Making It Happen: five years of support for creative enterprise and innovation at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland

Making It Happen: five years of support for creative enterprise and innovation at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland

Published: 08/12/2022

A culture of creative enterprise, an environment to help ideas thrive, and support to help dreams come to life …  a new publication captures five years of enterprise and innovation support at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS).

Making It Happen distils and celebrates the growth of Knowledge Exchange (KE) at RCS catalysed through the University Innovation Fund, and profiles the pioneering arts practitioners whose entrepreneurial spirit has helped them forge a unique path through the creative landscape.

Artists and alumni, including folksinger Iona Fyfe and filmmaker Fraser Scott, offer first-hand accounts of how support from the Knowledge Exchange team at RCS has impacted their careers and voice their experiences in making their way as creatives – juggling everything from funding and the pandemic to the challenges of freelance life and carving out time and space to make and promote new work.

Professor Jeffrey Sharkey, Principal of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, said: “As performers, makers and educators, reaching outside the walls of the conservatoire to audiences, partners and participants has always been our mission.

“This publication is the reflection of participants and others on the impact of the Scottish Funding Council’s University Innovation Fund (UIF) to support their artistic and career development.”

Knowledge Exchange is defined as a collaborative, creative endeavour that translates knowledge and research into impact in society and the economy. At RCS, the Knowledge Exchange team offers support for students and staff to reach out and make connections beyond the Conservatoire.

It also offers a space for the RCS community to develop their skills as freelance artists through bespoke training opportunities, seed funds, workshops, and an expansive network of support and expertise.

Deborah Keogh, Knowledge Exchange Manager at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, sees KE as a driver and facilitator of engagement, as a vehicle for understanding the institution’s civic role and its potential as a national and global conservatoire.

“The University Innovation Fund has enabled us to step up, responding to national priorities in our own way from our unique position. It has allowed us to prioritise activity, initially in areas that would create the strongest impact, around enterprise and collaborative working with other institutions.

“The UIF has supported thinking and strategic development on global challenges such as the climate crisis and the role of the arts in society, but it has also made an immediate difference to students and graduates – preparing them for life as an arts professional.”

Knowledge Exchange activity at RCS includes:

  • Make It Happen events: workshops supporting freelancing skills, tailored to students working in an arts context.
  • Make It Happen Fund: annual seed funding competition for recent UK-based alumni to develop projects after graduation.
  • Bruce Millar Graduate Fellowship: a major annual fellowship of £10,000 for final-year students and recent graduates from the School of Drama, Dance, Production and Film.
  • SHIFT: an inspiring, week-long development programme shaped around the professional practice needs freelance artists and creative micro enterprises.  It is a collaboration with The Glasgow School of Art and Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh in association with Creative Entrepreneurs Club alongside a roster of industry professionals.
  • Innovation Studio: a two-year pilot programme to facilitate new opportunities for ideas development and interdisciplinary collaboration through a series of workshops, panels, online discussions, and seed funds.
  • Exchange Talks: a weekly programme of inspirational talks from invited artists and researchers from both across the RCS community and beyond.

Professor Stephen Broad, Director of Research and Knowledge Exchange, said: “The University Innovation Fund has enabled us to be truly proactive in how we support, facilitate and promote knowledge exchange and innovation.

“Knowledge Exchange feels like a tool for thinking about what we do – for analysis and strategic planning and highlights what we’re for as an institution, our place, our influence, our potential. Knowledge Exchange encourages a frame of thinking about how our staff, students and graduates engage effectively with diverse audiences, participants, professional partners (and more) and how, as makers and innovators, we reflect and positively impact wider society.”

The Making It Happen publication features interviews with RCS Traditional Music graduate and folksinger Iona Fyfe, whose career was soaring and then the pandemic hit. Make It Happen funding helped her make and promote two new singles to reset her career. Iona is both a singer and an activist and she talks about her campaigns to raise awareness of the Scots language and her advocacy against sexual harassment and discrimination in the folk music industry.

Fraser Scott, award-winning director and writer and graduate of the BA Filmmaking programme, touches on the complicated business of juggling finances and planning in filmmaking, as well as premiering his new musical Thread. Like so many RCS graduates, Fraser is a multi-disciplinary artist, equally at home in directing and writing, film making, theatre and musical theatre – and an avid collaborator. Fraser shares his thoughts on the importance of support from the Make It Happen fund which helped him see a short film through the many stages of development.

Musical theatre partnership Jonathan O’Neill and Isaac Savage, recipients of the Bruce Millar Graduate Fellowship 2021/22, discuss their professional connections, including Dundee Rep and the National Theatre of Scotland, and how support from KE helped them to develop confidence in their business skills. The duo, BA Musial Theatre graduates, also argue their case for innovation in the musical theatre genre, creating accessible work that moves beyond tired old adaptations and ‘jazz hands’ clichés. 

Performing musician and teacher Isla Ratcliff discusses balancing elements of a freelance career and how the support and camaraderie of the SHIFT programme came just at the right time. A musician with a portfolio career, Isla shares how concentrated and undisturbed time to focus on her music (funded by Make It Happen) was hugely significant. She also shares the way the traditional music industry operates, including the importance of touring an album – and negotiating those tours with part-time employers.

Anya Sirina and Sinéad Hargan’s year-long research into performance-making in and around tidal sites was supported by the Bruce Millar Graduate Fellowship. The BA Contemporary Performance Practice graduates reveal their approach to navigating the professional art world at the time of the pandemic: moving out of the studio and offline at a time when everything else seemed to be online and indoors. They discuss the nature of their work, its relationship to the environment in the context of climate action, and its often-playful relationship with impromptu audiences.



Visit the Knowledge Exchange to find out more about its impact at RCS and beyond


Main image: visual minutes by Claire Stringer from More than Minutes

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