Have you ever yearned to do something totally different? And what if you ignored the doubting Thomas’ and did it anyway?  That’s the stuff my Page 1 Woman is made of. With almost 10 years as a manager in the arts, and uncertain where next, she left work, signed up for a business with Spanish degree, and did year 2 at Valencia University -all in Spanish. 
But guess what? She passed her exams and what a sense of achievement that gave her.   This reflects the type of challenges that this Page 1 Woman rises to. And looking at her life, you might even call her a challenge aficionada. So who is this bold risk-taker? She’s Doreen Foster, deputy director at the UK’s Black Cultural Archive.

So who exactly is Doreen Foster?

The 4th child in a middle-class Jamaican family, Doreen’s hard-working parents held down 2 or 3 jobs, aiming to make enough to raise their children, buy a house and build a home to return to in the Caribbean.  And the high achieving black women, leaders in their fields, who surrounded her, were her role models. So it never crossed Doreen’s mind that as a black girl she couldn’t achieve and be a leader too. She grew up fearless, defying the prevailing expectations of black girls of the day. And as an adult, she went for challenging leadership career roles, that, in some cases she’d never done before. But she thrived on ‘just having a go’ and seeing her efforts succeed. No matter that she started out without a university degree.  To Doreen Foster, that wasn’t a hindrance – more a choice and a challenge.  And she still managed to get appointed as executive director of a dance company whilst still in her early 20s.

Her career trajectory since then, for the most part has reflected her passion for the arts and culture and her drive as a natural leader. These included a couple of stints at the Arts Council, including head of the Chief Executive unit; Chief Executive in a small West Midlands charity; Chief Executive leading the development of the Bernie Grant Arts Centre, ( a high profile capital project) and now managing the refurbishment of the Black Cultural Archive.  And on top of all this, she succeeded in becoming a Clore Fellow, for 2005-6, (a prestigious programme for leaders in the arts) and joined the ranks of notable alumni such as Gus Casely-Hayford.

So what is it that’s helped Doreen Foster to win and grow as a leader? Clearly, she’s doing what she loves – great for shining in your career. But, there’s something more. Simply put, that’s where she’s found her life purpose.  “My life purpose is doing what I do in this environment. ……..helping people make things happen, particularly where they’ve had a problem and where they’ve not been succeeding. I thrive on doing that in all sorts of contexts but when I’m in the cultural sector, that’s where it feels the best.”

Significantly, until her mid-30s any barriers of race or gender went unnoticed.  Was this related to working to her life purpose?  Perhaps. But experiencing intense bullying, (twice), was the catalyst for an awakening.  And she turned it into an opportunity to develop her resilience and keep her tank topped up by doing activities to stay fit and healthy. “If you can keep healthy, then that helps your mental state. It’s about ensuring that you remain strong and maintain that sense of self…….when the bullies have got to me it’s been because my tank has been empty”.  

Doreen Foster isn’t preoccupied by sexism and racism, and doesn’t allow them to frustrate her efforts.  “It’s not a good use of my energy and time to think too hard about those things because it can deplete you. I focus on what I need to do and where I need to go. And if people want to put up barriers then when I’ve the energy I’ll just knock the barrier down”. 

So what about the Black Cultural Archive? It was founded 25 years ago by Len Garrison with the aim of preserving documents, magazines, books, artefacts and more, that relate the story and heritage of black Britons.  Providing concrete evidence of black people’s contribution to this country, it helps to erode the prevailing negative stereotypes.  Above all, it identifies for black children their place in history – great for developing a positive identity. It’s a place for everyone to visit and learn.

Doreen Foster is currently overseeing the construction and development of the new Black Cultural Archive. She’s creating new policies, procedures and strategies, managing side projects as part of the construction and much more. And what does she want for the Black Cultural Archive? She’d like “a thriving heritage centre with an international reputation.” And “When there are major cultural events it’s recognised that we have to be around the table, not because people think ‘oh they represent this community’ but because of our reputation for research, for exhibitions and those things”. Great ambitions, indeed!

The new Black Cultural Archive will be opened later this year. And when it is, remember that a gutsy, challenge-loving black woman, with a passion for culture and a life purpose for helping others make things happen played a key part.  Remember Doreen Foster.

For more information about the Black Cultural Archive, click here.

Who do you know that would make a brilliant Page 1 Woman? Contact me here, and let’s promote her.

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