Thursday 25th August, 2011
Nearly three months and no blogging. It’s been good to have that break, but September is drawing ever nearer, my big summer plans have all been fulfilled, and it’s time to take stock of what all that was about. Looking back at these last few months, it seems to me that there’s one very clear recurring theme: balance.
Probably the most significant moment this summer was my great grandad’s death at the end of July. More important than the death itself, though, was that it happened the night before we were due to celebrate his 90th birthday. That coincidence meant that all four generations of his family were able to gather from three countries in two continents and see him one last time. That day, and the weekend after when we gathered for the funeral, demonstrated to me more clearly than ever the strong family values that my great grandparents have been able to instil in their descendants. The funeral service itself didn’t feel sad; the atmosphere was one of optimism, celebration, and often humour. A lot of hope and happiness came out of what on the surface was a bad situation.
A huge chunk of my summer has been spent volunteering at arts festivals. 374 hours and 45 minutes, to be precise. I’ve been an extra in a live and immersive Doctor Who episode at Manchester International Festival; I’ve managed a sometimes hectic Manchester Jazz Festival box office; I’ve helped the Gruffalo onto stage for his dance off with Elmer at the second annual Just So Festival, and I’ve done a whole lot more. The decision to do all that hard work while my bank balance gradually dropped will seem foolish to some – myself included during some of my less exciting volunteering episodes – but if it’s made me more employable then it was the right decision. I’ve worked hard, but I’ve been appreciated, trusted and helped by the people I’ve worked for; I’ve worked long hours, but I’ve had a lot of fun; I’ve worked for no money, but I feel significantly more prepared for a proper job than I was three months ago.
When Manchester, like other UK cities, was hit by riots on the night of 9th August, I felt disappointed. I was annoyed at myself, even, thinking I was naive to have had so much faith in Manchester and to have given so much of my time to two of its biggest festivals. I wasn’t naive, though, because the subsequent wave of defiant, proud hope completely trumped the disappointment I had felt. The crowds of volunteers clearing up the streets the next morning; the ‘We Love MCR’ campaign that has culminated in today’s celebrations – these events are proof of what Manchester really is, really means, is really capable of.
I can identify that same sense of balance in each of these areas – my family, my career (-to-be), and the way I relate to this city – and I think there’s something in that. In our roles as relatives, employees, students and citizens, it’s a valuable thing to a) be able to see the good in the bad and b) to see potential for good and play our part in making it happen. It seems a bit lofty to claim that this summer has changed my life, but I really do feel enlightened to some degree. Balance is good.
Thursday 2nd June, 2011
I met Cathy, Manchester International Festival‘s Marketing Director, earlier today to discuss the possibility of my helping her team out over the next few weeks. I left their King Street office with the seemingly Herculean task of promoting MIF amongst this city’s student population. Why Herculean? Because so few students have heard of the festival!
Armed with a zealous desire to preach the good news to the culturally poor of Manchester’s universities, and a good chunk of free time (my newfound courseworklessness affords me such luxuries) I sat down on a bench in front of Central Library and wrote the following article for submission to the Mancunion…only to discover that the student newspaper closed up shop a while ago for exams and summer. So I thought it would be best to blogify it rather than deprive the world of my message! Here goes…
A biennial celebration of art and culture that invades and pervades Manchester for two and a half weeks, costing several million pounds while bringing several more million into the local economy, and attracting over 200,000 people to over 20 events in over 14 venues around the city, could surely not have slipped through your radar. But have you heard of Manchester International Festival? If not, you’re far from alone.
Back for the third time this year, MIF 2011 will be even bigger and better than ever before. At least, that’s the impression I’m getting; I can’t comment on this with any real authority because I didn’t know the festival existed until a couple of months ago! But it’s absolutely huge, the colossal cultural elephant in the metropolitan room that is Manchester. This year it’s enlisting the talent of huge names like Björk, Snoop Dogg, Damon Albarn, Victoria Wood and even The Doctor. But despite its global reputation as the greatest festival that focuses on commissioning new work – be it visual art, music, theatre and/or dance – something is hampering students’ awareness of this groundbreaking sensation.
