Diversity in Arts Leadership – Interview with Nazma Noor

With a background in arts marketing and digital strategies, Nazma Noor wears many hats and has contributed significantly to several organisations across Manchester. Nazma began her slightly unexpected career in the Arts by volunteering with Manchester International Festival in 2017, later joining the community engagement committee: People’s Forum set up by MIF in 2019 and that same year working with Manchester Museum to Co-Curate South Asia Gallery. Alongside her full-time role as a Digital Strategist, Nazma currently volunteers in an influential leadership role as Co-Chair of the Board for Z- Arts.

Photo of Nazma Noor

The Arts is not something Nazma originally saw herself settling in, in terms of a career path, due to her self-definition of “always being a digital web geek at heart”. However, Nazma’s moral compass became a driving force for introspection and at the age of 29/30 she began to piece together who she was and what she wanted to do. Although a financial sacrifice, she concluded that the arts and cultural sector was a space she wanted to be in and expanded her focus to encompass this. This change has paid off in terms of her happiness and fulfilment, yet it took time to have the confidence to be in a space where she is a minority. With previous feelings of disengagement, Nazma once believed the Arts was not a space for her as if she “didn’t dare to dream” due to an evident lack of diverse representation. Community is something close to Nazma’s heart and working in the Arts (a universal language which by nature is diverse) lets her tap into community perspectives and open doors up to others when possible.

When asked about the shift in institutional initiatives to support diversity and inclusion and whether they are successful, Nazma notes that this was not something on her radar when she first graduated in 2007. Yet, she was pleasantly taken aback by the boldness and tenacity of students that assisted in the co-curation of South Asia Gallery in 2019. Students from the OSCH Collective (Our Shared Cultural Heritage), affiliated with the University of Manchester, assisted Manchester Museum by offering their thoughts on maintaining relevance and providing a welcoming and engaging space to explore South Asian identity. The powerful voices of these students shone in the presence of established professionals and proved invaluable, sparking admiration for speaking with conviction at such a young age. This could be aided by supportive initiatives put in place by the university however it could also be credited purely to the individuals.

We also discussed the benefits of affirmative action policies and personal networks to encourage diversity when hiring. Nazma spoke about the importance of evaluating who is on interview panels to avoid unconscious biases, regardless of equality policies in place. A personal WhatsApp group which Nazma is a member of titled ‘Global Majority Opportunities’ acts as a micro-level job sharing network and a beneficial community resource, the opposite of “an old boys club”. Similarly, Greater Manchester Leadership Group operates to promote accessible opportunities, purposefully counteracting gatekeeping of leadership roles.

In terms of leadership, there is the assumption that to be a board member for an established company you must be a CEO or well-seasoned professional. This was Nazma’s impression until she had an eye-opening opportunity to meet with other chairs of boards and realise that a variety of people sit in these positions such as co-chairs, vice chairs and youth representation. One size does not fit all Nazma pointed out and not every board member needs to (or should) be “an exec millionaire”. This opportunity arose when Nazma was a trustee and took part in a pilot training programme at Z- arts in 2022. The programme acted as a safe space to understand what it means to be a chair and workshop scenarios to imagine how to steer resources in a leadership position. She spoke about how this programme shaped her career trajectory and acted as a catalyst for confidence and growth, leading to her success in becoming Co-Chair. However, the ability to be plucky and ask for things is a consistent learning curve even as a goal-driven, career-focused individual.

Nazma discussed the decision to go with the Co-Chair model as an example of building their own table rather than simply taking a seat. Nazma’s Co-Chair, Lizi Ransome is a teacher outside of Z- arts, thus, both women bring their combined insights to the chair roles, with Nazma’s digital skillset and Lizi being plugged into the target demographic of Z- arts, the combination works harmoniously.

Photo of Nazma, Liz O’Neill CEO at Z-arts & co-chair Lizi Ransome at the 2022 Manchester Culture Awards


Z- arts offer lots of exciting workshops, family-friendly events, and an amazing selection of books in the Children’s Library, be sure to check it out.