Wales’ Hay Festival Announces Julie Finch as New CEO

In News by Porter Anderson

As its 35th season approaches, Hay Festival gets its second chief executive. Julie Finch is scheduled to join the team in August.

At Hay-on-Wye during the 2018 festival. Image: Hay Festival, Adam Tatton-Reid

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Julie Finch: ‘A Future Both Daring and Sustainable’
About a year-and-a-half after the Hay Festival suspended its longtime co-founding director Peter Florence, Wales’ 35-year-old iconic festival has announced that Julie Finch has been named CEO and will start work in that role in August.

It’s likely that the organization’s board, chaired by Caroline Michel, hopes that Finch’s assumption of the helm can help the nonprofit move forward from a difficult crisis in leadership. Until now, Hay has known no other top executive than Florence.

The arrival of new management could signal significant developments and structural evolution in this mature and highly internationalized festival, which includes offshore editions in Mexico, Spain, Peru, and Colombia.

While Finch may not be familiar to many of our international readers, in the United Kingdom, her career trajectory includes more than two decades of experience in the British cultural sector. Most recently, she has been since April 2019 the CEO of the Compton Verney Art Gallery and Park.

Some of her prior positions include:

  • CEO of the Cheltenham Trust
  • Project director with the Boola Bardip Western Australian Museum
  • Director of the Bristol Museums Galleries and Archives Service

Media messaging from the Hay this morning says that Finch is expected to “lead a new organizational strategy” to “enhance the organization’s national and international standing, reach, impact, engagement with existing and new audiences, and its long-term sustainability.

Her work is to be based in the festival’s main office, in Hay-on-Wye’s Drill Hall.

Caroline Michel: ‘Effective Strategy Development’

In a prepared statement for today’s announcement, Finch is quoted, saying, “As a Hay Festival regular over many years, I’m pleased to be joining the charity as it continues to deliver world-leading events and reimagine the role a festival can play in our cultural landscape and  contemporary society.

“I’m grateful to the board for their trust in my vision and look forward to working with the whole team as we plot a future that’s both daring and sustainable.”

Michel, speaking for the board says that the company welcomes Finch’s “vast experience as we continue to forge an exciting future here and further afield.

Caroline Michel

“With a proven track record of strong leadership, effective strategy development, and widening cultural participation, Julie’s appointment opens  a thrilling new chapter for Hay Festival and our industry more widely.”

As Publishing Perspectives readers know, news of Finch’s appointment comes as the Hay prepares for its May 26 to June 5 run this year, featuring more than 500 in-person events over 11 days, with Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state and senator in the United States, announced as the newest high-profile addition to the speakers’ roster. Clinton is to be seen at Hay on June 2 in conversation with Heena Kennedy as part of the festival’s “Women and Power” series.

In addition, Springer Nature has announced an increased presence at the festival with “sustainability-related events.”

Florence’s suspension in October 2020 came amid the fallout from a reported “grievance procedure” filed against him by a staffer. By July 2021, an independent investigation had ratified the employee complaint, and Florence resigned, a fact announced by the board in August 2021. It was understood that the complaint involved an accusation of bullying of some kind, though details have remained undisclosed. At the time, the organization was embroiled in deeply concerning allegations of a sexual assault made against Hay curator Cailin McNamara by Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi’s minister of tolerance, who denied the allegations.

Currently, we see the following dates for the Hay Festival’s iterations outside the United Kingdom:

  • Hay Festival Querétaro, Mexico (September 1 to 4)
  • Hay Festival Segovia, Spain (September 15 to 18)
  • Hay Festival Arequipa, Peru (November 3 to 6)
  • Hay Festival Medellín, Colombia (January 2023)
  • Hay Festival Cartagena de Indias, Colombia (January 2023)

In addition, there’s a “Hay Festival Winter Weekend” in the United Kingdom, this year set for November 23 to 27.

More on the international editions of the Hay is here.

 More from Publishing Perspectives on the Hay Festival is here, more on Peter Florence is here, more on the United Kingdom’s publishing market is here, and more on the world publishing industry’s book fairs, festivals, and other events is here.

More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.