Kelly founded Solent People's Theatre, a touring company in 1976, and was artistic director of the Battersea Arts Centre from 1980 to 1985. In 1986, she joined the Royal Shakespeare Company. She later became the founding director of the West Yorkshire Playhouse from 1990–2002, where as Artistic Director and then CEO she established it as an acknowledged centre for excellence. As the Artistic Director, she sat on the National Advisory Committee for Culture, Creativity and Education (NACCCE), led by Ken Robinson (educationalist) that wrote the influential All Our Futures report which led to significant investment in young people's creative and cultural education.
She has directed over 100 productions including the Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Theatre, Chichester Festival Theatre, the English National Opera, the Châtelet in Paris and in the West End.
Jude left the West Yorkshire Playhouse in 2002 to found Metal, artistic laboratory spaces in Liverpool and Southend. Metal provides a platform where creative hunches and ideas can be pursued. It also involves cross-art collaborations and developing strategic projects to affect the built environment, people, communities and philosophies.
Amongst her many successes as a director, Jude’s production of Singin’ in the Rain transferred twice to the Royal National Theatre and was awarded the Laurence Olivier Award for Outstanding Musical Production in 2001. She directed Sir Ian McKellen in The Seagull and The Tempest, Patrick Stewart in Johnson over Jordon and Othello, Dawn French in When We Are Married, and the English National Opera in The Elixir of Love (Southbank Award - Newcomer Opera) and On the Town, which was the ENO’s most successful production to date and was revived in 2007 at the London Coliseum and in 2008 at Théâtre du Châtelet, Carmen Jones, and The Wizard of Oz at the refurbished Royal Festival Hall. More recently, Jude directed Paco Pena’s Flamenco sin Fronteras in 2009 and Quimeras, also by Paco Pena, which had its world premiere at the Edinburgh International Festival in September 2010, and a production of Bernstein’s MASS at the Royal Festival Hall.
She is currently Artistic Director of the Southbank Centre in London Britain’s largest cultural institution. Southbank Centre consists of the Royal Festival Hall, the Hayward Gallery, Queen Elizabeth Hall (containing the Purcell Room), and the Saison Poetry Library. Southbank Centre also manages the Arts Council Collection and organises the National Touring Exhibition programme in venues throughout the UK.
Jude has represented Britain within UNESCO on cultural matters, served on the Arts Advisory Committee for Royal Society of Arts, and jointly chaired with Lord Puttnam the Curricula Advisory Committee on Arts and Creativity. She is chair of Metal, a member of the London Cultural Consortium, a member of the Dishaa Advisory Group. She previously sat on the board of Creativity, Culture & Education when it ran the government's flagship creative learning programme, Creative Partnerships, funded by the government for £40m per year by the education and cultural departments, working in 1 in 5 schools in England, with over 1 million young people. She is Chair of the Trustees for World Book Night, and was on the Cultural Olympiad Board which was responsible for the ongoing framework for delivering the creative, cultural and educational aspects of London’s Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2012. Despite her involvement in these significant investments by the UK government in the last ten years, she recently claimed that no action had been taken by the state relating to young people's cultural education since the 1999 NACCCE report or the Henley Review in 2012.
She is visiting Professor at Kingston University, Leeds University and a Shanghai Performing Arts School and holds several honorary degrees from national and international universities.
- "Jude Kelly". The Guardian. Retrieved 2011-09-28.
- "Southbank Centre History | Southbank Centre". Southbank Centre. Retrieved 2011-03-18.
- "Theatreland's top 100 players - News, Theatre & Dance". The Independent. 2006-12-29. Retrieved 2011-09-28.
- National Advisory Committee on Culture, Creativity and Education http://sirkenrobinson.com/pdf/allourfutures.pdf
- BBC Radio 4, Woman's Hour Power list