Spotlight On: Ben MacDonald, Artistic Planning Manager

Ben MacDonald (far left) with AP colleagues Sam McShane, Gemma Carlin and Matt Adam © Robert McFadzean

Where are you?

In my flat in Whiteinch, Glasgow, where I live alone. No pets.

Current work wear of choice?

This probably depends on the day of the week ”¦ I start by getting dressed as normal and then end up in a tracky or shorts and hoody AKA lounge wear.

How are you connecting with students?

We had some masterclasses in the diary with visiting artists, which have taken place online.

We’re also looking at other masterclass opportunities that can take place remotely in the new term. Sam McShane, Head of Artistic Planning, has also created an online series, RCS Presents, featuring archive and special at-home performances from staff and visiting artists.

What’s on your reading list?

My AP colleague Gemma Carlin and I went to Waterstones on our last day at RCS (just before it shut) and stocked up on some books. I’ve just finished The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell and have just started Nightingale Point by Luan Goldie. I go through phases of reading but now that I have some time, I’m aiming for a book a week.

What are you watching/listening to online?

Obviously, I watched The Tiger King and loved it; the perfect binge! I’ve also downloaded Disney+ (no shame) and have a huge list of movies to watch on that. Over the weekend I watched Zootropolis and can’t recommend it enough it’s brilliant! I’ve also started watching Nip/Tuck on Amazon from Season one it’s really old and trashy but I love it.

Podcasts: Chris and Rosie Ramsey’s Sh*gged. Married. Annoyed (me and Gemma have tickets to the live podcast fingers crossed!).

I’ve also been listening to Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People with Chris Gethard. One phone call. One hour. No names. No holds barred. Each week the host opens the phone line to one anonymous caller, and he can’t hang up first. It’s just two strangers having a conversation. The stories and discussions can be fascinating and thought provoking, often full of twists anything can happen. It’s amazing how vested you become and how much you can learn about a stranger’s life after listening to them have a conversation for an hour. Weird but cool.

Music: the Artistic Planning team each created a playlist of 12 tracks, so I’ve been listening to them quite a bit. They are all so different! I think my favourite for working to is Rosie Munro’s, it’s so chill! And Roberto’s takes me to warmer climates.

You can find mine here. Another go-to playlist of mine for working at home is Spotify’s Altar.

How long have you been at RCS?

I started in January 2013 so seven-and-a-half-years.

What drew you here?

Exposure to so many art forms under one roof.

What do you love most about your role?

The students: we’re a relatively small institution so you really get to know them over the years and see them develop as a person and an artist. It’s also exciting to follow their careers after they graduate, seeing them out there working professionally.

The artists: meeting and working with internationally renowned artists is pretty amazing!

We’ve had some huge names over the years and it’s our job to make sure they leave RCS having had a successful performance, feeling looked after and wanting to come back.

The Artistic Planning team: they are the best and make coming to work (most days) not feel like ‘work’. Everyone is committed to his or her work and respectful of each other. Collectively, we all work really hard to enhance the student experience and have a fun time doing it.

What drives and inspires you?

The end result. Hard work pays off.

Describe a typical day?

This is such a hard question to answer. As everyone at RCS will say, there isn’t really a typical day. During term time we can have multiple rehearsals, performances, projects and events on one day (all whilst planning the next). Our office is extremely busy with lots of comings and goings. As you would expect, in the months and weeks before a concert goes meticulous planning, scheduling, emails, meetings and then there is the management of the concerts themselves. We don’t have a set working pattern as it’s determined by our performance schedule (lots of long days, evenings and weekends).

The Artistic Planning team is involved in up to 200 events a year, all ranging in complexity. Due to the vast variety of activity that we look after there is no typical day.

At home: working from home has been a massive shock to the system and has taken a lot of getting used to. I’ve tried to stick to as much of a routine as possible. With no events, it’s a much slower pace but we now have time to really focus on the next academic year which is exciting! Microsoft Teams has meant that everyone at RCS has managed to stay well connected. I’ve been trying to get out for a walk every day for fresh air and have been doing home workouts too.

What sparked your love of the arts?

I’ve always been relatively creative and have always loved music.

In a work capacity – everyone’s passion and commitment. From the artists to production and management, everyone tends to be here because they choose to be and have a common interest. When I was younger, I worked in jobs surrounded by people who were miserable and just ended up in the positions they were in, and to be honest the thought of that terrified me. Generally, in the arts and cultural sector, the work ethic is strong and there is a real sense of community and belonging.

What do you recall about your own training?

In a previous life, the plan at one point was to go on to study law after working for various law firms. I completed my two years of legal services and then decided it wasn’t for me. I went on to study events but would say my real training started once I was out there working in arts/events, learning from the expertise I’ve always been lucky to be surrounded by.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Be patient but not complacent. Allow yourself to have good days and bad days but never lose hope. You never know what’s round the corner and what tomorrow might bring.

Career highlights?

2018-19 was a big year: bringing together RCS musicians, ballet dancers and alumni actor Sam Heughan, mezzo-soprano Karen Cargill and conductor Jessica Cottis to perform for our Patron, HRH Prince Charles, at The Prince’s Foundation gala dinner at Buckingham Palace.

RCS students and staff students performing at the Scottish Parliament’s 20th anniversary ceremony (watch from 47.28 below).


Staff, students and alumni performing at the Solheim Cup gala reception and dinner with Twin Atlantic (below).

More recently, the Rosin Chamber Weekend with the Brodsky Quartet. Across the weekend, all Beethoven’s String Quartets were performed by the Brodsky Quartet, Brodsky Quartet side-by-side with RCS, RCS Quartets and we also invited quartets from music school across the country.

Performing side-by-side with the Brodsky’s was such an amazing opportunity for the students. It was really satisfying to see the project come together after all the prep. And the quartet are all so lovely! Conversations have already started regarding future projects.

Celtic Connections: Phil Cunningham’s Highlands and Islands Suite (below) at Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall in 2017 was also epic! I think I was the most we’ve ever had on stage at one time.

I could go on and on”¦ we do so much. It’s too hard!

Your most memorable RCS moment?

I’m probably going to have to say Buckingham Palace last June. The lead-in time was short for what we had to deliver so the pressure was on. It was a real team effort and we couldn’t have been more prepared if we tried. The performance on the night was top class I wish there was a way our community could see it!

I also found all the planning really interesting as we were in new territory and learned loads. We had to ask so many questions as a team and make sure that no stone was left unturned. It was a pretty surreal experience and such a big undertaking but one I’ll never forget.

Copyright Ian Jones Photo

© Ian Jones Photo

Your advice for students during this time?

Have some downtime, enjoy the peace and stay safe. Your schedules will be jam-packed again before you know it”¦

Describe RCS in three words?




Artistic Planning is instrumental in RCS performance. Find out more about the team in Review, the RCS magazine.


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