Maria Balshaw, the first woman at the top of the Tate: 'We need to speak to the whole of society'

By Hannah Azieb Pool

The terror attacks, Grenfell Tower, the election: the Tate's new boss has not had a quiet easing-in period. But she's determined to make the galleries central to these tumultuous times

Maria Balshaw, newly appointed director of Tate, has been in post for just three and a half weeks when we meet. Despite nursing an ill-timed broken arm, a yoga injury (“someone was doing a handstand and they fell on top of me”), Balshaw is on fine form. Reflective and precise, she wears her position of influence in the art world with grace – and a silk printed Duro Olowu kimono.

Ordinarily, the new head of a national arts institution might expect to spend their first few weeks figuring out internal politics and memorising names, but what might have been Balshaw's easing-in period has included the Borough Market terror attack, a snap general election, the Grenfell Tower fire and the Finsbury Park mosque attack. Before that, there was the Manchester Arena bombing, significant for many reasons, but also because Balshaw has come to London after 11 years at the forefront of Manchester's arts scene, where she was the director of the Whitworth Art Gallery and Manchester City Galleries, as well as director of culture for Manchester city council.

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