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.

New Shetland Arts general manager Graeme Howell.
New Shetland Arts general manager Graeme Howell.

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.


Add Your Comment
  • Damien Ristori

    • December 9th, 2014 18:35

    What I’d like to see in the near future at Mareel. new events not ever been to Shetland including Collectamania, comic com events, seasonal showings of fan favourite films James Bond, Star Wars, or themed showings. 70s 80s 90s cartoons, music, the list goes on.

    Jools Holland and his rythym orchestra would also be fab to see come to Shetland. Maybe asking too much there!

  • David Spence

    • December 10th, 2014 0:22

    I cannot see why the Mareel, in its ability to cater for Shetland Music, should not start using its facilities as a place of learning and tuition in the traditional instruments Shetland music is famous for. As well as this though, giving local bands the means and knowledge (without charging too much) of how to enhance their musical skills, a place where they can practice and a place where they can learn other skills related to music and the music industry.

    I was rather disappointed that Mareel were not prepared to back a local band in helping them to gain further publicity as well as enriching Shetland and the variety of music that is within the islands.

    I do hope that the Mareel is not type-casted into just catering for a certain style of music?

  • Shona Miller

    • December 10th, 2014 13:30

    David, I’m a bit unsure what you mean about using Mareel to cater for traditional Shetland Music and using its facilities as a place of learning and tuition in the traditional instruments?

    There’s plenty of learning and tuition available locally for traditional music, High Level Music (for example) offer all different types of music tuition, not to mention the amount of local individuals teaching instruments and running night classes etc…

    We have an internationally known Folk Festival; the Shetland Accordion and Fiddle festival; Guitar Festival; Blues Festival, Fiddle Frenzy Festival etc…all of which are learning experiences in themselves, and offer workshops and classes. Skills and knowledge can be learned from attending such events and just generally being involved within the local music scene. Shetland have done and is still doing a pretty good job at promoting their traditional scene.

    Mareel run a variety of music courses, the NC, HNC and also a MA course is available here now, all in conjunction with the Shetland College. Something that wouldn’t be possible without the facilities and technology in Mareel. All the courses offer skills and knowledge about the music industry. As a part time music student myself I can pretty much guarantee you that every student has different musical tastes, and they are all encouraged in their particular genres – this is evident from the Student Nights that they put on.

    Mareel Do have rehearsal space available to hire?

    I’m not entirely sure how Mareel can ‘back a local band’ as such? Local bands usually start off playing in the pubs, country halls, different functions etc…to publicize and get a name for themselves, and that’s generally how the local music scene works.

    However, that said, I wouldn’t mind knowing what you mean by ‘they wouldn’t back a local band’?

    By the variety of concerts from both local and south bands and informal events that Mareel have held they are in no way only catering for a certain style of music. In my experience, they have and do cater for a wide range of musical genres. The variety is what is good about it!

    • Robert Duncan

      • December 10th, 2014 16:59

      Very well said Shona!

      On the “backing local bands/musicians” point, the monthly singer/songwriter nights seem like a good opportunity for folk who haven’t performed much to get their name out there and have their music heard. Some more open-mic nights would be welcome but there’s no sparsity as things stand.

    • Johan Adamson

      • December 11th, 2014 8:54

      As for rehearsal space, you can hire the auditorium or the green room, provided there are no acts using these rooms. And there is plenty of space at Islesburgh anyway, which might be smaller and a peerie bit cheaper.

    • Shona Miller

      • December 12th, 2014 20:28

      I just want to add that I Do think that its important to keep the traditional music going, (as I was brought up playing traditional fiddle as a young een!) what I was trying to put across is that I believe that Mareel Do incorporate traditional and all genres of music, and don’t understand why David thinks they don’t back local bands? Mareel aren’t really a promoter as such, they’re a venue which has to cater for everyone, and I think they do a great job of that! And they offer rehearsal space etc…the Shetland traditional music scene is well known worldwide, and that was put in place long before Mareel even existed!!

  • Bill Smale

    • January 6th, 2015 18:08

    Mr.Howell says he wants to get more people through the door at Mareel. How will the recent price increases help achieve this? The admission price for a senior to watch a film would seem to have increased by 28% since last year – and the pensioner ‘Christmas bonus’ has of course been scrapped!

  • David Spence

    • January 6th, 2015 19:53

    I very much appreciate your comments you have said Shona, and I apologise in taking so long to answer.

    I guess many people question exactly what function the Mareel performs from a music and educational point of view, and whether or not its remit is to promote, enrich, teach and enhance as well as traditional music, but music from all styles and tastes.

    I take your point in the Mareel playing its role in conjunction with the College in teaching music related studies and giving people an opportunity to learn the more technical aspects of music and the music industry.

    I am a musician myself, using what is known as MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) technology combined with synthesizers, sound modules, sampling hardware as well as the use of sequencers and other music related software.

    I certainly commend Brian and Fiona at High Level Music for their dedication in contributing towards teaching and promoting Shetland as well as other styles of music.

    I would be interested in Mareel’s view in local people wishing to coach or teach music within their facilities without such an asset (teachers) being constrained because of financial or commercial (profit) necessity taking priority?

    Personally, I would love to teach people the benefits of using MIDI Technology and the software used within such technology…………as a teaching tool for learning music, it is fantastic.


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