Karen Gallagher MBE

Presented by Dr Edward Harcourt

Honourable Pro-Chancellor, I have pleasure in presenting Karen Gallagher MBE for the award of an Honorary Fellowship from Liverpool John Moores University.

Liverpool is proud to be a diverse city, and this Honorary Fellowship is for someone who celebrates and promotes diversity through the arts, inspiring others and providing opportunities across communities.  

Born in Liverpool, Karen has always been committed to dance and diversity. At the age of three she completed her first dance performance of 'A Spoonful of Sugar' at nursery school. But she was officially introduced to the art form through secondary school, where her dance teacher invited visiting artists, such as Micha Bergese and Tom Jobe, to work with pupils. As one of those pupils, Karen was inspired by the motivation these artists stirred in her. She discovered how bringing artists to work with school groups is really important for inspiring young people and this is a model she still uses. 

Karen trained at the Laban Centre for Movement and Dance in London, one of Europe's leading centres for the training of professional contemporary dance artists. There she was enthused by the challenge of learning and developing her technique and skills, and it was where she first became involved with outreach within the community, connecting people to the exhilarating possibilities that dance offers. 

She set up a youth dance project in St John's Wood and worked in the Albany Theatre in Deptford, as well as setting up projects in Hackney to inspire people using the medium of dance and provide them with a sense of confidence and inclusion. 

After graduating, the offer of a job with Merseyside Arts brought her back to Liverpool. Karen says she "never looked back" upon returning to the city, and has been a champion of dance in the region ever since. Karen held multiple part-time posts around the region. She became involved in creating outreach shows with the Unity Theatre, and also worked with the Disability Arts Resource Unit as an 'animateur' at Southport Arts Centre. Her first full-time post was with Seconds Out Theatre Workshop. 

Teaching on the dance and mime course, Karen again experienced the difference dance can make to young people, and was inspired by seeing the development of these students. She ended up running the whole scheme – something that is a testament to her passion, determination and ability. Although Karen has always preferred teaching and choreographing to performing, she has wonderful memories of playing the part of Billie Holiday in one of two touring pieces performed in Germany, with a performance collective set up by Debbie Marley. 

In 1992 Karen became Assistant Director at Cheshire Dance, creating regional dance programmes, including developing strong partnerships with regional venues and building a medium scale touring circuit for Cheshire. Two years later she came to work at the non-profit organisation MDI, of which she is now Artistic Director. With Karen at the helm, the MDI has set up many exciting and innovative projects working with different communities across the region. 

In 1999 the Out of Reach Project enabled the MDI to work with groups of young people and discover through research the impact that dance can bring such as social inclusion and improving mental health. The MDI also produced the African People's Dance Programme, tapping into and promoting the city's vast cultural history. Leap Festival is another huge asset to the Initiative and always delivers a wonderful range of community, local, national and international contemporary dance. 

The MDI has worked closely with Liverpool and Knowsley Councils, the Unity, Everyman and Playhouse Theatres, and is firmly cemented in the region's cultural armoury. On MDI's work, Karen said, "Working in partnerships across Merseyside with many different organisations has been a crucial part of our work – through them we have been able to achieve so much and reach so many people." 

In 2008, the MDI was the first non-national Dance Organisation to host the British Dance Edition, a showcase of the best of British dance for the UK and international dance industry. 

MDI has been extensively involved in a variety of projects working to promote dance across Europe and internationally, such as Cultiv8 and the Capital Nights Festival. Karen and the MDI have been successfully fundraising for years, and have managed to promote themselves and dance internationally, developing an impressively high profile. 

In 2010 she received a BMOBO for MDI's community dance practice, which came after the successful running of the year-long LEAP Festival. The MDI has also helped to nurture many artists and Karen says that, "it has been inspiring to watch artists' careers develop over time". 

Karen gained her MA in Social Enterprise at LJMU in 2007, and in 2011 she was runner-up for Merseyside Woman of the Year. 

2012 saw Karen bestowed with an MBE for services to Dance. As one example of many of the amazing projects Karen has been involved with this year alone, in June the MDI's outdoor festival City Steps has been whipping people across the city up into a dance-frenzy. 

The MDI continues to be a world-class Dance Development Agency delivering this art form in a variety of styles to educational institutions and community groups. Twenty years after beginning her work with MDI, Karen is receiving this award in acknowledgement of her exceptional accomplishments in "raising the game for dance and Liverpool".

Karen really does embody the University's ethos of 'Dream, Plan, Achieve' and we are delighted to give something back to someone who we know gives so much.

Thus, it is with great pleasure that I present Karen Gallagher, this most distinguished daughter of our city, for admission to our highest honour, as Honorary Fellow of Liverpool John Moores University.