Celebrating two decades of Imagineer as Jane Hytch steps down as CEO

Imagineer are celebrating almost two-decades of achievements as founder member and Chief Executive Jane Hytch embarks on semi-retirement.

Alongside fellow founder members Kathi Leahy, Claire Maddocks and Andrea Simpson, Jane has embedded herself in the arts in Coventry, growing Imagineer into a thriving organisation.

Now housed in the Daimler Powerhouse with National Portfolio investment from Arts Council England, Imagineer has a strong future ahead with new CEO and Creative Director Angus MacKechnie.

Four women standing in a row, with sepia tones, from L-R Jane, Kathi, Claire and Andrea
Then and Now: Jane, Kathi, Claire and Andrea at a Cultural Olympiad event, London 2011
Jane, Kathi, Claire and Andrea recreating the image from 2011, this time in the Daimler Powerhouse
Jane, Kathi, Claire and Andrea in the Daimler Powerhouse, Coventry, November 2023. Image Andy Moore.

Founded in 2005, the four founding Directors of Imagineer had the imagination, initiative and enthusiasm to see that arts, culture and creative industries had a real and growing role to play in Coventry and Warwickshire’s future. 

Jane has been at the helm of a multitude of ground-breaking arts events that have brought joy and creativity to tens of thousands of people across Coventry and around the world.

She has also brought in millions of pounds in funding for major arts projects for the city, including the creation of their giant Godiva in Godiva Awakes, to the multi-million pound restoration of historic Daimler building into a dynamic creative space.

Jane steers Godiva as she makes her first tentative steps
Jane steers Godiva as she makes her first tentative steps, 2011

Jane’s work was recently honoured with an honorary doctorate by Coventry University.

Jane Hytch, current Chief Executive at Imagineer said: “I am immensely proud of what Imagineer has achieved over the last 18 years, playing a part in the growing cultural sector in Coventry, and through the meaningful engagements we’ve had with the people of Coventry, in all communities, as well as communities across the UK. 

“It’s almost impossible to pick individual highlights. Whilst always hard work, the culmination of each of our projects has brought me – and all those involved – much joy and pride.

“Moments that come to mind include the first time the giant Godiva walked; UK fashion icon Zandra Rhodes, high up on a cherry picker fixing Godiva’s frock in a secret location in Coventry; and Godiva and her Cyclopedia being chased by Hampshire police as she rode along the A5 to London during the Olympic Games. 

Zandra Rhodes and Jane in high-vis jackets looking up at the giant Godica
Godiva Awakes – Zandra Rhodes and Andrew Logan with Jane at NP Aerospace, 2012

“Thinking about our Chairman Roger Medwell opening The Daimler Powerhouse dressed inside a big velvet bow brings a smile to my face, along with staging Waltz by Teatr Tascabile (Italy) inside the new Cathedral with older performers, woman in their 60s on 6m tall stilts, which culminated in explosive fire balloons which in the end the Dean, John Witcombe loved – he describes the performance as incredible and unforgettable. 

Jane and officials from Coventry City Council pose outside the Daimler Powerhouse
Opening the Daimler Powerhouse, 2021

“I’m proud of the young people graduating from our Transformations programme and watching their achievements, as well as nurturing young women as producers and creative leaders through projects like Bridge. So many wonderful memories along with personal and shared achievements.”

John McGuigan, Chair of the Board at Imagineer said: “I’ve had the privilege of knowing Jane and her team for over 20 years. I’ve always believed that the ‘real’ and sustained regeneration of Coventry – Britain’s first boom city – wasn’t just about bricks and mortar, high employment or inward investment. ‘Real’ regeneration is about ‘hearts and minds’ and confidence in the city’s future.

“Quality of life, with all that means in terms of creative arts, heritage, sport and leisure, is what feeds people’s souls and their individual and collective commitment to ‘make a difference’. Jane is someone who makes a difference. 

“She quickly gained trust and respect with me and all the individuals and communities she has worked with over many years. Trust and respect is earned, not demanded! It doesn’t come with a job title, with age or experience, it comes from imagination, enthusiasm, hard work and sustained commitment! That’s what Jane has – and shares – in abundance!

“Not many people can really say they changed a city and its people. Jane is someone who can! On behalf of all those individuals and communities that Jane has inspired and enthused, we say thanks.”

