Guest Post by Karen Phillips, North Lands Creative Director.
I was hired as North Lands Creative first Chief Executive in September 2016, my understanding at interview and one of the reasons in accepting the position was the remit to help lead the organisation to evolve and develop, to build strength, resilience and relevance in today’s challenging contexts for arts organisations.
The organisation was coming to the end of its’ three year funding cycle as a RFO within the Creative Industries portfolio, there was a transient period between Artistic Directors and a voluntary Executive Chair retiring amongst a breadth of new board members still to be established.
Funding models, and how they can contribute to financial resilience in the sector, was the topic I chose as my interview presentation and the values I covered I still support and stand by 14 months into the job.
I like to think about the big picture and since leading RUA RED the largest multi disciplinary arts centre in Ireland for 8 years from small beginnings through an economic turbulent time and hostile funding environments and impending cuts I felt well prepared to listen and to lead the much loved ‘North Lands’ into calmer happier waters. From the beginning, I asked people to tell me, I’m new, I’m not a glass artist – tell me what the faults are with the organisation, I’ve asked what they want from me as a new chief executive, and actually what matters to glass artists and the world of glass.
The mix of experience as a visual artist, enterprise and public administration background, I believe very strongly in the place of public funding ecology to support the arts. As public investment at North Lands Creative is a major part of our development so is concentrating equally on new funding streams. It can only mean that we can do more exciting things for more people.
Twenty two years ago a dream was born to invest in glass making facilities in a small fishing village in Lybster, the organisation grew organically and was able to offer excellent opportunities to a few. But sometimes we need to work on the demand side as well, and build capacity, working with artists on the ground, encouraging people to experience glass making in all its facets and in some cases getting them to have a go at it themselves for the first time. Our new vision is quite clearly about throwing North Lands Creative doors wide open – it’s about unlocking potential, that’s what’s really exciting about our future.
The recent successes of a Creative Scotland Open Project Award to develop our hot shop and an ESF Aspiring Communities Fund grant to develop a social enterprise for a community glass collective are great examples of what sustained and careful strategic cultural investment in a place like Caithness can do to change the perception of the people who live there – their perceptions of the place, and maybe even of themselves, and the possibilities of what glass making can do for them.
North Lands Creative is passionate and proud of our educational achievements from our Masterclass to Specialised Workshops program, our vision to be ‘An international centre dedicated to the study and development of glass as an art form’. I would argue that an excellent cultural education is a right, and brings personal, social and commercial advantages. We would be failing as an organisation to be exclusively for ‘glass artists’ surely we should be providing an arts program and experiences for a wide audience, and a mantra to offer those experiences to young people and those who face barriers to participate. It’s partly about skills ‘learning how to’, it’s about knowledge – the history of glass as an artform and then it’s about experiences – seeing ‘the best of’ or ‘meeting and being taught by the best’.
The passion for the work and the energy that the North Lands Creative staff and board have put in the last year is inspiring, our commitment to serving all audiences, wherever they may be. This week I had the pleasure to visit our board member Nadania Idriss, Director of Berlin Glas. She has been instrumental to the Berlin glass scene, Nadania, alongside the other creative thinkers on the board Anjali Srinivasan, Michael Rogers and Ruth Maclennan, with the staff have developed an inspirational program for next season.
We are taking risks, as the quote goes, ‘If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sure sign that you’re not trying anything very innovative’. So we can’t deny some things have changed, our brand which means also our name, sooner or later the time comes when your identity is no longer up to scratch, the motivation to do this brings a more effective, inclusive visual identity with the spotlight very much on the familiar red doors of the hot shop opening up.
At a time of significant national and international uncertainty, North Lands Creative 2018/ 19 program explores how as an organisation we respond to, reflect and potentially effect change on glass making and the arts community landscape. With new world-class work across five distinct strands – creative learning, curation, cultural tourism, creative spaces and commission & research – the program presents bold artistic opportunities both for artists and our audiences.
It certainly looks set to be a stellar year for North Lands Creative as we present an arts program without boundaries for the widest audience. Innovative, diverse and completely internationally 2018 starts with our debut at Collect, International Art Fair for Contemporary Objects at the Saatchi Gallery with the work of Silvia Levenson, Anne Petters, Emma Baker and Alan Horsley.
The Palestinian video and installation artist Mona Hatoum will be developing new work in glass at our Alastair Pilkington Studio.
Our regular spot on the glass calendar North Lands Creative Forum will welcome international speakers from Corning Museum of Glass, Shanghai Museum of Glass and the Fine Art Academy Latvia mixed with a few familiar faces.
Only last week as I stood in glass studios in Berlin and Riga talking about partnership trust and transparency and our role as the lead partner on our proposal to the EU Creative Europe program to imagine a sustainable glass network in Europe. I thought back to a question asked during one of the earlier development sessions to our own board and staff. Describe North Lands Creative in one word, I chose ‘Sorcha’ (it’s the name of my eldest daughter) the name is derived from a Gaelic word meaning ‘brightness’.
A bright beacon – a bright light, is very welcome, in the changing external environment, North Lands Creative commitment to glass is exactly what the sector needs right now, a multi-partnership approach, leading the way internationally, bringing the glass community together and helping our much loved organisation stand tall in the world of glass.