Perhaps it’s the very fact that, as a biennial festival, someone on a three-year degree course can only come across it a maximum of twice between freshers’ week and graduation. More likely, it’s that most students are at home while MIF is happening (this year it’s 30th June – 17th July). I wouldn’t dream of missing the action, though, even if it means spending a little less time at home this summer. As soon as I heard about it, I signed up to join the 400-strong team of volunteers that play a huge part in making the festival happen. Why is it that we students are so keen to spend three months at home, perhaps venturing out to a holiday destination but missing out on the amazing things that are going on in our university cities? After all, our relationship with these places is often not that close while we’re studying; why not make more of an effort when we’re free?
I think the bottom line here is that Manchester students miss out on great things like MIF because we just don’t get out enough! Alright, we get out enough to know where to get the most intoxicated for the least outlay; we might even be relatively familiar with the music scene; but how well do we really know Manchester? This whole rant is very hypocritical, I confess; I’ve still got a great deal to learn about this unconventionally beautiful city. But that’s the aim of the dissertation I’m about to start writing; I want to investigate whether Manchester has the cultural calibre to compete with the New Yorks and Viennas of this world. In other words, I’m hoping to prove why Manchester truly is international.
Wednesday 18th May, 2011
Manchester-based company PZ Cussons cannot stop giving me free shower gel, it seems. I came out of a Hallé concert a few months ago and was handed a free bottle of Imperial Leather shower gel, produced by Cussons, their new sponsor. I picked up a free copy of the MEN in April and was handed a free bottle of Sanex shower gel. (Guess who makes it…?) And tonight I got another bottle of Imperial Leather. And a bottle of Morning Fresh fabric conditioner. And a Carex soap dispenser. That’s right, the company that rules your bathroom is now ruling my life.
PREAMBLE OVER. The reason I keep being given soap by these people is that PZ Cussons, a Mancunian business through-and-through since its foundation in 1879, is zealously and sincerely keen to be an important part of Manchester’s community and culture. And more specifically, the reason I got a bag full of their products tonight is that I attended a launch event for Manchester International Festival volunteers. The aim of it was to get us all excited about the biennial festival, which takes place from 30th June to 17th July this year. And it worked because I’m now even more excited than I was before! I had a great time – lots of lovely people, lots of lovely food, and lots (and I mean lots) of lovely wine. Plus lots of surprisingly lovely speeches from various important people.
One of these people was Sir Richard Leese, the Leader of Manchester City Council. He said that while a lot of people talk about modern cities becoming more and more similar – the term he used was ‘homogenised’ – if MIF demonstrates anything, it demonstrates that ‘Manchester is different’. I can’t wait to be part of this amazing event – after tonight, summer feels one step closer…
Monday 16th May, 2011
When the rain falls
They talk of Manchester
But when the triumphant rain falls
We think of rainbows
That’s the Mancunian Way
My last essay of the year is done, my last composition of the year is hot on its heels, and my Arts Admin exam – well, let’s brush thoughts of that under the carpet for now. My point, anyway, is that summer is not far away, despite this deceptively dreary Manchester weather.
It’s starting already, in a way. I’d signed up to volunteer at Manchester Jazz Festival this July, but on Thursday, thanks to a series of coincidences (long story) I found myself getting involved earlier than anticipated, helping out at a glamorous event for potential corporate sponsors. It was a good laugh and I learnt a lot about arts organisations and their reliance not only businesses but also on board members. Plus, I’m slightly ashamed to say, it filled me with an enormous sense of self-importance: among those present were an MP, an MEP and John Helliwell, although I wasn’t informed until after I’d finished chatting to him that he was the saxophonist with Supertramp. As Mum pointed out though, it’s probably for the best that I didn’t know who he was.
Enough of that – bring on the summer!
