February 3, 2020
What was your first break (in business)?
Becoming the director of Newcastle University’s Institute of Creative Arts Practice was my first step into a more strategic level of working where I had greater influence over the university’s direction of travel. It gave me the opportunity to work with colleagues to raise the profile of culture and creative arts and our work with partners. The opportunity to develop strategy and put it into practice, take risks and learn from failing, was a fantastic experience that got me to where I am today.
What did you want to be growing up?
As a child, I never had a strong desire to ‘be’ anything in particular but was always drawn to the arts, rather than sciences. I was hard working and got good grades, so kept being told I should be a lawyer or accountant. But I’ve always loved literature and stories (and still do), so went to study English at St Andrews where I encountered art history, which I eventually graduated in.
What attracted you to your current role?
I often have to pinch myself as I do think I have the ideal job. I am privileged to be able to work with an immensely creative, gifted community of students, staff and external partners. I really enjoy having the scope to imagine what could be, and develop strategies and projects that raise the profile of culture and creative arts within the university and across the region.
What is your organisation’s mission?
Newcastle University aspires to be a people-focused university that harnesses academic excellence, innovation and creativity to provide benefits to individuals, to organisations and to society as a whole. We exist for the public benefit to advance education, learning and research. How do you get the best out of your team? I think you need to listen to colleagues, understand what their drivers are and where their motivation comes from, to support them to realise their goals and grow within their roles. You need to let them take ownership and recognise the contribution that makes.
What has been your career highlight?
There have been many highlights, and I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some incredible people, but recently I was asked back to my old high school in Scotland to give the keynote talk at their awards ceremony. That was a real privilege. I think many people would agree that it is often the opportunities to give back that are the most rewarding.
What has been your biggest challenge?
Working in higher education always has its challenges but often these present opportunities. There have been news stories questioning (in quite shallow terms) the value of arts and humanities degrees. The EBAC, which doesn’t champion culture and creative subjects as a core requirement, presents particular issues for the creative arts sector, as well as going against what any believe makes a balanced education and what our children and young people should have access to. This has, however, encouraged us to redouble our efforts in supporting and engaging with schools and partner organisations to offer young people experience of culture and creative arts.
Who or what inspires you?
I’m inspired by the people I work with – many of whom are leading practitioners and scholars in their fields – and the people I encounter through my role. We’ve been working with Northern Stage’s Young Company recently, and the young performers and writers that are part of that company, and the wider team, are truly inspiring. Likewise, those involved in the City of Dreams initiative, people from all walks of life with passion, imagination, drive and a little bit of something it’s difficult to put into words!
What are your organisation’s short and long-term goals?
From the culture and creative arts perspective, in the short-term I think we need to work on raising the visibility of the work that is happening in Newcastle, much of which is world-leading, and to work with partners in the region to develop ambitious plans for the cultural sector. Longer term, it will be about making these a reality and sustainable. I think together we can consolidate and grow the North East’s reputation for culture and creative arts, both nationally and on a global scale.
How do you achieve a good work/life balance?
Family and friends always keep me grounded. I’m also a keen triathlete, favouring cycling, so spend a fair amount of time flying around the countryside on two wheels with my teammates from Blaydon Cycling Club. It’s great for your health – physical and mental – and what better way to see the fantastic environment we are lucky enough to have on our doorstep?
One example of the university’s cultural initiatives is the partnership with Newcastle Gateshead Cultural Venues’ City of Dreams initiative, which aims to make Newcastle Gateshead the best place to be young.
For more information, visit www.cityofdreams.click