Arts Ambassador Katherine Wells interviews Susan Beckett about her role as director of City Eye, the newest addition to Southampton’s Cultural Quarter.
Susan Beckett: My name is Susan Beckett and I am director of City Eye, a film and digital organisation based here in Southampton.
Katherine Wells: How did you come to work within the arts?
SB: I was always involved in arts and creative activity as a very small child – I danced, I had music lessons, was in theatrical productions, and was always involved. Then I worked in a number of different jobs and careers until I had the opportunity to work in the arts relatively late in my career. Prior to joining City Eye, I went to work for a company called Solent People’s Theatre, which is a community theatre organisation, again based in Southampton, which sadly doesn’t exist anymore. When I left there, I joined City Eye and I’ve been here for 15 years.
KW: Can you talk about your role now at City Eye?
SB: Yes, so as Director, I have day-to-day responsibility for everything in the company, from the staff to the projects, our accommodation, resources, our profile. Everything falls under me. I work with a small team – City Eye is an organisation which will always have a small core team, and then because our work is generally quite project-based, we will scale up, so we’ve got a team of peripheral workers, freelancers, experts, and specialists in different fields that we can bring together to create teams for specific projects. That’s how we manage our work and again, that’s my responsibility. City Eye is a charity, it has a board of trustees who I report to, who oversee the charity’s work and activities.
KW: So a bit of a coordinator then director?
It is a role so much about coordination of all those different aspects and activities. We’ve got a very broad range of work, from work with young people in schools, to outside of schools, we run workshops and activities, right through to our work supporting developing filmmakers and artists, so that’s a very different kind of support. It’s absolutely about coordinating all of those different activities and how they come together.
KW: How has City Eye brought wider awareness and engagement to the arts?
SB: Well City Eye is absolutely community-focused. We do work with artists and career filmmakers and industry specialists and experts for sure, but in its origins, City Eye was about reaching into the community, helping people to access film equipment, training, advice, and we do that to this day through community-based projects and work with the public and people who are not necessarily focused on film or digital careers. Filmmaking is a fantastic way of helping people develop soft skills, so it’s brilliant for confidence-building, communication, teamwork. We use filmmaking in that sense to help people and give voice to different communities in different ways. So that work is very much in our production field but then we also run regular screening programmes throughout the year and an annual film festival which again is very much about engaging the wider public with what we do. What we hope is that filmmakers and digital artists get better opportunities to showcase their work, because that’s always a challenge if you’re working in film. Getting your work seen, having those opportunities can be really tough, but equally I think it’s quite tough as a member of the general public to be discerning about the film and digital art that you engage with. We’re all very managed and sort of bombarded by the big studios and distributors and the mainstream films that are just shoved in our face. There’s an awful lot of fabulous independent, experimental film. Documentary, even now, doesn’t quite get the profile that it should do, although it’s improved. There’s just such rich opportunity out there to engage with film that people wouldn’t know about. So that’s part of our mission as well, to create those opportunities for people to see film works that they otherwise wouldn’t know about.
KW: What are your plans for 2019?
SB: Massive plans. We’re in the process here, at Studio 144, Southampton’s new development in the city, co-locating with the John Hansard Gallery and neighbours now to NST. So we’re the last of the three arts providers to locate and launch our programme, and our hope is we do that later in 2018 and then 2019 will be about launching and developing that programme, and bring people into the building and using these fabulous facilities that we have.
KW: What advice would you give someone wanting to establish themselves within the arts?
SB: I think you have to be true to yourself, follow your heart, but I think that often the mistake people make is that they overlook the value of a broader experience. Speaking from own perspective, as I said, I made my career in the arts relatively late. I worked in law, property, HR management and business, hospitality, marketing. I’ve had a number of different roles that enabled me to really broad, strong business experience and I think that has been absolutely invaluable. The ability to understand how different sectors and industries work is also really great. Very few people get to be a pure artist in their little bubble, creating their own work – you have to be able to engage and communicate with different people, so I think those are the main things that I would say. If you haven’t got your job doing what it is you want to do, whether it’s playing the violin or painting or sculpting, pursue that any way you can, but don’t underestimate the value of whatever you do need to do to get your bread and butter. If you’re working in Lidl checkout, that’s incredibly valuable experience: you’re meeting all kinds of people, you’re providing a service. Those are such positive skills to have. I don’t think anyone should feel they’re wasting their time.
Arts Ambassadors is a paid opportunity, supported by the Careers and Employability Service’s Excel Southampton Internship programme, University of Southampton