The giant Godiva pictured in The Mall, with union flags
The parade during the Platinum Jubilee Pageant in front of Buckingham Palace, London, June 2022. Matt Crossick/PA Wire

From January 2024, Jane will begin her semi-retirement by leading the Creative Explorers programme in Nuneaton and Bedworth, working alongside Imagineer’s new Creative Director and CEO Angus MacKechnie, who will take the company forward into its next exciting chapter. 

Part of that includes the Transformations project that has just been awarded £440k investment from the Reaching Communities fund (National Lottery), which will allow the programme to continue for three more years – working with 16-29 year olds in Coventry and also now Nuneaton and Bedworth.

Just a few highlights from Jane Hytch’s time as CEO of Imagineer:

Coventry Godiva Carnival (2002–2013)
Coventry Godiva Carnival became one of the foremost carnivals in the country, involving in excess of 1000 participants and employing around 40 makers, designers and workshop leaders. Imagineer established mass camps where local people came together to design and make carnival costumes, masks and backpacks, led by professional carnival artists.

Jane putting face paint onto a young performer
Jane applies face paint to a young performer in the Godiva Carnival (2011)

Godiva Awakes – London 2012 Cultural Olympiad (2012)
The Homecoming (2012)
For the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad, Imagineer created a 10-metre high puppet of Lady Godiva who travelled from Coventry to London powered by 50 cyclists. Imagineer worked with 17 local and regional engineering companies to make Godiva a reality. These collaborations have led to a series of developing projects that explore work at the intersection of engineering and art.

Godiva enters the ruins of Coventry Cathedral. it is nighttime. She is lit with hundreds of small flames and candles so the ruins appear bathed in golden light.
Godiva Awakes – The Awakening (2012)

In 2013, Godiva made her triumphant return to her home town of Coventry aboard her Cyclopedia with a cavalcade of cyclists and walkers joining her on Coventry’s iconic ring road.

Godiva sits upon her puppet horse, followed by cyclists, bringing traffic to a standstill on the Coventry ring road
Godiva Awakes – The Homecoming (2012)

Festival of Imagineers (2014 – 2018)
The Festival of Imagineers was a vibrant showcase of local, national and international work at the intersection of art and engineering. For a week each September, Imagineer presented a festival of performance, exhibitions, installations and talks in and around Coventry city centre, bringing together local, national and international creative thinkers and innovators.

Children play with hoopla hoops inside coventry cathedral. One child wears a yellow coat, and one wears blue. It is a colourful scene.
Festival of Imagineers in Coventry Cathedral (2018)

Transformations (2014–present)
Transformations is a project for 18-29 year olds based in Coventry. Young people work at The Daimler Powerhouse on authentic commissions and projects, where they get to meet professional artists, engineers, sound and lighting designers and creative industry specialists. As they work, they gain insight into all aspects of the creation of outdoor and site-specific work, events and festivals and develop skills in production, performance and construction. In 2022 the Transformations group were involved in producing the Powerhouse Youth Zone at Coventry’s Godiva Festival.

View from the back of the stage onto an audience at the Godiva Festival
The Powerhouse Youth Zone at Godiva Festival (2023)

Bridge (2018–2021)
A bridge appears in the centre of town and becomes the setting for a programme of free pop-up events, culminating in an exhilarating live performance featuring an international cast. Bridge visited Coventry, Grantham & Dagenham, with the theme of bridging divides and finding common ground.

A giant broken bridge is in Coventry city centre. A large crowd of people gather to watch young Asian male dancers perform
Bridge, Coventry (2019)

Sanctuary, produced in association with Artichoke (2022)
Sanctuary was a major event inspired by Burning Man in Nevada, USA. Imagineer worked with Artichoke and Coventry City of Culture 2021 to develop this biennial event. The giant artwork was created to honour those lost to Covid and built by local community in ‘the town that never forgets’.

A burning wooden sculpture lights up the night sky, presented by Imagineer and Artichoke in Bedworth in 2022
Sanctuary, presented by Imagineer and Artichoke in Bedworth (2022)

Imagine Bamboo 2022–2024
Artists, designers, engineers and communities from across the UK, and internationally, are coming together to explore the potential of bamboo – widely held to be the future sustainable building material for the planet. This international project has brought people together from across continents.

An arch made of bamboo
The Imagine Bamboo Summit, part of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games Festival (2022)