Meet the Members
Bengi Ünsal – Head of Contemporary Music, Southbank Centre
A bit about you: Bengi Ünsal is Head of Contemporary Music at Southbank Centre, the UK’s largest arts centre, on the south bank of the River Thames, where she is responsible for a year-round programme of more than 200 gigs and contemporary music performances across its iconic venues – Royal Festival Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room. She manages the award-winning Meltdown, the longest-running artist curated festival in the world, securing luminaries M.I.A (2017), Robert Smith (2018), Nile Rodgers (2019) and Grace Jones (2020) as curators.
Greatest career success to date: Robert Smith’s 2018 festival was the highest-grossing Meltdown ever, nominated for Music Week Awards’ Festival of the Year and winner of the AIM Independent Music Awards ‘Act of Independence’.
Most significant challenge: There’s been no bigger challenge in my career than what we’ve all been through together this year. It can’t be underestimated just how much we’ve lost and how much there is to build back, not least the grave situation so many in our industry still find themselves in, from the technical staff and freelancers behind the scenes to so many artists who are desperate to get back on their feet. We’re definitely starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel but we’ve got to keep a level head and stay optimistic about the future.
Women’s Day Shoutout: This question is quite personal to me as I actually started working at the Southbank Centre on International Women’s Day back in 2016! Since I joined, I’ve been inspired daily by the incredible womxn around me who work tirelessly to make this organisation the inclusive, innovative and dynamic space it is, from Elaine Bedell our CEO to Gillian Moore CBE, my boss and close friend who has been a leading light for our sector for so many years. Looking more broadly, I would also like to mention CAA’s incredible Emma Banks – not only is she amazing at what she does, she’s using her position to advocate for meaningful change in our industry, particularly when it comes to issues of environmentalism and sustainability.
If you could make 1 change in how the music industry supports women, what would it be? For me, it’s about making sure that womxn are not only getting a seat at the right table but that their voices are heard when they do. We all know the creative case for gender diversity so it’s essential that organisations nationwide step up to commit to long-term, systemic change. Rather than quota-driven commitments, we need meaningful solutions that truly put womxn on an equal footing. Be it festivals ensuring greater representation of womxn headlining, to major cultural institutions putting womxn in higher-level positions, we need to see true representation from bottom to top, with increased entry points and access to the sector, and support through peers and mentoring as womxn progress through their careers.
Fiona Stewart – MD/ Owner Green Man Festival
A bit about you: Festivals are about bringing people together to have fun, experience wonder and create fantastic memories that will last a lifetime. I never take it for granted that I work in a business I love with people I respect and care about. MD Wales Green Man, founder Green Man Trust Charity, Chair ESG Mid Wales Growth Scheme, Chair Common Sense Project, first woman to be awarded the LifeTime Achievement Award for Contribution to UK Festivals (developing boutique festivals and festival control system), first woman to be an Executive Board Member of the CPA, recipient St Davids Cultural Award, previously Festival Director Big Chill, Consultant British Council and Foreign Office – China, Eastern Europe, Brazil and India – Events Development, Welsh Government Creative Board Advisor.
Greatest career success to date: Currently the only woman in the UK with controlling ownership of a national music festival, Green Man is one of the 5 remaining large independent UK music festivals.
Most significant challenge: COVID-19.
Women’s Day Shoutout: It’s difficult to answer as there are so many brilliant women but Shirley Bassey always stands out as an amazingly inspiring courageous talented woman who overcame extreme poverty, racism, gender and class prejudice at a time when they must have been overwhelmingly toxic and still became an international star and she’s Welsh which of course is a major plus – Shirley Bassey really does rock!!!
If you could make 1 change in how the music industry supports women, what would it be? Opportunities for girls to access music training and be given a sense of self-worth and confidence begins at home and in schools. This is the foundation needed for all aspiring musicians. It is unfair that music training opportunities are only available for the children of parents who can afford it, learning music and musical instruments should be part of the curriculum for all children whatever gender. I would like to see the music industry add their voice to pressurizing the UK Government to invest more into music education which would be a positive action for the development of skills in music which young girls would be a part of. This would create a future legacy by adding to the number of women with the skills and training needed to become part of the music industry.
Tamsin Austin – Venue Director, The Fire Station, Sunderland
A bit about you: I have worked in music programming and promoting for 21 years, at The Arches in Glasgow, at Sage Gateshead and have recently moved to a brand-new venue, The Fire Station, Sunderland, due to open in late 2021. I have been proud to work with and present many incredible women including kd Lang, Regina Spektor, Mavis Staples, Laurie Anderson, Peaches, Roisin Murphy, St Vincent, Cate Le Bon, Joan As Police Woman, Yola, KT Tunstall and Emmylou Harris.
Greatest career success to date: I founded and developed the annual SummerTyne Americana Festival – a genre of music which has some seriously fabulous women at the helm! (Margo Price, Brandi Carlile, Kacey Musgraves, you know who you are!)
Most significant challenge: Doing a full-time job while single parenting and home schooling my two children! Roll on March 8th for many reasons!
Women’s Day Shoutout: I am going to give a shout out to Lou Paley who co-founded the Women In Jazz organisation and who manages the wonderful British-Bharani trumpeter Yazz Ahmed. https://www.womeninjazz.co.uk/
If you could make 1 change in how the music industry supports women, what would it be? For more agents to commit to gender parity on their rosters which in turn will help improve gender parity on festival bills.