As Create celebrates its 20th anniversary, Chief Executive Wendy Holroyd reflects on its triumphs and troubles and on what’s next for the Yorkshire coast’s champion of the arts…
Scarborough’s arts scene in the 1990s was, a little like Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author, full of talent and with stories to tell, but without direction.
Enter stage left, Scarborough Arts Week, a first stab at showcasing the town’s creative talent and the early embryonic stages of what would become Create, an arts development body to give the local creative sector a forum, a direction and a voice.
Wendy Holroyd, Create’s current Chief Executive, explains: “The creative sector at that time was bursting with talent and there was a lot going on, but there was nobody co-ordinating it.
“Scarborough Arts Week was the first thing to try to rectify that and turned out to be a great success and led to more events and activities. Finally, the arts was moving forward.”
Eventually re-named Create in 2002 the group became an Arts Council Regularly Funded Organisation, placing it on a more permanent, rather than ad hoc, footing and enabling it to employ a co-ordinator.
Fortuitously, arts and culture was recognised as being pivotal to Scarborough’s rejuvenation when the town was included in an urban renaissance programme at the start of the new millennium.
This pitched Create centre stage in the renaissance and the organisation grew, notably as a forum for the creative sector and catalyst for events like the biennial Festival of Light.
Wendy came on board in 2007, having been Arts Development Officer with Scarborough Borough Council and with a background and education steeped in the arts.
Her priority was to bring together a festival that would put Scarborough’s arts scene on the map.
“Create had become the glue that held the local creative sector together and we were providing leadership, advocacy and events, but I must admit, with my background in festivals and performing arts, what I really wanted to do, to bring together the creative arts community, was organise a festival,” Wendy adds.
So Coastival became one of Create’s biggest triumphs. An annual, “short, sharp” February arts festival brought an eclectic mix of traditional and unusual arts to Scarborough residents and visitors. The festival has grown steadily in popularity since its first incarnation in 2009 – featuring a headline concert by Feeder - and now attracts thousands of visitors to the main event – held every two years – and only slightly fewer to the mini festival every other year.
For Wendy, Coastival’s success epitomises one of the core values of Create.
“Coastival’s remit was always about bringing the arts to people who might not otherwise experience them and above all, doing so free of charge,” she says. “There are lots of instances where money is a barrier to people enjoying the arts and when it is, they don’t go. Yes, we do have paid events as part of Coastival, we have to, but overall the festival is about making art, in a wild and varied mix of forms, accessible to all.
“I think of all the things that Create has done, bringing the arts to people in a way that money isn’t a barrier, is the thing I am most proud of.”
In its 20 years, Create has faced challenges along the way, the most difficult of which has been funding.
“We are just like so many other arts organisations in that funding is regularly an issue. It is difficult, having wonderful ideas, plans and projects but not being able to see them through because there simply isn’t the money available to do them,” adds Wendy. “That has been the biggest frustration, but we aren’t alone in that.”
She admits to being annoyed that investment in the arts is always the first thing to be cut.
“It clearly isn’t a statutory service and so gets cut before anything else,” she says. “And yet people don’t realise the impact ‘the arts’ in its broadest term has and what a bland, grey world we would live in if we didn’t have it.
“For many, talk about the arts and they think of galleries or of theatre or opera – but the arts are also film, music, television. Cuts to the arts affects those things too, but people don’t realise.”
She also sees creativity as fundamental to current and future technology.
“If you look to the future, art and creativity is central to so much that is changing and shaping our world,” Wendy adds. “Think of computer games, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, art is fundamentally at the core of those things.”
Create reflected this last year when it hosted an attempt by computer game users to create Scarborough in Minecraft as part of Coastival.
Embracing new technology will be a part of Create’s pathway in the future, alongside other new avenues to explore.
“Create will change in the next 10 years as we move forward,” she says. “I think the whole wellbeing agenda will be quite significant for us. The arts are a strong vehicle for wellbeing and we are seeing creative therapies used in all sorts of ways, from aiding mental health to other illnesses too.
“I also see us working more with young people and in particular unemployed young people, and playing a role in giving people new skills.”
Create’s door is always open to helping people set up an arts-based business, an area Wendy says is poorly served.
“There is less and less business advice around generally now and it must be quite daunting for anyone setting out to try to make a living out of the arts. If people are trying to start their own business we can help – from working out a budget, to cash-flows and business plans.”
Geographically too, Create is looking to grow.
“Our remit is for the borough of Scarborough but that doesn’t stop us looking at opportunities further afield, across Ryedale, the East Riding and beyond,” she adds. “We don’t know what is to come – that’s part of the excitement. We must continue to listen to and to work with young people, because that is where the change is coming. But at the same time we must continue to nurture, protect and promote the traditional arts, by giving them a forum, a voice and a festival to showcase them.”
She is positive about the future, despite that ever-present lack of arts funding.
“That has always been the case,” she concludes. “I think some of the best art and creativity comes when times are hard. What we need are more people in positions of power who ‘get it’, who are passionate about the arts and the contribution the arts make to so much of our world. Things would be so much easier and better then.”
In the meantime, Create will continue to be that advocate for the arts as it looks ahead at the next 20 years.
“I’m proud of what we have achieved,” adds Wendy. “But there’s lots more to come, so onward and upwards.”