FOUNDER, CEO AND ARTISTIC DIRECTOR
Recognised for advocacy, quality and ambition, at the heart of Serendipity’s vision is founder, CEO and Artistic Director, Pawlet Brookes MBE. Pawlet Brookes has a passion and innate talent for discovering, nurturing and promoting artistic talent from across the African and African Caribbean Diaspora. Her initiatives have resulted in the UK debuts of renowned dance companies, recognition of the previously unshared histories of Black presence in the Midlands, the innovative use of digital technologies as tools for accessibility and creativity, and the production of an internationally acclaimed documentary.
In 2022, Pawlet Brookes was awarded an MBE in the New Year’s Honours in recognition of her contribution to the arts and cultural diversity. In 2023, she was awarded an Honorary Fellowship by Northern School of Contemporary Dance.
Lauren Eaton is heritage manager at Serendipity Institute for Black Arts and Heritage. She graduated from the University of Liverpool with a degree in Egyptian Archaeology and a Masters degree in Public History and Heritage from the University of Derby. She has a background in working in a variety of heritage settings, which includes visitor services, education, outreach and events. Over the last seven years, Lauren Eaton has worked with different types of archives, both physical and digital, to ensure they are preserved and accessible to researchers. She is interested in what we can learn from our history and heritage and how engagement with the past helps to shape our understanding of the present.
Amy Grain is executive assistant at Serendipity and Black Arts and Heritage. Since joining the team as an education intern for Let’s Dance International Frontiers in 2013, Grain has grown with the organisation as administrator and general manager before taking up her current role in 2023. As well as skills in administration, Grain has experience in supporting programming, development, graphic design, video editing, branding, website maintenance and income generation. She has travelled internationally representing Serendipity Institute for Black Arts and Hertiage, including attending Tanzmesse in Dusseldorf, International Dance Council Congress in Athens and the British Dance Edition in the UK. Grain completed the Passport to Leadership management development programme at Curve in 2020 and holds a BSc degree in Psychology from the University of Leicester.
Hafsa Hirsi is Digital Archivist at Serendipity Institute for Black Arts and Heritage. Prior to her work at Serendipity, Hirsi completed a library traineeship at De Montfort University, where she had the opportunity to
develop her digital training skills and utilise digital archiving knowledge, organising digital materials in the library and collection, archives and special collections. She has held a number of front of house positions in the charity sector and supported heritage projects including the development of African Oral History Archive and Richard II Visitor Centre. She is an alumnus of the Young Archivists programme and holds a BA is History from De
Benoy John Mathew is the finance officer for Serendipity Institute for Black Arts and Heritage. He has significant experience working in accounting and finance in the charity sector alongside commercial organisations. His interest lies in accounting, but he also has a passion for learning about the history of different civilisations and countries.
Roshni Parmar a recent graduate from Rose Bruford College in stage and events management. She previously worked alongside an immersive dance show Mumbai Masala as a stage manager in 2022 and as events assistant for Bombay Funkadelic and Serendipity Institute for Black Arts and Heritage. She is currently an assistant producer and touring stage manager for a Bharatanatyam company Sanskruti Cambridge CIC.
Georgina Payne is digital innovation project manager for Serendipity Institute for Black Arts and Heritage, having joined the team initially as an events assistant in 2022. In this capacity, she has supported the development of the Black Digital Dance Revolution, exploring how technology can be used to create and share dance. As a multidisciplinary artist and creative expressive therapeutic facilitator, Payne has vast experience working with young people over the years in all aspects of the arts. In 2020, Payne graduated the University of Derby with a degree in Creative Expressive Therapies. Payne has worked predominantly with primary-aged children, young people with behaviours that challenge and SEND, delivering person-centred creative expressive art workshops and sharing her passion for the arts to the next generation of artists. Payne is also the founder of GP Designs and City Canvas.
Heather Saunders is membership coordinator at Serendipity Institute for Black Arts and Heritage. She has a background in art and design and has worked with artists and creatives throughout her career, working in galleries and coordinating festivals. She has experience in promoting the arts internationally and has enjoyed great success when fundraising for charity. Saunders has a BA in Graphic Design from De Montfort University, is an excellent communicator and is dedicated to providing high quality experiences and resources for Serendipity Connect members.
