The people behind the scenes in Scotland's creative industries

  • The List
  • 8 November 2012
The people behind the scenes in Scotland's creative industries

Behind the scenes. Scottish Opera prop store. Photo: Liz Lees

The people whose job it is to make things happen in Scotland

It’s not just the painters, musicians and poets who make Scotland’s creative industries tick – there are thousands of people working hard behind the scenes to make creative projects and events happen, and their jobs give them unique access to what’s up-and-coming in the arts. We caught up with a few and asked them, ‘what’s the most exciting part of your job?’

Gwilym Gibbons

Director, Shetland Arts Development Agency
Our location in Shetland requires us to look out to sea and so prompts a range of relationships that reach far beyond our shores. In many ways we act and behave like a national company working across borders and with people of international renown. At the moment I’m inspired by ideas that capture the value of our creative output. I have been working with others developing new ways of realising the value of our intellectual property enabling us to invest in creative ideas that otherwise we wouldn’t have the resources to support. The most exciting aspect of my work is the magic, surprise and joy that comes from those moments in which a creative event touches and connects with an individual. It’s hard to describe but it sends a real tingle along the back of my neck.

Robyn Marsack

Director, Scottish Poetry Library
When I introduce myself people invariably say, ‘That must be a lovely job!’ and then, ‘Are you a poet?’ It is a lovely job, and I’m neither poet nor librarian. My role is to hold together the extraordinary energy, creativity and knowledge of the SPL team, and make sure that all our work achieves our aim of bringing people and poems together: through the collection; in schools and care homes; in events and via the website; through social and broadcast media – taking Scotland’s poetry out and about, and bringing the world’s poetry in. We’re unique in Scotland and a rare library in world terms, a hub for poetry with a lending collection as our base. I’m inspired by the dedication of my colleagues; by the generosity of the anonymous book sculpture artist, whose work we’re touring; and by the art of poetry, first and last.

Hamish Pirie

Associate Director, Traverse Theatre
The best thing about my job is working with writers at the early stages of an idea. It’s a thrill and honour to be there at the beginning and then follow the process through. I get to live in anticipation of every envelope I open as it could be the one to blow me away. It is a privilege to be sent scripts when you think about how much emotional and actual energy goes into their creation. There is so much talent in Scotland, especially at the writing end. I am inspired by so many, but writers such as Rob Drummond, Kieran Hurley and Gary McNair are constantly redefining what a writer is. Lynda Radley, who wrote one of our Dream Plays during the Edinburgh Fringe, has a wickedly urgent voice.

Suzy Glass

Co-Founder, Trigger
I’m a producer, which means I work with ideas, makers and audiences, joining the dots between the three. I do this job because I’m interested in finding more creative ways of communicating. Producing is a multi-faceted, complex job, but for me the element that sits at its core is the bringing together of brilliant people to develop ways of talking expansively about being human. On a daily basis I work with artists, designers, technologists, thinkers and scientists. It’s this meeting of minds that I find exciting, so I develop and facilitate collaborative processes that give people the space to turn good ideas into great ideas. I work in the arts because I believe creativity can help us to find ways of existing in a more balanced, meaningful fashion.

Heather Collins

Children’s and Learning Audience Development Co-ordinator, Scottish Book Trust
There are many exciting aspects to my job but the thing that I enjoy the most is meeting teachers who tell me that taking part in our author events or projects like the Scottish Children’s Book Awards has really had a positive impact on their pupils’ reading habits. I’ve been able to meet some of my childhood heroes like Michael Rosen and David Almond which is amazing – I always make sure I get my books signed too! I love chatting to all the enthusiastic children in the signing queues and seeing their delight at meeting a real live author. The job is never dull, I’ve dressed up as a clown, and grown into a nut tree for Julia Donaldson. Last week I was making George’s Marvellous Medicine. I feel very lucky to have a job I believe in but that’s also so much fun.

Dr Fiona Bradley

Director, Fruitmarket Gallery
What I love best about my job is working with artists to make commissions, exhibitions and books. Shows at the Fruitmarket Gallery are free, so artists can take risks – we try to help audiences understand and enjoy all the art, but if they like one exhibition less than they expected, they don’t need to feel cheated. We sit between the might of the National Galleries and the energy of artist-run spaces like Rhubaba. We show art in a resolutely international context: Scottish art and audiences are world class and we celebrate that throughout the programme. I’m inspired by great art, whether that’s Martin Creed’s generously beautiful work on the Scotsman Steps here in Edinburgh, or two films I saw at Documenta last summer: Willie Doherty’s Secretion and Omer Fast’s Continuity, both of which keep coming back to haunt me.  

Christopher Aird

Head of Drama, BBC Scotland
The most exciting aspect of my job is having the chance to work with the best writing, directing and acting talent to produce original drama here in Scotland. We have some really exciting projects in the pipeline. We want the BBC Scotland drama department to be the first port of call for all Scottish dramatists interested in writing for the screen. We are working with the theatre community to tap into the hugely successful Scottish playwriting scene and will be launching an exciting writing initiative later in the autumn. It will sound corny, but I am captivated by the soulfulness of Scotland; there is a depth of feeling up here that is unique – a gift for any dramatist. I am also stunned by the beauty of the place. I saw Stirling Castle for the first time last weekend – who knew?