Wednesday 11th May, 2011
The blog posts are going to have to be a little more sporadic at the moment, folks – that’s because we’re in the middle of May, that time of year when students’ attentions suddenly turn towards their degrees, and away from everything else. Of course, it’s not quite that simple in a music student’s world: for one, last Thursday saw my band Always Awake‘s live debut. It was very successful, very well attended, and very good fun; I can’t wait for more of the same! Oh, plus we launched a stonking new EP.
Meanwhile, we’re edging ever closer to Estival, the Music Society‘s week-long annual music festival. It’s a huge undertaking, especially given how close it is to the climax of the academic year. I’ve got a lot of concert managing to do, but with the combined forces of the outgoing and incoming concert manager teams to work with, we can’t go far wrong. More about this soon, but for now just trust me that it’s going to be great!
In other news, I was looking forward to having my good friend Caroline alongside me during my crazy summer of work experience/volunteering, but she’s gone and got herself a real job, the rotter. While it’s a shame to miss out on her company, I’m really pleased for her, plus really encouraged that it really is possible for someone in my position (which is remarkably similar to Caroline’s this time last year) to go straight into an arts job immediately after the end of uni.
Anyway, back to that degree…
Friday 29th April, 2011
Today was a special day: my first real experience of work in an arts administration office. The office in question was that of the Manchester Camerata, and the work in question was, to give it its proper term, envelope stuffing. Take my word for it, it’s a beautiful thing – the smell of freshly-printed flyers; the taste of envelope glue; the thrill I got every time I wasn’t quite sure whether I’d remembered to put the flyer in with the letter but I’d already sealed the tab…
Alright, it wasn’t quite that amazing. In fact, after the first 50 or so envelopes I realised they were the ones you don’t need to lick. Oh, and the only payment was a (very nice!) cup of tea. But I didn’t sign up for this expecting to have fun, or to gain anything out of it in the short term. Instead, my aim was to shift myself a tiny step closer to employment in the Arts, and I think I achieved that in a small way. There wasn’t as much opportunity to network as I would have liked, given that I was tucked away on my own in one corner of the office, but I enjoyed witnessing the day-to-day goings-on of this kind of office, as a fly on the wall.
Plus it was a useful insight into the various inventive methods that such small organisations as this use to publicise their concerts. In this case, in the run-up to a concert of Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, they’re sending letters and flyers to a long list of people who recently attended Shakespeare plays at The Lowry, and who presumably consented (at some point during the booking process) to their being sent publicity. It’s a great example of the way Manchester’s arts organisations collaborate, sharing their limited resources in order to keep each other in business. All of them, from Cornerhouse to The Hallé, are linked by an unofficial network of arts administrators, the artistic mafia of the city. Now that is exciting.
On work experience, volunteering, and why this blog will be infinitely better when I get my new phone
Saturday 9th April, 2011
As I write, the sun is shining (a rare treat in this city) and I’m finally on the train back to Hull after my fifth of nine terms at the University of Manchester. So my mind naturally wanders to thoughts of a future that is only a couple of months away but – if all goes to plan – will affect how (and how quickly) my career begins.
My plan is to devote all three months of my summer to gaining work experience in the arts sector. I struggle to find space in my hectic music student diary during term for voluntary or part-time paid work, and while I do plenty of orchestral management and arts marketing through the Music Society and the University Chorus, I need to be able to show employers that I know how proper, ‘grown-up’ arts organisations operate.
So my summer is (hopefully) going to be spent volunteering for the Manchester International Festival, the Manchester Jazz Festival, the Just So Festival and the Manchester Camerata. Combined, these different experiences should set me up with a lot of useful new skills and contacts. This isn’t just career-mindedness, though: I’m also hoping to have a lot of fun!
Oh, and since I’m told the most attractive kind of work experience to employers is that which is self-generated, my housemate and I are organising a concert for the Teenage Cancer Trust in Glasgow next week – more to come on that, I’m sure, but if you can’t wait then there’s more information available here.
P.S. You’d have been able to read this blog a whole two hours sooner if I’d had my shiny new phone on the train…