Women Wednesdays: Here’s why Jude Kelly is our inspirational figure of the week

Jude Kelly

Women Wednesdays is our new weekly column for Gender Justice month here at Comic Relief, where we will be giving the spotlight to one inspirational figure per week. We focus on women who have created change and spearheaded movements for other women, and stood up against discrimination against gender and sexuality. 

You’d be forgiven for thinking that when one ‘retires’ from an illustrious career as the art director of one of London’s most popular, edgiest and most versatile venues, you’d be resting on your laurels and looking forward to a quieter pace of life. 

Quite the contrary for Jude Kelly, who announced earlier this year that she was stepping down from her role as the longest serving art director of Southbank Centre to focus on WOW (Women of the World) Festival. Her decision was not taken lightly, as one of the leading women in the creative industries in the world, she trusted that the Southbank Centre was in good hands.

Having held the position for 12 years, Kelly is “a much-admired arts leader, known for her bold, ambitious, big-picture thinking” (Guardian, 2018), but her passion now lies with her WOW Festival, which she founded in 2010 and has hosted over 40 festivals in 23 countries over the years. She had grand ambitions to take the festival further, and bigger than ever before. 

The week-long festival, which is usually centred around International Women’s Day in March, celebrates women and girls, and examines obstacles that stop them from achieving their full potential. It includes arts and sciences programmes, with sponsored lectures, debates, music and performances across a variety of themes and topics to enjoy.

Over the years, the festival has welcomed thousands of women from all walks of life, and have seen guest speakers like Vivienne Westwood, Caitlin Moran, Annie Lennox, Emeli Sandé and Malala Yousafzai coming together to talk about gender justice and feminism, highlighting women's achievements over the years and across the world. 

Jude has been an outspoken feminist since the first day, challenging the status quo from her position, and asking the right questions. In an interview with the Guardian (2018) about why she started WOW Festival, she said “Women [in 2010] were being told they’d never had it so good - which was a terrible injustice”, and “I’d always been a feminist, but I’d reached a point where I looked at the amazing things I was curating and thought, ‘The reality is, the majority of the canon is created by men, and if the culture keeps on reiterating over and over again this idea that creativity is male, then it permeates absolutely everything else. And you have to do something. Saying you’re feminist is not enough.” 

We’ve come a long way since 2010. As wake up calls go, the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements proved that the current state of ‘equality’ for women was not enough and we need the WOW Festival more than ever. 

The festival is still hosted in Southbank Centre every year - We hope to see you there!