John Wallace

Principal, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
The most exciting part of my job is finding young talents and seeing them realise and develop their own potential. At the moment I’m inspired by James MacMillan, Nicola Benedetti, Andy Murray, Chris Hoy, Vicky Featherstone, Maggie Kinloch and all the people who work at the RCS including Norrie Woof, the maintenance guy – we’re living in a golden age of performing artistry and a culture of inventiveness in Scotland and we don’t really comprehend fully its power. I help manufacture the fertiliser so that there can be an arts industry in Scotland. I help to solidify the weight of opinion that justifies the arts’ right for existence in competition with other life-and-death demands on the public purse, and I try to ensure that the supply of young talent has relevant skills for the rapidly changing arts scenario. What I do is invisible and terminally boring.

Elaine Coyle

Head of Wardrobe, Citizens Theatre
I’ve been at the Citizens eight years. I was a freelance costume designer and initially became a cutter in the Citizens wardrobe department, then in 2008 became full-time head of wardrobe. I am in charge of a team of cutters/sewers and dressers. For each production we either source or create costumes from scratch in line with the show designer’s drawings. It is amazing to see the whole process from start to finish – what begins as a drawing on a piece of paper actually becoming real onstage live as part of a production. Being in the Citizens building is exciting as well. The atmosphere is brilliant and everyone is so passionate about what they are doing that there is a real buzz about the place. Costumes are such an important part of the theatre experience, helping to bring stories to life for audiences across the country. The wardrobe department at the Citizens plays its part in making the theatre one of the UK’s most iconic venues.

Owen Caldwell

General Manager, Old Bridge Inn, Aviemore
We have so much dialogue here with artists and managers, that each day there’s a lot of to-ing and fro-ing as we search for the right acts, on the right dates, for the right price. Not an easy feat, given our location in the middle of the Highlands and the level of diversity we aim for. We don’t have a large population to pitch to, so ensuring we don’t over-programme our gig schedule is key. When you’ve been working hard to nail down a date with someone and it’s then confirmed, it really does put a spring in your step. On the night, it is so pleasing to see people’s reaction to the acts we bring to Aviemore. Tartan and shortbread guitar cases, most certainly, checked at the door. In terms of inspiration, we look to our great friends at Backwoods Productions, who put on the Insider festival up here every year. They have been setting the standard when it comes to contemporary music in the Highlands for the last four years, which we strive to complement.

Lindsay Robertson

Manager, Scottish National Jazz Orchestra & Tommy Smith’s Youth Jazz Orchestra
There is nothing so exciting as the buzz of a live concert – being on tour, seeing how passionate the musicians are about their music and the pleasure it brings to audiences. I changed careers from nursing to music and jazz and love both – they are inspirational and fulfilling, sociable yet autonomous and with attention to detail and good communication paramount – plus with the ability to react calmly and quickly an essential skill. As SNJO manager, my role encompasses admin, artist liaison, PR, marketing, fundraising and networking, which frees the artistic director, Tommy Smith, to concentrate on the music. It is very satisfying to know your role has contributed to the organisation and success of concerts – the wonderful music, musicians and special guests are all inspirational. To then experience the live performances and applause of audiences – wow! – it is as good as being on stage myself.

Faith Liddell

Director, Festivals Edinburgh
I’m the director of Festivals Edinburgh, the strategic umbrella organisation for our city’s 12 major festivals. The festival directors created and own our organisation, and my job is to work with them to ensure that Edinburgh maintains its position as the world’s leading festival city and to develop and deliver their collective projects. A lot of my time is bringing in investment and partnership to support our joint ambitions. We’re also looking ahead, future-gazing and developing models that other cities and organisations want to learn from – not just within Scotland, but globally. I feel endlessly inspired by the vision and drive of my directors and the Scottish and international artists and thinkers they work with. I get to keep company with astonishingly committed and creative people.

James Graham

Development Manager, An Comunn Gàidhealach
An Comunn Gàidhealach is a Gaelic language organisation. We organise Am Mòd Nàiseanta Rìoghail (the Royal National Mod), Scotland’s largest festival of Gaelic language and arts. We aspire to promote and raise the profile of the Gaelic language, especially among the younger generation and learners of the language. I am extremely passionate about the language and I’m in the fortunate position where I get to use the language day-to-day as part of my everyday work. I am also a musician and therefore the nature of my work has added appeal.

Pete Irvine

Managing Director, Unique Events and Artistic Director, Edinburgh’s Hogmanay
I run Unique Events, which is the major open-air events company in Scotland, and I’m also the author of Scotland the Best. They’re both about discovering, rediscovering and celebrating Scotland. The interesting thing that I feel I do is making things happen that don’t exist already, and bringing people, or things that they create – an artwork, an event, a restaurant – to wider attention. What I do evolved from my interests and working with people around me. I think I helped to create the landscape of the festival and event world that I inhabit, and I’m still travelling in it. It’s a good time to be in Scotland.

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