Courage in action - RSA Journal - RSA

Courage in action


  • Picture of Mike Thatcher
    Mike Thatcher
    RSA Head of Editorial
  • Arts and culture
  • Community and place-based action
  • Diversity and inclusion
  • Environment


In March 2024, the RSA held its third annual Fellows Festival. More than 200 Fellows attended to discuss the theme of courage, take part in workshops and listen to speakers. The festival was the largest yet and followed a series of global meetings and regional gatherings across the UK. This article includes quotes from the talks delivered by some of the high-profile speakers, including author Sathnam Sanghera, Tonic Founder Lucy Kerbel and outgoing Artistic Director of the Young Vic Kwame Kwei-Armah.

Reading time

Three minutes

The latest Fellows Festival brought together a range of high-profile speakers offering remarkable stories of courageous acts to make the world a better place.

A rainy Saturday in March saw RSA House packed to the rafters as more than 200 Fellows met for the third annual Fellows Festival to discuss the theme of courage in the year of our 270th anniversary.

This festival was the biggest yet, with the London event following a series of global meetings and regional gatherings across the UK. Fellows heard from high-profile speakers, took part in workshops and enjoyed live music and dance.

Each speaker offered examples of courageous acts that could make the world a better place. There were many stand-out moments, but it will be hard to forget Kwame Kwei-Armah’s passionate speech calling on the government to have the courage to invest sustainably in the arts.

Having just announced his resignation as Artistic Director of the Young Vic, Kwei-Armah said he could no longer be “complicit in undermining” the culture sector. The current funding situation had created an “atmosphere of fear”, and he urged the public to put pressure on politicians to come up with a “Big Idea” to fund the arts sustainably.

Post-Covid courage

Arts funding was also examined at a session involving Lucy Kerbel, Founder and Director of Tonic, Kate Varah, Executive Director of the National Theatre, and Amanda Parker, an arts and cultural sector consultant.

They discussed post-Covid courage and the need for pragmatism as the sector inevitably shrinks. “What’s essential is ensuring that, in that shrinkage, we don’t lose diversity. That we don’t become a homogenous blob,” Parker told Fellows.

Kate Varah, Executive Director, National Theatre

In the session on community, Tim Smit, Co-founder of the Eden Project, discussed leadership in the UK. He highlighted the “lack of courage in middle-aged men” and the poor quality of politicians across the parties, while Emily Bolton, founder of Our Future, described the work her organisation is undertaking with the local community to help Grimsby’s green transition.

Bolton emphasised that there was creativity beyond London. “I love the people I work with in Grimsby — brilliant, innovative, not waiting for anyone to come and fix their problems, just getting on and doing it.”

Tim Smit, Executive Chair and Co-founder of the Eden Project

Culture wars

In the courage and empire session, author and journalist Sathnam Sanghera was asked about the abuse he received following the publication of his books Empireland and Empireworld. He pointed out that interpretations of the past were constantly changing as evidence emerges, but that many historians were regularly threatened through ‘culture wars’ often taking place on social media.

Culture wars also surfaced in the session on courage and climate involving environmental psychologist Lorraine Whitmarsh and wildlife writer Kabir Kaul. According to Whitmarsh one way to respond to anti-climate change attacks is to investigate deliberative democracy, such as citizens’ assemblies.

Kaul, an 18-year-old RSA Fellow, stressed the importance of highlighting positive news stories, particularly on a local level. “If we can highlight those positive stories, hopefully that will empower people. Yes, we’ve got a long way to go, but there are very good things that are still happening.”

Mike Thatcher is Head of Editorial at the RSA.

Laura Aziz is a modern portrait photographer.

This feature first appeared in RSA Journal Issue 2 2024.

pdf 12.5 MB

Be the first to write a comment


Please login to post a comment or reply

Don't have an account? Click here to register.

Read more features from the RSA Journal

  • Talent made visible


    Journal contributors

    The co-leaders of the RSA's Fellows Artists’ Network describe their work in supporting the creative efforts of prisoners and ex-offenders through the Made Visible exhibition.

  • Ghada Amer: the art of protest


    Nadia Khomami

    Provocative, empowering and unapologetically feminist — the Cairo-born artist’s body of work defies conventions and challenges perspectives.

  • The Welsh way


    Jane Davidson

    Almost a decade on from its passage, the Well-being of Future Generations Act is a testament to the power of courage in good governance.

  • Metrics reimagined


    Vlad Afanasiev

    A new approach to metrics is bridging the gap between scientific measurement and human experience, strengthening civic participation, and laying out a path to thrive through adversity.