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Judith Isherwood leaves the WMC

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Nicola Heywood Thomas Nicola Heywood Thomas | 14:50 UK time, Thursday, 24 September 2009

So Judith Isherwood, chief executive of Wales Millennium Centre is heading back to her native Australia. Frankly, I'm gutted.

In the seven years since she's been here, Judith has achieved what she set out to do. She steered a large arts ship - a first of its kind in Wales - through the choppy waters of a grand scale opening season that would establish the programme of events as being both Welsh and international enough to guarantee bums on seats.

With her track record at the Sydney Opera House, no-one could have doubted Judith's ability to run a mega venue but storms were predicted over how relevant the centre would be to the whole country and how it would pay its way.

Both are inevitable arts questions in Wales and lead to fierce - and endless - arguments with vocal supporters on both sides. Could an Australian understand these deeply entrenched positions and, more importantly, could she keep the good ship WMC afloat when the various tides rose?

With a smile, steely determination and a fierce intelligence Judith Isherwood has done just that. She has brought performers and audiences to Wales for the first time and also runs a venue that gives Welsh performers opportunities they could only dream of ten years ago.

Where else would you find, in the space of a couple of months, a musical about Take That and Bryn Terfel and the Russian maestro,Valery Gergiev in the same auditorium? Of course it costs money. I don't want to get into that argument at this moment but have you seen the price of a Six Nations ticket?

Wales Millennium Centre marks its 5th birthday in November. That's when Judith Isherwood heads to Melbourne and personally I shall be sad to say goodbye to someone who not only is a supreme professional, but also a wonderfully straightforward and honest person whose patience and sense of humour have surely been tested to the limit at times in the last few years.

I think Wales has been lucky to have her here and the Welsh arts world will be the poorer when she's gone.

Nicola

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