The First Female Mancunian has been announced as Artistic Director & CEO of Contact Theatre

Keisha Thompson is a writer, performance artist and producer who has been associated with Contact as an artist and leader since she was 15.

By Emma Davidson | March 25th '22

Image: Audrey Albert

After an already well established career at Contact, Keisha Thompson will be the first woman, first Mancunian and at 32, the youngest to run Contact. 

Starting work in June 2022 as Contact celebrates its 50th year, Thompson will create a ‘castle of curiosity’ and ‘place of opportunity’ for young Mancunians in their visionary and sustainable new building.  

Contact is a vibrant multidisciplinary arts venue in Manchester, recognised nationally and internationally as a game-changer in the field of youth leadership and creativity. 

Image: Audrey Albert

Former young participants at Contact often go on to found or lead other organisations and now Contact boasts two of them in senior leadership positions, Keisha Thompson as Artistic Director and CEO and Chair of the board, Junior Akinola.

Keisha Thompson first performed as an artist at Contact aged 15. She was supported through Contact’s engagement programme as a young poet, writer and performance artist and in 2015 became part of the core staff team after being nudged by a fellow staff member to see herself as a producer. 

Thompson said: “I met so many different people at Contact and had my perspective changed and got that sense of what youth leadership can be. I want to make sure that this ethos, culture and environment is protected because it was so beneficial for me and so many people that I know. It is how I became such a natural advocate for what Contact is about.”

Thompson’s vision is to cultivate a culture and philosophy within the organisation where everyone feels the excitement of opportunity Contact can offer just as she did from her first years in the building. Her passion for the power of youth governance that sits at the core of Contact, will empower young people from all backgrounds to become creative leaders and agents of social change. 

Image: Audrey Albert

She will continue to support the next generation of artists and creatives so they can go into the world at an international standard. She thrives on challenging people’s perception of youth and who has permission to be youthful, enabling interesting conversations and inspiring new audiences with work that reflects Contact’s community.

Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham said: “This is a brilliant appointment. Contact is one of the most exciting theatres in the country, and we are proud to support them through the Greater Manchester Culture fund in recognition of the opportunities they provide for young people from across our city-region. Keisha is a great example of the impact of this support, having developed her career with Contact over the past decade to get to a point where she is ready to lead the organisation. 

“Keisha is a valued member of the Greater Manchester Culture and Heritage Steering Group and brings passion and insight to all our discussions, especially around how we can support our young people to fulfil their potential. I know she will do the same for Contact and can’t wait to see what she achieves.”

Thompson studied philosophy and politics at the University of Manchester and later trained as a Mathematics teacher whilst touring her first show for Contact ‘I Wish I had a Moustache’. Her favourite place to be in Manchester was in Contact’s lounge where she was often found ‘bashing out essays’.

Image: Audrey Albert

Keisha Thompson said: “I cannot wait to invite everyone into the castle. I like using the word curiosity because it is agile. It can mean you want to be playful. It can mean you want to be academic and interrogate something. It can mean you want to explore your identity. Or it can mean that you want to walk in an odd-shaped building and experience something new and experimental. So that’s why I like ‘Castle of Curiosity’. It’s the 50 year anniversary. It’s time to celebrate then elevate. Bring on the trumpets!”

Thompson plans to develop ways for Contact to be more commercially viable through new partnerships outside the arts sector. She will develop her role to be accessible to support new artists, encouraging more young people to be future cultural leaders through creative risk-taking.

Junior Akinola, Chair of the Board for Contact said: “We’re so excited to welcome Keisha Thompson as our new Artistic Director and Chief Exec. Keisha has shown her dedication and commitment to Contact through her years of experience working with and being an artist here. Keisha’s extensive CV and artistic profile speak for themselves, she is a trailblazer and an individual who consistently over the years has not only pushed the envelope with her creative ideas but also in the way and manner that she’s executed them. 

“We support Keisha’s vision and look forward to welcoming her into the post in June. To have an individual of Keisha’s stature join us is truly priceless and we all can’t wait to see her flourish in the role, exciting times ahead for sure.”

Keisha Thompson succeeds Artistic Director and Chief Executive Matt Fenton from June 2022 who has been in the role since 2013.

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