Battersea Arts Centre turns 50

Battersea Arts Centre turns 50

We spoke with Artistic Director and CEO Tarek Iskander on how the historic space is celebrating this milestone.

Image: Tarek Iskander, (c) Morley von Sternberg

This year, Battersea Arts Centre celebrates its 50th anniversary as a community arts centre and performance space. The building has a long and interesting history, beginning with its original genesis as the Town Hall in 1893 and continuing all the way into the modern day. Not too long ago in 2015, a major fire severely damaged the building’s beautiful Grand Hall. Nonetheless, BAC has persevered, and continues to break boundaries with radical community engagement and innovative theatre.

The building’s interior design nowadays retains a strong awareness of its history. There are several nods throughout the building to its inception as Town Hall. After the restoration efforts following the 2015 fire, they made the decision not to erase all the fire damage in the Grand Hall – the charred walls have been retained as part of the design. This decision not to erase but rather to honour and commemorate moments in the building’s history is truly emblematic of its long-lasting radical and boundary-pushing ethos.

BAC’s Artistic Director Tarek Iskander knows more than most what lies at the heart of BAC’s ethos. “We believe art can change the world – that it can make it more inclusive, more sustainable and more fair,” he tells me.

It’s not just words – BAC puts their money where their mouth is when it comes to inclusivity and community work. They have a variety of opportunities available for young people, including two free weekly youth academies: a Dance Academy and a Beatbox Academy. For over a decade, they have run The Agency, an award-winning social enterprise programme that helps young people achieve and implement their creative ideas to improve their communities.

“We try to go beyond just providing opportunities for young people to participate,” says Tarek. “We really believe in the creativity of young people themselves and in supporting them to activate their own creative ideas, particularly those that can impact their own local communities.”


BAC also pioneers in championing inclusivity for disabled people: 90% of their performances are “relaxed,” meaning people with access requirements can feel free to move and make noise in the space as needed.

“We feel strongly that theatre and performance should be accessible to everyone,” explains Tarek. “So we work hard to ensure people aren’t shut out by our systems and processes.”

It’s this unceasing dedication to inclusion and community engagement that makes BAC such a special place. When he took on the role of Artistic Director, Tarek was eager to continue this tradition.

“I really wanted to be a part of BAC’s team and story as I think it’s genuinely unique. Nowhere else I can think of combines this focus on truly ground-breaking contemporary performance with very deep local community links.

“I also wanted to ensure BAC was somewhere that tries to do things differently, and is up for trying things or taking creative risks that other people are afraid to try. That ambition is very much inspired by the radical history of this building.”

Speaking of history, Tarek has a lot of events and activities lined up to celebrate BAC’s golden jubilee. They’ve got an exciting upcoming line up of boundary-pushing shows, including the return of long-term collaborator Emma Rice with her latest show Blue Beard in the Grand Hall. There will also be a documentary series to celebrate the breadth of activities they have on offer.

He adds: “In keeping with our radical spirit, we’ll be hosting live debates that tackle the most challenging issues of the day. And of course we will have a big party on our anniversary in November.”

Tarek is proud of the work he’s been able to do with BAC so far. “I’m proud that we’ve got through the pandemic successfully and managed to keep supporting the creativity of our artists, young people and our communities in new ways. We even reimagined ourselves as Wandsworth’s primary vaccine hub in 2021, living up to a long history of being at the centre of local community life.

“We recently won The Stage 2024 International Award for our approach to international exchange, bringing some of the world’s boldest performance makers to South London.”

Tarek has big plans for the future. There’s an exciting variety of projects and productions in the pipeline for the year ahead.

“Wandsworth were recently announced as The Mayor’s London Borough of Culture 2025 – so we’re gearing up for that and are proud to be working with the Council and local creative and voluntary partners to make it a special year that showcases the incredible talent of our local communities.”

‘Watch this space’ is the sentiment we leave on. “BAC has proven it can survive anything and will be here for another 50 years,” assures Tarek. “And that those decades will also be extraordinary. I’d encourage everyone to come and discover us and be a part of it.”

Pictured: Main Entrance © Dan Weill / Blue Beard © Steve Tanner / Grand Hall © Fred Howarth