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Southbank Centre Image
Creating the Space: Managing Passions

Written by our Marketing Assistant, Grace Sansom


Great thanks to Pam Chowhan (Head of Planning)

It was an absolute delight to speak to Pam Chowhan. Her (many) passions for the arts is what fuels her great work as Head of Planning at the Southbank Centre. We had a wonderful chat about how far arts offices have come since the days of women in shoulder pads with silenced voices.

Pam is an incredible musician, who has been touring her work since graduating from Cambridge University and then The Royal Northern College of Music. She has been in this role since 2007, so has decades of experience in arts management and planning for such an esteemed venue. She was such an interesting woman to chat to: full of experience in different artistic fields and locations across the UK. Her rich and diverse arts backgrounds lends excellently to her passion for work at The Royal Festival Hall. I wanted to know how she manages it all.

A typical day for Pam mostly centres around ‘air traffic control’; she manages diary events across 3 concert halls and public spaces, totaling over 2000 events in over 160 bookable spaces. She has to be strategic in looking at priority so as to avoid clashing, and ensuring space is created for both income generation and artistic endeavors. She likened this to be  a puzzle, a Rubik’s Cube; her job is often one of problem solving.

She highlighted this problem solving as one of the biggest challenges of her role – there is always a tension in arts planning. Since the pandemic, routine weeks have changed and the venue now operates on a 5, not 7, day module. There is consistently more want for dates than there are dates available. Pam’s position is to navigate through diary priorities, balancing the twin needs for artistic creativity and the commercial work which supports it. There are of course times where the two marry, and this often the case for the venue as it is so successful and embedded in the UK’s beloved arts and culture industry. But there are times when difficult decisions have to be made, though this is always done sympathetically, and with a view to finding compromises which are acceptable for all parties. 

This challenging aspect of her role does not at all overshadow the wealth of positives. Pam meets so many incredible people in her line of work. She gets to have so many inspiring on-on-one meetings with likeminded workers and create personal friendships, meaning the venue can strive forward as it is fueled by a workforce united in passion and friendship. Although she loves meeting people, Pam is a great fan of data handling and reports – they don’t talk back!

Pam told me how 30 years ago, the atmosphere for women in the workplace was completely different. Now, complete professionalism and respect is the expected norm; women in arts now feel heard and reach their deserved place in management. There is now debate and challenging that never was. In the terms of direction, the Southbank Centre is a venue ran by women and an environment motivated by this.

When it comes to being a busy woman, driven by an inspiring career and artistic talent, Pam mentioned how the Southbank Centre is the perfect place to manage these passions. She has always felt so comfortable there. Everyone in the staffing body has something else that they do – there is a universal understanding of being on stage and being vulnerable, which is important to understand when working in the sector. There is a community that is motivated to create the space for diversity, inclusivity and excellence. Pam described it as a kaleidoscopic work community and there to be a real feeling of place.

Pam’s biggest piece of advice to women seeking a career in this sector, was to embrace networking. You have to put yourself out there and get your face known. It is an industry of people with opportunities for you, you have to get out there and meet them. Things are changing, things are levelling up and there are now more women in senior roles of arts management than ever before. Do not feel inferior – Pam noted how helpful it is to reach out to women you admire and enquire about unofficial mentoring. Be inspired.

I left my conversation with Pam feeling inspired by her career trajectory, artistic success and her ambition. The space is being created for women in arts management, and it’s thanks to the passion of women driving forward and filling the roles. It can feel intimidating, when it has been a masculine space for so long, but women must continue to network and create relationships in the sector. You will find likeminded people – just like the inspiring community at The Southbank Centre.

From all at Artifax and all those your work helps, thank you Pam!

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