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Guest Blog: from NTU student to The Cutting Room

The Cutting Room due
The Cutting Room due

Clare Harris and Jennifer Ross

I would never have imagined after graduating that I would set up my own business and be working in the arts. I must admit, I kind of fell into it, an act of sliding doors opening and closing around me. Three years later my colleague and I find ourselves with an office at Nottingham Playhouse, running a new digital arts programme, Digital Stage with a hungry ambition to expand.

In all honesty after my degree in Fine Art at Nottingham Trent University (NTU) I had every intention to a) not stay in Nottingham and b) move to a job in the public sector. During my final year, I by chance signed up to a series of tutorials with Terry Shave, Head of Visual Arts, School of Art and Design, a man I admire and have a great deal of respect for. He was amused by my visions of working in the police when it was clear to him I should be working in the arts. With a breadth of contacts, knowledge and experience he really does know what he is talking about.

I was fortunate that he invited me for a meeting with a fellow graduate, Jennifer Ross. It’s hazy in my memory but I remember being a little amazed as he offered us an internship at the Nottingham Playhouse. As we were about to leave he said: ‘Decide a group name for yourselves,’ and those famous words of his ‘leave the rest with me’. On exiting he advised us to sort ourselves out with a business card and website and come back see him in a few weeks. Excited and giddy at the prospect we did just that.

When we graduated in 2010, the financial climate was just coming to a crunch. I decided to stay on in Nottingham with the prospect of the internship. I had obtained employment whilst studying and saved enough money to tide me over for a year in Nottingham, while I took a moment to decide what it was I enjoyed doing and what it was I didn’t. Being a little cautious I also tried to apply for part time jobs but found myself in that awful predicament; I was either over qualified or had too little experience.

In the autumn of 2010 Nottingham was becoming an even more exciting place in the build up for the BAS7 (British Art Show) which was being hosted at the Nottingham Contemporary.

Before I knew it we were at the Nottingham Playhouse planning and delivering three events over the course of three months which coincided with the fringe event to BAS7. Alongside that we also presented a film screening and Q&A at Broadway Cinema with the support of Matt Davenport.

Filled with a determined confidence we persuaded established artists such as David Blandy and Oriana Fox to present their work in our events. I remember our very first studio visit to see David. As we stood on his studio doorstep, we tried to stifle our delight to ensure we came across as well versed professionals however, when he opened the door he found two beaming, rather young curators, in their Sunday best to greet him. It did not take him long to unravel that he was in fact our first artist!

Looking back, I must admit those three months were a steep learning curve as we were no longer under the protective wing of the university. However, somehow we worked together and pulled it off.

After Christmas, more doors opened. David Blandy offered us an internship in London, Oriana Fox offered us the premiere of her new performance The Do It All Dating Game. With an unshaken confidence we contacted Rob Blackson, directly and offered him the exclusive premiere of Oriana’s performance. He agreed to meet with us. It was only as we walked through the doors and asked the receptionist to call through to him that I began to feel a little nervous as I realised that we were going to a meeting with the Public Programmer of the Nottingham Contemporary.

He was impressed with us. He admired our determination and bold ideas and wanted to support us in this venture.

The Do It All Dating Game at Nottingham ContemporaryThe Do It All Dating Game was a huge success as we held a sell-out event. Blind date verses multi-tasking activities such as trampolining, painting and making a sandwich, with contestants vying against each other to win a date with an established artist. It was chaotic, hilarious and most definitely fun although I must admit when the mayonnaise started to fly I did for the first time realise I am responsible for this. We had curated a performance for the Nottingham Contemporary.

The Nottingham Playhouse heard of our success and invited us to curate an exhibition which would coincide with NEAT11 (National European Arts and Theatre Festival) which they were hosting in the summer. This was where we moved from film and performance pieces to digital. Working with a local group of artists The Engagement Party, propelled us into the specialism of digital, interactive artworks.

We learnt a lot in our internship with David Blandy, who had generously mentored us in how to apply for funding and gain partnerships. Impressed with the exhibition we had pulled together for them, Stephanie Sirr and Giles Croft agreed to us working at the Nottingham Playhouse more permanently. Over the course of 8 weeks we typed and researched late into the night as we pulled together our first application for a GFA (Grants for the Arts) funding.

Application in, it was the end of my year of deciding what I wanted to do with my life. The finances were depleted and I had to make the hard decision of returning home to Devon as I ascertained where the next door would open. Two long months later, I received a call that stepped up our game in the creative scene. We had been successful and would be funded for the next year.

2012 was a whirl wind of fun and hard graft. Lessons were learnt left, right and centre as we grappled with the our new job roles. We were thrown in at the deep end as we learnt how to deal with the challenges of different personalities, audience development, overcoming technical problems and the limitations of a listed building as we executed each exhibition to an even higher standard. We suddenly had to learn about marketing, fundraising, staff liaison and health and safety to a far deeper level than ever before. Presenting exhibitions at this level, we learnt was a world away from presenting work when we were students.

The doors may have opened for us but we could not have made The Cutting Room a success without the support and guidance from our colleagues at the Nottingham Playhouse and our own determination which has enabled us to meet each challenge head on.

I must admit, I am amazed at how much we have achieved in the last few years. We have worked with a vast range of prestigious organisations in the East Midlands and are in the process of expanding our reach.  It’s exciting to think, what door will open next?

 

xx

Clare and Jen were the judges for the Digital Award at Nottingham’s Young Creative Award this year. Here they are with the winners: Joshua Chaplin, Thomas Russell, Jen Ross, Barry Martin and Clare Harris


The Cutting Room is a curatorial organisation initiated by Clare Harris and Jennifer Ross, producing events to engage and inspire new audiences through digital new media, film and performance.  See them on www.the-cutting-room.org,  on Facebook,  and Twitter: @TheCUTTINGR00M

Photo credits (from top to bottom):

  • The Cutting Room, Craig Newson Photography (www.memoryboxmedia.co.uk) 2013
  • Do It All Dating Game at Nottingham Contemporary with Oriana Fox, The Cutting Room, 2011.
  • Young Creatives Digital Entry Winners, Alice Thickett photography, 2013