Kenneth Olumuyiwa Tharp CBE – Our new director

The Trustees of the Africa Centre are pleased to announce that Kenneth Olumuyiwa Tharp CBE has been appointed Director of the Africa Centre.

As one of the UK’s most respected cultural leaders, Kenneth will lead the Africa Centre into an exciting new phase, including a major capital project and redefining us as the international centre for contemporary African culture, business and innovation. Under Kenneth’s direction the Africa Centre will continue to celebrate and showcase the richness of African and black British culture, challenging stereotypes and telling the diverse stories of Africa and its diaspora.

His appointment marks an exciting period of transformation for the Centre, and over the coming months, the Africa Centre plans to join the main building on Great Suffolk Street with a Performance Venue and The Hub, a flexible co-working space and accelerator for entrepreneurs and creatives, both contained within neighbouring railway arches. Additional facilities include a gallery, meeting and broadcast suite, the Africa Learning & Research Centre and a new café, opening onto the street, with a unique pan-African culinary offering.

We are very excited to have Kenneth join us at the Africa Centre and lead us forward to even greater heights!

Oliver Andrews, Chair of the Africa Centre, said:

“As the Africa Centre continues a period of reinvention and growth, we are delighted to appoint Kenneth Olumuyiwa Tharp as director. With extensive arts management experience, having served as Chief Executive of The Place for nearly a decade, Kenneth is one of the most respected and well liked cultural figures in the UK.

His vision for an Africa Centre that challenges the stereotype of a homogenous African continent and passion for telling the many diverse stories of its 54 nations and their diasporas, make him exactly the right person to lead the centre as it embarks on this exciting new chapter.

Building on the Centre’s 54 year legacy Kenneth will help create an Africa Centre that is not only the focal point for contemporary African and black British art and culture, but one that will provide crucial platforms for education, entrepreneurship and innovation relating to the African continent and its diaspora as well.”

Kenneth Olumuyiwa Tharp said:

“For over 50 years the Africa Centre has been a hugely important part of London’s cultural landscape, as a focal point for all things African and a home-from-home for Africans and people of African descent. I am thrilled at being given the opportunity to lead the Africa Centre through its next exciting phase of transformation and renewal.

The Africa Centre’s new home marks an exciting moment of development that in turn reflects changes happening across the African continent. Research published by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation in 2017 highlighted that: ‘of the 25 fastest growing economies in the world between 2004 and 2014, ten are African’.

Africa is on the move. Its status on the world stage as a 21st Century continent is increasingly important. The Africa Centre has a key role to play in making tangible the cultural richness and creative energy emanating from the African continent, and in sharing the vibrancy of its 54 nations and extensive diaspora, with as many people as possible.”

Kwame Kwei-Armah, Artistic Director of the neigbouring Young Vic said:

“The Africa Centre of old played a formidable role in my life. Shaping thought, exposing ideas and sometimes just simply a place of refuge. Under the leadership of the rather incredible Kenneth Olumuyiwa Tharp, the Africa Centre will be that and more to a whole new generation of people who wish to be inspired, lead, and ultimately connected to art and ideas in a 21st century way.”

Sophie Chandauka, Co-founder and Chair of Judges – The Black British Business Awards said:

“Rarely have I come across an individual such as Kenneth who commands tremendous respect from not only peers within the arts, but also community and business leaders alike. As a pan-African woman with deep roots in corporate finance and entrepreneurship, I believe he is the right person to maximise the opportunity of the Africa Centre to serve as a hub for the convening of innovators, business and thought leaders of all backgrounds to work together to advance the socio-political and commercial prosperity of the African continent.”

What you need to know about Kenneth Olumuyiwa Tharp

Kenneth is a key figure in the UK arts and culture scene with over 35 years professional experience in the sector. He began his career as a dancer; as one of the leading dance artists of his generation, he performed for 13 years with the internationally-acclaimed London Contemporary Dance Theatre and then with other leading companies during a 25 year career as a performer, choreographer, teacher and director.

From 2007 to 2016, he was Chief Executive of The Place, the UK’s leading centre for contemporary dance development, holding responsibility for the overall leadership, strategy and management of The Place and its 100 full time staff, while acting as the public face of the organisation and as an ambassador for its work.

He is a devoted champion of the arts, cultural learning, creativity and diversity, and frequently presents as a keynote speaker in a variety of contexts, from schools to leadership courses, industry related events and the corporate sector. He is a regular contributor to Speakers for Schools.

He has served on various arts Boards, including The Royal Opera House. He is currently a Patron of Akademi and The Place; a Trustee of New Adventures, the Chineke! Foundation and the Royal Opera House Benevolent Fund; and is a School Governor.
In September 2015 Kenneth was named among the London Evening Standard’s annual Progress1000 list of ‘The 1000 most influential Londoners’. He appears in eight successive Powerlists of Britain’s most influential people of African and African Caribbean heritage, as well as in Who’s Who. 2018 will be his third year serving on the judging panel of the Black British Business Awards.

In 2003 Kenneth was made an OBE in recognition of his services to dance, and in June 2017 was made a CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list, also in recognition of his service to dance.