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The UK’s first poet to run a multi-arts venue as Keisha Thompson is announced as Artistic Director and CEO of Contact in Manchester.

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

Keisha Thompson stands lit in purple light with her hands holding an armoured mask atop her head, wearing black lipstick and long black braids.

Credit: Audrey Albert


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. 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. 

    “I met so many different people at Contact and had my perspective changed and just really 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.”

    Keisha Thompson

    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. 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.

      “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.”

      Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham

      Keisha Thompson sits on a stage lit in purple light with her leg raised and a smile on her face, surrounded by young people engaged in conversation

      Credit: Audrey Albert

      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’.

        “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!”

        Keisha Thompson

        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.

          “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.”

          Junior Akinola, Chair of the Board for Contact

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

          Keisha Thomspson stands on stage, hands on hips, with a jumper reading Knowledge is Queen

          Credit: Audrey Albert

          Contextual information

          Keisha Thompson is the first Black artist to be a full-time, permanent Artistic Director of Contact. Former Artistic Directors at Contact are; Matt Fenton (2013 to 2022), Baba Israel (2009 to 2012), Kully Thiarai (Interim AD Jan 2009 – Sep 2009), John McGrath (1999 to 2008) and Paul Clements (pre-1999).

          Manchester is UNESCO City of Literature. University of Manchester’s Chancellor is poet Lemn Sissay OBE. Poet and Professor Jackie Kay CBE is Chancellor and Writer in Residence at the University of Salford.

          About Keisha Thompson

          Keisha Thompson is a Manchester based writer, performance artist and producer. She attained a BA in Philosophy and Politics and a PGCE in Secondary Mathematics from the University of Manchester.

          Keisha is Senior Learning Programme Manager for The World Reimagined, chair of radical arts funding body, Future’s Venture Foundation, a MOBO x London Theatre Consortium Fellow and a member of Greater Manchester Cultural and Heritage Group, and recipient of The Arts Foundation Theatre Makers Award 2021. She is a graduate of Re:Con, Contact’s Young Programming and Producing Team and Contact commissioned her first show I Wish I Had A Moustache.

          She is currently working with commissioners Eclipse Theatre, York Theatre Royal and Pilot Theatre to stage new play, The Bell Curves. The script was made in development with Box of Tricks. She is also working with Fuel Theatre and Alan Lane (Slung Low) to create new children’s show, Issy, BOSSS & Fractal. In August 2020, she released a new mini-album, Ephemera, in collaboration with Tom “Werkha” Leah and featuring riveting cellist, Abel Selaocoe.

          In 2020, she finished touring award-winning solo show, Man on the Moon. Her debut book, Lunar, features her poetry and the show script. Whilst Moonwhile is a poetic mini-album featuring music from the show. She has supported artists such as Kae Tempest, Hollie McNish, The Last Poets, Saul Williams, Amiri Baraka and has performed in Brave New Voices festivals 2008 & 2009. Her work has been presented at venues high profile venues and platforms such as Tate Modern, Blue Dot Festival and the British Council Showcase in Edinburgh.


          About Contact

          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. At Contact young people aged 13-30 genuinely lead, working alongside staff in deciding the artistic programme, making staff appointments and act as full Board members. This model is seen as a national exemplar of best practice in relation to young people and diversity and accessibility, influencing organisations nationwide.

          Contact recently reopened following a £6.75million redevelopment which has transformed the building for the next generation of audiences, artists and young people with new performance spaces, a new recording studio, an arts and health development space and many other exciting features.

          Contact receives core funding from Arts Council England, Greater Manchester Combined Authority, Manchester City Council and The University of Manchester and is also supported by charitable trusts & foundations and individual donors.