Our Director and CEO Dave Moutrey reflects on our first four years, the positive power of arts and culture and exciting times to come.
Last month, HOME hosted its annual PUSH Festival celebrating and showcasing creative talent from across the region. We presented work from 21 different companies and individuals to a record-breaking audience, and provided over 20 discussions, workshops and events designed to support and develop creatives across all artforms. I felt incredibly proud to be amongst artists from all stages of their career, celebrating creativity and speaking up for the city we live in today.
The PUSH Festival is just one of many examples of what HOME has offered since first opening its doors in May 2015. Our vision is to be “central to making Greater Manchester a major city celebrated for its distinctive art – art that enriches the lives and life chances of its people, a magnet for artists and creatives with the highest engagement in the arts in the UK.”
This is what we strive to achieve every day. And as Director & CEO, this is what I’ve strived to achieve since I started working in the arts more than 35 years ago.
I was born in Billingham, County Durham, where (growing up in the late 60’s and early 70s) the cultural provision was limited. Like most other young working-class people in my home town my normal career path would have been an apprenticeship in the ICI, shipyard or working on the Railways. Also like most working-class young people my parents wanted more than that for me. So, I was the first in my family to attend sixth form college, and the first to undertake an undergraduate degree.
I went on to study art education at Leeds Polytechnic, at which time the punk movement was emerging with its philosophy of DIY art. I had the realisation that art has the power to shift thinking, as well as provide a great night out. More importantly, I didn’t need anyone’s permission to make it. As a result, I set up my own small-scale part-time touring theatre company touring political work – to working men’s clubs, community venues and schools.
I moved to Manchester initially to teach but then started working full time in the arts at the Abraham Moss Centre Theatre 33 years ago. The world felt very different, although the sense of impending jeopardy was no less than it is now. During this period, we saw the collapse of traditional industries, mass unemployment, increased poverty, the rise of the right and civil unrest. Nevertheless, it felt like change was possible and that art had a role to play in bring communities together and standing up to injustice.
I’ve seen our society and our city change fundamentally over that last 20 years, but my philosophy has remained unchained and undimmed: art has the capacity to both agitate and entertain, but importantly to challenge and unite.
Since opening, we’ve achieved a great deal at HOME. In the first three years, we welcomed over 2.3m visits to an international programme of over 20,000 events in our cinemas, theatres and galleries. We became one of the few UK organisations to produce new work across theatre, visual art and cinema. Our engagement team worked with over 55,000 participants, and we set up a dedicated Talent Development team to support and build the creative potential of artists in the region.
These successes are testament to the passion and creative curiosity of our audiences, our committed volunteers (who are as much a part of our team as our staff), and one of the finest teams of arts professionals I could wish to work alongside.
But in the short time since HOME first opened its doors, we’ve seen some of the most seismic changes in our national landscape for a generation. Cracks are appearing in our social fabric, some of which threaten to cause deep divisions in our communities. The nature of “truth” is being questioned in our media, and regimes across the world are silencing dissenting voices. Whilst art can’t be the only solution, as custodians of our artistic organisations we have an obligation to shine a questioning light on division and injustice and celebrate those things that as human beings we all share.
In a challenging international landscape, arts organisations across the country are experiencing a precarious future, with standstill or (in most cases) reduced funding and rising costs. To remain relevant, arts organisations will need to do more with less.
I strongly believe that our vision for HOME is as relevant today as when it was first written. It is even more pressing that we continue to produce original new theatre productions, exhibitions and films made in Manchester and for Manchester that explore universal themes. But I am determined that we must evolve our approach to ensure we can deliver even more for audiences and artists to do so.
We want to be more representative of our city. As Director of HOME, I am committing to approaching our programme in a more collaborative way. I want to introduce more vantage points to the conversation, shaping the work we create and the work we bring into HOME. Part of this team is our new role of Associate Director, which we have advertised today. This is a role specifically for a theatre specialist, who wants to develop their own practice and the work of others, and to have an impact beyond the theatre programme. We will also be adding new artists to our family of Associates soon. We fundamentally believe that this will help us a develop a programme that appeals across the city region and welcomes new audiences to HOME.
We want to play our part in making Manchester the best place to be an artist. We’ve made a real impact in supporting artists in their development, and help break the ceiling for many artists at certain points in their career. We don’t want to ghettoise artists as “emerging”. We want to better service the artistic ecology of the region and the country, and be THE place artists want to develop their practice and reach even more people. We’re therefore increasing our investment in commissions and talent development to provide genuine opportunities for artists flourish. The tip of this iceberg is already emerging, with David Bethell’s Fleeting Flights (currently in our Gallery) and our HOME commissions from the likes of Javaad Alipoor and Liz Richardson.
We want our programme to have a clear and unified vision. I’ve come to realise that HOME is at its strongest when the programme is united. The performances on our stages connect with the programme in our latest film season, or the work in our gallery resonates with the ideas on stage and screen. At these times, HOME is so much more than a cinema, theatre and gallery with a shared foyer. It’s a place that inspires and sparks ideas, a place for conversation and debate, to see the world in new ways – a place to celebrate the positive power of art, culture and what it means to be human.
I am incredibly fortunate to talk regularly with audiences and artists from across the Greater Manchester and beyond. If you are from Manchester you will know that audiences are always very happy and ready to tell you what they think! For my colleagues at HOME and I, these conversations and feedback are our lifeblood. Whilst we’re incredibly proud of what HOME stands for, and the way we serve our city, we know we can do more and do better.
As a working-class person from the North East I had the great fortune to be inspired by the arts, not to build a career (that was just by-product) but to think in a different way. We should never lose sight of the fact that HOME is here to entertain you. But now, more than ever, its important that the arts and our arts organisations stand up and reflect the communities that they serve. We hope you’ll come and join us again soon.