Jacqui Sealy is one of Serendipity’s Event Assistants. She has a BSc degree in Sociology from the University of Southampton and a background in social welfare in statutory authority and voluntary sectors. This has included working in the fields of mental health, early years and social care with all ages and with groups at risk of, or experiencing social exclusion and discrimination. Jacqui Sealy has a longstanding love of the arts, especially dance and an enthusiasm for heritage.
Ashly Stanly is the Administration Assistant for Serendipity Institute for Black Arts and Heritage. Before joining the team in 2021, she graduated from De Montfort University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology. She has worked with DMU Global to organise international trips and has a great interest in cultural and artistic events. She has a keen interest in dance and she was part of the DMU Bollywood Dance Society and Urban dance society. She is also a keen traveller and immerses herself in the various cultural aspects of different countries.
Sydneé Thompson is an events assistant as Serendipity Institute for Black Arts and Heritage. She has graduated from De Montfort University with a Bachelor’s degree in Performing Arts and a Masters degree in Dance and Choreography from the University of Derby. Thompson is a freelance dancer, choreographer and dance teacher. She has showcased work at the Birmingham International Dance Festival and Birmingham 2022 Festival as part of the Commonwealth Games. 2021 saw her original film ‘Blackspace’ programmed in the University Dance Festival and participation in projects championing inclusion and access within dance, with DanceXchange. Alongside this, Thompson runs creative arts programmes at Chroma Church.
Laura Wilkinson is an event assistant for Serendipity Institute for Black Arts and Heritage and an independent film Producer with her own production company Chasing The Sun Film. She also has MSc in Cultural Events Management and expanded her skills into the festival and events, working freelance with a focus on arts, creative and cultural festivals and events. Laura Wilkinson was awarded Outstanding Woman in Art, Media and Music for her contribution to the industry from East Midlands Women’s Award.
Tasmin Evans is Collections Archivist for Serendipity Institute for Black Arts and Heritage. In visitor experience roles she has had the opportunity to work with people from many different backgrounds and understand their connections with their communities. Knowing the important relationship between heritage and identity, she strives to make every individual experience meaningful. Graduating from Newman University with a degree in History and a Master’s degree in Research, she specialises in studies on British slavery and the complex history of African Caribbean identity in the colonial world. Volunteering in heritage collections throughout her working life, she has been able to share her passion for finding the historical Black voice with other institutions and continue development of the heritage sector.
Serendipity’s board of trustees are the guardians of Serendipity’s mission and purpose, with industry leads in arts and festival management, education and artistic practice. Serendipity’s board reflects and supports the organisation’s key aim of bringing diversity to the forefront in arts with high quality work that reflects the demographics of the UK.
Karen Chouhan is the Leicester Organiser for the Worker’s Educational Association which is a national charity providing adult education including for the poorest and most disadvantaged people in society. She is also Chair of Healthwatch Leicester City, a body which aims to champion public and patient views and interests in the Health and Social Care System.
Her background is in Further and Higher Education and she is a qualified teacher. She was previously a senior lecturer at De Montfort University where she managed the MA in Community Education. She has also built a body of expertise and practice in youth work, community development and equalities and human rights work and has managed a national equality charity. In 2005 she was one of 7 recipients of a Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust award called ‘visionary for a just and peaceful world’.
Consultant, lecturer and arts producer Tony Graves brings a wealth of knowledge, skill and expertise to Serendipity with a career in the arts and education as a former Associate Professor and Head of Arts and Festivals Management, BA undergraduate degree at De Montfort University. In addition to Programme Leader for the MSc in Cultural Events Management.
A former classical pianist, he is a graduate of the Royal College of Music and was previously the Chief Executive of The Drum Arts Centre, Birmingham and a producer at Nottingham Playhouse.
Graves has been involved in the delivery of strategic arts planning at a regional and national level with particular emphasis on cultural diversity. He lead the researcher for De Montfort University’s Cultural Management and Policy Group evaluating the cultural diversity gateway of the New Audiences Programme for Arts Council England. Alongside holding the position of Director of the university’s annual Cultural eXchanges Festival which has developed this into a major event over the past 20 years. Previous guests include David Olusoga, Grayson Perry, Ken Loach, Jamal Edwards, Germaine Greer, Melvyn Bragg, Trevor Nelson, Bonnie Greer, Meera Syal, Munroe Bergdorf, David Harewood and Adrian Lester.
