Shetland Arts manager invites community ideas
The new general manager of Shetland Arts is keen to hear what events the community would like to see in future.
Graeme Howell has taken over from former director Gwilym Gibbons and started work last week.
Mr Howell was based in Birmingham and was employed as centres co-ordinator by the organisation Access to Music, where he was responsible for operation and financial performance of nine facilities, employing a total of 140 people.
He has also been the director of Colston Hall in Bristol, the largest concert hall in the south-west of England.
Speaking to The Shetland Times yesterday, he said Shetland Arts needed to be driven “by what Shetland’s communities want and what we are being paid to deliver by various other organisations.”
Mr Howell added: “It’s about putting together a strategy that brings together the ambition of Shetlanders alongside the ambition of our investors and delivers upon that, and that’s what I’m here to do.”
The financial difficulties of Mareel have been well documented, with the arts centre finishing 18 months late, over budget and bailed out by the SIC, which invested millions.
In October Shetland Arts was awarded a £750,000 grant by Creative Scotland – to be spread over the next three years, aiding its business plan.
Mr Howell is keen to move on from that controversial period and said he was confident about the future, when asked about the viability of Mareel and Shetland Arts. The grant funding offered stability, he said.
“I have just relocated from a reasonably good job elsewhere in the country and brought my life to Shetland so I wouldn’t be doing that if I wasn’t confident there was a long term future.”
He did not give details about programming of events, though when asked about a potential changes, he said: “There can be a difference in terms of everything. Nothing is set in stone.”
“There’s a lot of dialogue internally at the minute about what we want to be doing with various bits of the estate [Mareel, Bonhoga, Garrison Theatre and The Booth in Scalloway].
“I think we need to then take that conversation out to the communities and the public and get their input.”
A new programming/artistic plan would be “ready for consumption” in February/March, he said.
Questioned about those with resentment to Mareel and what he would do to get them through the door, he said: “We will endeavour to put on the best quality events we can, we will endeavour to provide the highest level of customer service we can, we will endeavour to provide the most effortless experiences we can, from the moment of first contact as it were.”
He added: “If people for their own personal reasons still don’t want to come in to see something here or something at Bonhoga, all I can do is respect that, that’s their choice.”
When holding events, the long wait for a drink has caused frustration among punters.
And Mr Howell said there could be changes to how the bar operates.
There was challenge between having a “venue bar” and a “destination bar” , he said.
“That tension between those two roles we need to resolve quite quickly, and I think it’s resolvable,” he said.
“It is very much about getting the experience for someone coming to see a gig right, and the experience for someone wanting to use it as a destination right and how those two things can occupy the same space.”
For more see Friday’s Shetland Times.