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Barbican CFO proves an unlikely box office hit

Sandeep Dwesar, CFO of Barbican Centre

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To many arts enthusiasts, the Barbican Centre is a cultural treasure trove in the heart of London. More than 850,000 visitors flock there each year to see the most sought-after musicians in the world, cutting-edge theatre, contemporary art and film from all corners of the globe.

Sandeep Dwesar, who became finance director of the arts centre in 1999, knows how privileged he is to work there, but he admits that a trip to the theatre can sometimes feel like an extended day at the office. When he first started the job, he and his wife used to go to a lot of shows and exhibitions at the Barbican, but as he never left the building he began to miss the excitement and build-up of a regular night out.

“The big difference between going out to see a show and seeing a show at the office is that you’re behind your desk at half six, quarter to seven, so you nip downstairs still in your suit and you have a quick drink or whatever, but you’re still in the office,” he says.

“You haven’t showered, changed and anticipated going out … The result of that is that if a show’s good you think, ‘yeah that’s OK,’ but it’s got to be really fantastic that it grabs your attention.” Fortunately, he adds, the Barbican does a few of those.

Creative excellence

Dwesar says the opportunity to work with talented, passionate people who are committed to producing a world-class arts programme is what has kept him in the job for so long. That, and the fact that his role as finance chief has kept evolving. In 2008, nine years after he started as finance director of the Barbican Centre, he took on the same role at the neighbouring Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Last year, Dwesar became chief operating officer and chief finance officer for the two organisations as part of a new strategic alliance between the Barbican, the school and the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO).

The so-called ‘Alliance for Creative Excellence’ allowed the three organisations to explore how they could collaborate both artistically and operationally, Dwesar says. One of the alliance’s first initiatives was setting up a Centre for Orchestra, which gives Guildhall music students the opportunity to work with musicians from the LSO, the Barbican’s resident orchestra. Under Dwesar’s leadership, the centre and the school also share many support services including finance, engineering, projects and IT.

The catalyst for the partnership was a project to expand the school’s facilities and create state-of-the-art performance and teaching spaces. In 2013, a new building called Milton Court will open across the road from the school’s current premises and will house a 610-seat concert hall, 225-seat theatre and additional rehearsal rooms. It is part of a development that will also include private residential accommodation.

According to Dwesar, the Milton Court facilities, together with the Barbican and LSO venues, will constitute a set of cultural assets to rival the Lincoln Center and the Juilliard School in New York. It will “create a cultural quarter almost like nothing that exists in the world,” he says.

Accidental role

Dwesar admits his current role as an arts administrator is an unlikely one, especially given his traditional accountancy background. He says he got into the field “completely by accident,” although he does have a long-held interest in the arts, particularly theatre.


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