to transform how people think about themselves and their societies. 


Her work over many years has centred around the impact of arts and culture in democratising public space, and the importance of female experiences in shaping the built environment.


She was awarded a CBE in 2015 and an OBE in 1997 for her services to the arts.


Jude is celebrated as one of BBC Woman’s Hour’s 100 Most Powerful Women in the UK, The Independent’s Top 100 Players in Theatre, Time Out's Top 50 People Shaping London's Cultural Landscape, and winner of the Veuve Clicquot Social Purpose Award. Her 2017 TED Talk Why Women Should Tell Stories of Humanity has had over one and a half million views. 

Jude was born in 1954, one of four daughters. In sectarian Liverpool, the fact that her father's family were Irish Catholic, whilst her mother's family were protestants of German descent, taught her the importance of tolerance and the excitement of cultural difference. 

Her love of the arts started from a young age. She studied drama at Birmingham University, graduating in 1975. She was a folk singer and an actress for Leicester Phoenix Theatre, but her real passion was for directing. 

This was an unusual career choice for a woman at that time, one of her lecturers telling her "There are only three female directors. One's a lesbian, one's retired, and one's just killed herself, which would you like to be?". Nothing would dissuade her.


After leaving university, Jude founded the Southampton-based touring company Solent People's Theatre. By the 1980s, she was Artistic Director of the Battersea Arts Centre. Then between 1990 and 2002, she was the Founding Director and then CEO of the West Yorkshire Playhouse. Her talents made it a global landmark. It also cemented her disdain for provincialism, saying "in some people's minds, somewhere is the centre and other places are satellites but that doesn't reflect population or intellectual movements and it doesn't encourage people to think as big as they can."

She set out to change this perception, directing and producing over 100 theatre and opera productions, from the Royal Shakespeare Company through the English National Opera to Théâtre du Châtelet.​

The number of awards she has amassed are too long to list but her production of Singing in the Rain - originally at the West Yorkshire Playhouse before transferring to the National Theatre - picked up four Olivier Award nominations and was named Outstanding Production.

In 2006, she was appointed Artistic Director of Britain's largest cultural institution, the Southbank Centre. She set about making the centre accessible, diverse and inclusive, urging everyone in the arts to "understand the deep pain and sense of disenfranchisement of individuals, generations, and communities who feel they have been excluded." Over her 12 year tenure, she transformed the institution. 

Jude has also been important in the politics of the arts. She has a long-standing interest in widening the appeal of the arts to those who never considered themselves (and may not be considered by others) to be the main audiences.

She served on the UK Government's National Advisory Committee on the Creative and Cultural Education and that committee's "All Our Futures" report in 1999 led to significant investment in cultural education of the youth. 

Jude also led the cultural team for the successful London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic bid and served on the board of the Cultural Olympiad.

She's represented Britain at UNESCO and served internationally as a cultural advisor to the Queensland Government in Australia; Rural Creative Enterprise Initiative in Japan; and the British Council Arts Team in Brazil. She was appointed Knight of the Order of the Dannebrog in recognition of her services to Denmark. 

​Today, she is renowned as founder and CEO of the WOW Foundation, a charity that believes a gender equal world is desirable, possible and urgently required. The WOW Festival that she started in London in 2010 now takes place in 25 countries across 5 continents.

Wow's Being a Man Festival in 2014 directly addressed masculinity, Jude said "the conversation about gender equality belongs to all of us, it's about how we position power, so it's really important that men are part of the conversation". In 2021, WOW collaborated with University of London Birkbeck's SHaME on the successful Shameless! Festival of Activism against Sexual Violence. 

Jude is also founder and chair of the international artists and community spaces METAL which are local catalysts for place-based change in Liverpool, Peterborough and Southend on Sea. She has commissioned and supported the work of hundreds of female artists across all genres.  

She is co-founder of Smart Purse, a financial toolkit which aims to close the gender pay gap by providing accessible, practical money guidance, developed for women, by women.

Jude founded Jude Kelly Studio in 2020 as an umbrella for her continued work outside of the WOW Foundation, SmartPurse and METAL in festivals, theatre, writing, broadcasting, public speaking, and urban regeneration.

Jude is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architecture.

Her work has been recognised in numerous fellowships and honorary degrees including Kingston University, Leeds University, Shanghai Performing Arts School, Birkbeck University of London, and The Marshall Institute at London School of Economics.


She is a board member of the Cultural Industries Federation, the Patron of the Mary Wollstonecraft programme. She has also Chaired the Women’s Prize for fiction and is currently the Chair for the Orwell Prize for Political Fiction.

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