Creative Sparks: The Rise of the Enterprising Artist

Above: visual minutes by Claire Stringer from More than Minutes © Robert McFadzean

Creativity and curiosity flow through the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, a place of bold innovators and imaginative thinkers.

Harnessing that spirit of enterprise and guiding students, staff and alumni is the RCS Knowledge Exchange (KE), which aims to develop the institution’s relationship with the community and the world at large.

“We work in a co-curricular manner, supporting the ongoing work at RCS, and our small team delivers a range of initiatives for both staff and students” says Deborah Keogh, Knowledge Exchange Manager.

“Knowledge Exchange (KE) is an area which is developing very quickly across the higher education sector. It’s about the institution’s relationship with the wider world and how our expert staff engage with and co-create with partners from a range of settings and sectors.

“It’s about public engagement, collaborative working, enterprise and innovation. Our department at RCS drives the more strategic aspects of KE and we have worked to build strength in areas such as enterprise in recent years.”

The vital public engagement work that universities do took on even greater significance in the early stages of Covid-19.

“An article in the Guardian highlighted the range of new products and inventions that universities quickly made available during the crisis, from face masks, mental health resources and ventilation equipment, to having a Conservatoire in your living room, in reference to the incredible performances produced by students and colleagues through our channel RCS at Home all of this is Knowledge Exchange.”

Deborah Keogh (far left) with RCS Research colleagues

One of the major additions to the RCS calendar is Make It Happen, an initiative that encourages new creative enterprise projects and supports existing ones. From a pilot project in 2017 to test the waters, the scheme has developed into two considerable strands; Make It Happen Month and Make It Happen Fund. Make It Happen Month takes place in November and offers a series of events, workshops and panel discussions to help get ideas, projects, companies and collaborations off the ground.

The Make It Happen Fund is a micro-funding initiative that gives recent graduates access to a competitive pot of seed funding to support their career goals and ambitions.

Earlier this month, thirteen emerging artists received awards through the Make It Happen Fund in areas such as training, networking, testing ideas, starting up companies, staging pop-up events and forming new collaborations.

Exploring mental health through physical performance, musical workshops for children and a short film that examines the human connection to land and sea ”¦ they’re just a few ways in which the thirteen graduates will harness the power and potential of the performing arts as they take their first steps on their professional paths. Read more about the artists, and their plans, here.

At the heart of the RCS Knowledge Exchange team is collaboration and that led to the emergence of SHIFT, a partnership between RCS, The Glasgow School of Art and Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh.

Funded by the Scottish Funding Council through the University Innovation Fund, the programme is designed to help artists and performers hone key skills in a bid to ease the transition into the industry.

SHIFT, open to RCS students and recent alumni, is a progressive five-day online workshop, from September 7 to 11, facilitated by leaders in design innovation, performing and production arts, screen, curation and creative project management and more.


Part of the role of the Research and Knowledge Exchange team has been influencing the wider enterprise development scene in Scotland. RCS contributed to the development of a new strand of the Converge company creation programme Creative Converge targeting innovative new business ideas from staff and students of creative industries programmes across the Higher Education Institution sector in Scotland.

“This year we were delighted that one of our Musical Theatre students, Jonathan O’Neill, secured a place on Creative Converge, and he has been working on developing a new education product for children,” says Deborah.

Meanwhile, RCS alumni from drama, dance, production and film backgrounds can apply for the Bruce Millar Graduate Fellowship, a major funding pot of up to £10,000 to develop single arts, creative industries or research and development projects over a 15-month period after graduation.

“The seven semi-finalists for this year’s prize have delivered their full proposals and will present them to a panel of industry experts in early July. It’s a fantastic opportunity for one of our students to embark on their career with resource and support.”

Also among the considerable output from RKE are regular Exchange Talks, a series of public seminars in which members of staff, academia and the wider professions share their insights on art, society and issues impacting communities. During lockdown, these talks became online events, and are now available on RCS at Home.

“This format was a great way to draw in audiences interested in specific research topics from around the world. So what we lost in terms of the intimacy of these regular research talks, we gained in terms of new audiences and new connections.”


Find out more about Research and Knowledge Exchange at RCS.

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