GUEST BLOG: Arts event management

UoY Careers Balloon illy Guest blog written by Chris Jones, Manager, Selby Town Hall Arts Centre

If you are interested in working within the live events management field, either at festivals or a performing arts venue, and would like to flex your creative muscle, it’s worth looking beyond the obvious candidates. Britain has an amazing live entertainment heritage, and for many of us, the first places which spring to mind when we think of a transformative night out are the traditional destinations – major producing theatres like The National, Birmingham Rep or York Theatre Royal, or well-known venues which are part of huge corporate management groups such as Ambassador (York Grand Opera House), SMG (York Barbican) and Academy Group (Leeds O2). These are all great venues with fantastic offers, but if you want some serious variety (both in terms of art form and workload), curious quirks and a real opportunity to stamp your own artistic vision, you should spend some time investigating the nation’s unique and brilliant independent arts centres.

When I graduated from York, I had no idea these places even existed. I’d spent four years putting on club nights and band gigs, as well as working on large scale events like Freshers’ Fair and Grad Ball in my capacity first as YUSU Societies Officer and then President. While I had no set career plans, I did have a real love for music, comedy and theatre, and for seeing beaming faces at events I’d organised. I applied to be the first manager of a newly launched performing arts centre…and it sucked me in!

There are hundreds of these venues up and down the country. Each one is utterly unique, but they are all linked by a common ethos of high quality artistic experience and community engagement. They are real people places. Arts Centres are often located in renovated buildings – old churches, courthouses, cattle markets…you name it, someone has turned it into a performance space. They tend to be managed by charitable trusts, social enterprises or local authorities where profit maximisation (though important!) is not the overwhelming driver. More often than not they receive subsidies through local government, Arts Council England or a myriad of other grant awarding bodies which value the cultural offer, educational outreach programmes and artistic vision they can provide to a community, allowing a real focus on quality and diversity.

Arts centres tend to programme a wildly varied array of art forms, from music, theatre and comedy to poetry, contemporary dance, visual art exhibitions, spoken word, cabaret, circus and pretty much anything else you can think of. You soon become – or at least learn to give the impression that you are – an expert in an extraordinary smorgasbord of performance styles.

The variety of work and art forms, and the extent to which you can really have an impact and drive the direction of the venue, are what make these such exciting places to work. I can be liaising with a band’s agent, ordering bar stock, fixing technical equipment, writing a major funding application, mediating volunteer disputes, producing budget reports, selling tickets, distributing press releases, overseeing a schools theatre project and mopping up spillages, all in the space of an hour.

Arts centres provide a fantastic grounding in every aspect of arts venue/event management and offer a great starting point for those looking to specialise further along the line, perhaps in arts administration, marketing, community arts, artist management, festival booking or tour co-ordination.

There are unlikely to be any specific academic requirements, more a need to demonstrate experience, enthusiasm and vision. The hours can be bizarre and often long – especially if you are managing every aspect of a venue – and the pay will rarely rival anything you’d make as a city banker, but on the flip side you get to book bands, comedians and plays for a living and create something which thrills, inspires and, in some cases, really transforms an audience’s outlook on the world.

If you fancy investigating these cultural gems a little further, why not check out the following list including some Yorkshire based arts centres and some of the more well established national names. Do bear in mind that these venues are often relatively small scale with limited opportunities for internships and the like, but it’s always worth getting in touch. You never know what new project they might be embarking on which you could get involved with.

Chris Jones graduated from York with a BA in PPE before being elected President of YUSU. He went on to become the manager of Selby Town Hall Arts Centre, and has since completed an MA at York in Public Policy and Administration. You can meet Chris at Working In…Arts and Heritage on Thursday 26 February, further information at www.york.ac.uk/careers/events.

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