Why Utopia Theatre is committed to opening up the arts to African audiences - Maxine Greaves MBE

Everything that runs through our organisation has authenticity at its heart. That encompasses our funding bids, our board and staff recruitment, vision and values; right through to the productions we stage.

At Utopia Theatre, we’re absolutely committed to opening up theatre and arts to African audiences by telling the stories that are pivotal to our heritage. Last year we secured National Portfolio Status from

Arts Council England (ACE), which is a huge step forward for our growth, giving us the capacity to widen participation further and inspire the next generation of talent. This means it’s thanks to taxpayers, via ACE funding, that we can keep doing what we love. Utopia Theatre was one of 25 South Yorkshire organisations to be awarded a share of the combined £21.2m ACE funding for the region in the latest round.

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The vision, creativity and driving force behind Utopia Theatre was established by Mojisola Kareem-Elufowoju in 2012 and the theatre company has since then been on a journey of growth. Our partners,

Utopia Theatre is based in Sheffield. Photo: Tim Goode/PA WireUtopia Theatre is based in Sheffield. Photo: Tim Goode/PA Wire
Utopia Theatre is based in Sheffield. Photo: Tim Goode/PA Wire

Sheffield Theatres, have been great advocates for our work and we’ve been able to stage a variety of productions across Yorkshire, nationally, internationally and via digital screenings. Every organisation is faced with a tough economic climate at the moment. Unfortunately, the number of funds and grants available to support the cultural sector is diminishing. I’d implore all organisations who are seeking funding and support to demonstrate the real impact they make by being authentic

and data-driven in everything they do. Having a robust and transparent governance structure which can scrutinise and lead the organisation to deliver - even outperform - the metrics outlined in funding bids is also imperative.

These are just two areas which can help organisations at the moment. But it’s also important to remember that while this does inform funding bids, it also solidifies long-term organisational objectives and strategies; which in turn makes it clearer to participants and audiences what you do and why.

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Outlining these elements have been imperative to our success, probably more so than ever before. We’ve also been working hard to engage and reach new audiences and supporters in recent years,

who are collectively helping us to create a buzz around the work we wake up every day excited to deliver.

This ethos has enabled us to attract a range of individuals to our board with knowledge and enthusiasm to create and deliver brilliant things. And from there we can springboard to grow our internal team. There are some amazing people out there willing to support, guide and help and we always welcome conversations with those who are aligned to our purpose. Culture plays a huge part in attracting and retaining visitors to our towns and cities; as well as shaping great places to live for residents. It’s important for Yorkshire to be culturally exciting and diverse. We certainly plan to continue trailblazing as a leading African theatre company in the UK. We are about much more than theatre: our new Youth Academy, which has just secured new premises in Sheffield, will be offering mentoring and training programmes too.

Maxine Greaves MBE, chair, Utopia Theatre in Sheffield