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Move comes little more than two months after entire board of National Portfolio Organisation quit their positions.

I Am, commissioned by SICK! Festival is a public exhibition in St Peter's Square, Manchester.
I Am is a public exhibition commissioned by SICK! Festival Tom Robbins

Tom Robbins

The Founder and Artistic Director of Manchester-based arts charity SICK! Festival will leave the organisation at the end of the year, it has been announced.

Helen Medland, who established the organisation 24 years ago to explore mental, physical and social challenges through art, will be succeeded by Tracy Gentles, Founder and Creative Director/CEO of creative structure support organisation Something To Aim For.

News of Medland's departure comes two months after the organisation's entire board of trustees left without explanation. A statement issued by Sick! Festival said that Medland and Gentles have been working together since February 2023 to "craft a succession plan that supports the growing ambitions of the organisation".


Medland said she will continue to support the organisation during a period of transition and provide consultancy services to develop SICK!’s international programme. 

"As the festival’s founder, I have been on a journey lasting more than two decades, and I have been privileged to enjoy incredible experiences with amazing artists and partners from around the world. 

"I believe now is the right time for me to hand over to new leadership, who can bring a fresh perspective and a distinct vision to the SICK! Festival."

Since the departure of the charity's board in October, two new trustees - Christine D’Cruz, who is Chair of Same Sky, an arts charity in the South East, and Paul Russ, the CEO and Artistic Director of FABRIC, a dance organisation in Birmingham - have been appointed.

The charity's annual report for 2022/23, published last week, states that the organisation intends to increase the number of people on the board to 10.

The report also says that for the current financial year (2023/24), there is a particular focus on achieving multi-year core funding to increase and embed its year-round activity, work which will "increasingly inform" its commissions and biennial festival. 

"This will be supported by the development of advocacy and partnership relationships," the report states. 

"Additionally, work will take place on producing an international development plan, exploring further partnerships, consultancy and export models."

Gentles said: "Seeing the divide between parts of the city grow over the years, whilst arts and culture remain its beating heart, I’ll be putting particular focus on those often overlooked from the critical conversations that sit between arts and health, and questioning how we can make long-lasting social impact. 

"With a programme generated through listening and collaborating with the new team at SICK! we’ll aim to support capacity building of others, building a vision together, whilst staying true to SICK! purpose of tackling difficult subjects affecting our mental and physical health."