Arts Ambassador Katherine Wells discusses careers in the arts and opportunities at your local venues with Kevin Appleby, Concert Hall Manager at Turner Sims
Kevin Appleby: I’m Kevin Appleby and I am the Concert Hall Manager of Turner Sims.
Katherine Wells: How did you come to work within the arts?
KA: Well it’s interesting – I was a music student quite a long time ago now at UEA in Norwich and I wasn’t a very good performer, I have to say. I was very bad at playing the violin and other instruments like that, so I focused on wanting to do arts administration. When I joined and I was in first year, I wanted to work with orchestras and choirs in the city in Norwich and ended up ushering at various events, going to do various concerts in the city centre as well as at the university, and it developed from there, so that by the time I left UEA I was moving on to work for an orchestra in London who’d met me while I was a student, who said ‘We’ve got a place that’s available in our management team, would you like to come and join us?’, as a volunteer at that point. I spent ten years managing orchestras in London, working for concert venues around the place, doing all manner of different concerts from classical concerts to pop bands at Wembley Arena. Then, I moved on to directing a festival for five years, which was everything from stand-up comedy to ABBA and Madness tribute bands in the open air and symphony concerts in cathedrals, and then came to Turner Sims in 2000.
KW: Can you talk about your role now at Turner Sims?
KA: Yes, so my role as concert hall manager I suppose is two roles. One is that I’m the artistic director for the programmes. So we have a promoted season of about 75-80 concerts that takes place throughout the year – classical music, contemporary jazz, world music, and folk music – and I programme the whole series working with artists, with agents, with various partner venues, and with various partner supporters and sponsors across the whole year to make that program happen. The other part of it is being the head of the organization. We are funded by the Arts Council, supported by the university, and we’re part of the university so conversations with the university, with the Arts Council, with various other supporters, I lead on those. We’re members of the Europe Jazz Network, so I have meetings with colleagues across Europe. We’re members of the British Association of Concert Halls, so we’ve got a network with concert halls across the UK, so all those discussions about issues we face as venues and promoters, but also the opportunities that rise for working together and partnership projects, are things that we organize there. From the university’s point of view, the conversation of academics and students is all about how we can then develop something which reflects the unique space that we sit in, because not every concert hall in the UK sits upon a university campus. So we’ve got something very distinctive to be able to develop, whether that’s tying in with research projects or whether that’s working with students that have the enthusiasm to be able to make lots of things happen and how we can help them deliver that.
KW: How has Turner Sims brought wider awareness and engagement of the arts to the public?
KA: Being on the campus, at Highfield for a start, is right at the heart of things. Therefore, it’s a visible presence and the program we develop here is a mix of those artists that people are familiar with and so if you’re coming to study or work here then there’s people who’ll be very familiar to you, well-known musicians across all the various art forms that are working. But the other thing we do is to try and introduce some of the new names, the rising stars, so that there’s that opportunity to see those people right on your doorstep, so you don’t have to travel to London to see these artists. The programme is very distinctive from that perspective. But within that there’s opportunities for students to get student-priced tickets and the opportunities for the chamber music program where there’s a free ticket scheme supported by the Cavatina Music Trust, which gives free tickets for all the string quartets and piano quartets that we present. There’s all manner of ways to get involved as part of the whole with the initiatives we try to put on. Whether it’s coming to a workshop, being part of a master class, or just meeting the artists, which is something we’ve got contacts with as we go through preparing the season. But if one wants to meet some of the artists here then one can do that, just talk to us and it will happen.
KW: Specifically, what are your plans for 2019?
KA: We’re just about to launch the autumn 2018 season, which runs from September through to January, and there’s a really interesting mix there, with some of the jazz names coming in from Germany, Holland, and Scandinavia as well. We’re working with Southampton Film Week to present Metropolis, which is a silent film, but we’re bringing in two musicians to do live accompaniment to it, which will be an amazing event. The film lasts two and a half hours, but it’s an iconic film to go and see. There’s Jess Gillam, who’s a saxophone player, who’s playing the last night of the BBC proms – she’s here in January (2019) doing a recital. Then when we get to the spring, there’s all manner of different projects going on: tie-ups with International Women’s Day, tie-ups with the science day on campus, and more exciting jazz programs that we’re trying to develop with friends across Europe.
KW: What kind of advice would you give someone trying to establish themselves in the arts?
KA: I would say be persistent and be curious. A lot of the artists who are working here and being part of the series have started from just having a vision or determination to do something, and if you can talk to those people then you can learn about how their career path was, how they made it work. But to be honest, if I think about what I did, I just made a nuisance of myself. So from the moment you start in first year, make sure that if you want to learn about how the arts work, then talk to us and become an usher at the concert hall. Come to the concerts and say ‘Can I meet the artists?’, ‘How do you put on concerts here?’, ‘Why do you put these artists on?’, ‘What makes this work?’, ‘What makes that work?’. The more that you can build up that knowledge and that insight and interest, means when you get to the stage of thinking about what you want to do after you’ve graduated, then if you go into an interview situation, you have all manner of skills, knowledge, and insights that the other people who are being interviewed won’t actually have, because you’ll have seen it first-hand. But as I say, it’s being curious, say ‘Why did this happen?’, ‘Why does that happen?’ rather than just going ‘Oh, it’s like it is because it is’.
Arts Ambassadors is a paid opportunity, supported by the Careers and Employability Service’s Excel Southampton Internship programme, University of Southampton