Graves has served on several boards including Nitro Music Theatre Company, The New Art Exchange and Dance4. Amongst his publications are a report entitled ‘Fear of the Artist’ produced in collaboration with Jude Kelly, former Artistic Director of the South Bank Centre, and funded by NESTA.
Jean-François Manicom is a conceptual artist photographer and a film director from Guadeloupe. He has recieved many accolades for his work including the prize for the best photographer at the Vera international Festival of Contemporary Art in Moscow (2016) for his series “Darbonne”, which portraits the nightlife on the Route de Darbonne, in Haiti. His artworks explore the imbalance at the heart of human life and more specifically memory and instability of our human condition in very different social and cultural environments.
He was the Director of the Maison de l’Architecture of Guadeloupe from 2005 to 2008. In 2015, he curated the permanent collection of the Memorial ACTe in Pointe à Pitre and set up the first Caribbean Festival of the Image. He has worked as lead curator for the International Slavery Museum, Liverpool and is currently senior curator at the Museum of London Docklands.
Leyla Okhai is the founder and CEO of Diverse Minds UK Ltd. Diverse Minds creates a positively productive workplace for all through training, coaching and consultancy. The focus is placed on wellbeing, mental health and race equity. Okhaihas over eighteen years’ experience in developing and implementing diversity, inclusion and equity practices, with senior leadership teams. She is also the host of the award-winning Diverse Minds Podcast a weekly show about mental health and inclusion. She is a TEDx Speaker, her talk is entitled The Connection between Race, Culture and Mental Health. As a trained coach, mentor, speaker and mediator, Okhai’s coaching practice centres on how staff can navigate boundaries and reach their full potential whilst maintaining their wellbeing. Leyla has also spoken regularly on mental health and wellbeing in the workplace and delivered training programmes and workshops on these issues across both private and public sectors.
Okhai was the Head of Centre for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Centre at Imperial College London, from July 2012-June 2017 and prior to this worked at the University of Oxford for over six years, firstly in student recruitment, specialising in increasing applications from underrepresented BAME young people. She went on to pioneer innovative race and religious belief equality initiatives at Oxford’s Equality and Diversity Unit from 2008-2012. She was the University’s first specific advisor for race and religion. She has been a member of the University of Leeds Council since November 2018.
Former Premier Dancer with Cuban National Ballet and Northern Ballet. Javier has over 21 years of experience and a demonstrated history of working in the performing arts industry. A collaborative leader with an extensive network in the international dance scene, whose over two decades of personal experience and expertise span the entire spectrum from acclaimed professional dancer to executive cultural manager. He is confident in his cultural ambassador abilities with a gift for inspiring the young generation of ballet dancers. He is skilled in Research, Dance Education, Dance Leadership, Communication and Business strategy. With an intuitive and authentic character, highly organised by nature, detail-oriented, growth-oriented and self-motivated, known for orchestrating the creative direction of art initiatives, promoting an open and inclusive work culture, and perfectly balancing professional rigour with many other extracurricular activities. He holds a BA Hons in Business Management and Leadership Practices and a Master in Business Administration (MBA). He is currently the Managing Director of the Acosta Dance Centre and the Europe Business Operations manager at Sansha Group.
PAULINE BLACK OBE DL
Pauline Black is a singer and actress who gained fame as the lead singer of seminal 2-tone band The Selecter. Black developed an acting career in television and theatre, appearing in dramas such as The Vice, The Bill, Hearts and Minds and 2000 Acres of Sky. She won the 1991 Time Out award for Best Actress, for her portrayal of Billie Holiday in the play All or Nothing At All. Since 2010, she has toured internationally with The Selecter. Her memoir Black By Design was published by Serpent’s Tail in late summer 2011.
JOAN MYERS BROWN
Joan Myers Brown founded the Philadelphia School of Dance Arts in 1960, offering African American dancers access to professional training which traditional schools would deny them. In 1970 she founded PHILADANCO – The Philadelphia Dance Company. She initiated the Smithonian Institution’s International Conference for Black Dance Companies in 1988 and the International Association of Blacks in Dance (IABD) in 1991. Joan Myers Brown was honoured in the 2012 National Medal of the Arts, the highest civic honour in the USA for excellence in the arts. President Barack Obama presented the prestigious honour at a ceremony that took place in July 2013 at the White House. Most recently Joan Myers Brown has been honoured by the Dance Heritage Coalition as one of America’s Irreplaceable Dance Treasures.