Artist Commissions – Exeter Northcott Archive Project

We are inviting expressions of interest from artists based in the South West (or with a strong connection to the area) working in any medium, visual or otherwise, for two available commissions of up to £5000 each to create artworks in response to the Northcott Theatre archive and its ongoing heritage project, supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

 

About the Heritage Project

Exeter Northcott Theatre’s archive is housed with the University of Exeter Special Collections and comprises of operational and production records spanning the period from its opening in 1967 to its refurbishment in 2007. There is also a collection of photographic records of productions and actors, and a growing collection of oral histories. The archive is a valuable piece of South West theatre history, showcasing the theatre as a training ground for writers, makers and performers of note. Key themes of interest include: the role of the theatre in the community; the development of regional theatre in the southwest; the changing face of stagecraft; the impact of women on the theatre’s history; the representation of arts practitioners and communities with diverse heritages including African diaspora people, South, East and South East Asian diaspora people, and recent immigrants to Exeter and Devon; the accessibility of the arts for disabled people and people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

Our heritage project is a partnership with the University of Exeter and community partners. Its aim is to connect Exeter communities to the Northcott archive, enable them to explore the voices and stories within the archive; and to expand this resource through capturing and generating new memories. The project enables participants to debate the relevance of the archive and its stories to our understanding of the role of theatre today.

We are seeking to commission artworks that are informed by our archive content, and which build on the participative and community-focused aims of our heritage project. Proposals for artworks in all media, whether visual, sound, performance-based or otherwise, are welcomed.

The display or staging of the final artworks will depend on the artist’s chosen medium and aims. Potential sites and opportunities include: the theatre building and associated sites; Exeter University webpages dedicated to the heritage project and theatre archive; a 2022 ‘festival of the archive’ at the theatre; a mobile exhibition featuring key outputs of the project which will tour to local cultural venues (e.g. RAMM) and community spaces; and a series of heritage open days at the theatre.

A collaborative approach is very important – the successful artist(s) will work closely with the project’s curator, Kathryn Johnson, and a commissioning circle of community representatives to develop their ideas and respond to the diverse materials, activity and outputs produced by this project. The artist will also be supported by the theatre’s Heritage Manager, Sophie McCormack, and the wider team at the theatre in the delivery of their work.

Location

This is a freelance role but the successful candidate will be required to work frequently from the Exeter Northcott Theatre to ensure there is a suitable level of collaboration between key stakeholders and to ensure the installations are of a high quality.

Budget

Two commissions of up to £5000 are available – inclusive of all fees, materials, travel, accommodation and other expenses that may be required by the artist(s) in their delivery.

We would be open to expressions of interest from artists looking to collaborate with each other on the delivery of both commissions.

Timescale

  • October-November 2021: Recruitment and appointment of the two commissioned artists
  • November-December 2021: Development phase of artwork(s)
  • January-April 2022: Creation of artwork(s) and delivery of any associated participative programme
  • April 2022: Install and display of artworks
  • April-June 2022: Festival of the Archive week and mobile exhibition tour, to include sharing of artworks if appropriate.
    To apply

Stage 1, expressions of interest: Please send us your current CV and examples of your previous work, with weblinks as applicable. In addition, please tell us in a short covering letter why you are interested in this brief, the aspects of the archive or project that you would like to explore further, and the media you are likely to use.

Stage 2, shortlisting and full pitch: If you are shortlisted, we will invite you to develop a more detailed brief with us and submit a full pitch. You will be paid a set fee for this pitch, in recognition of the work it takes to fully respond to a brief of this nature.

DEADLINE EXTENDED. The deadline to submit an expression of interest is Mon 15th November 2021 at 12 noon.

Please send all materials to Sophie McCormack at s.mccormack3@exeter.ac.uk and Kathryn Johnson at kathryn@palmastudio.co.uk.

Please email if you would like to arrange a time for an informal discussion about the open call.

Project activity to date:

Exeter Northcott Theatre has:

  • Created a body of intern lead research into key project themes around representation and change in arts and culture
  • Digitised thousands of records and materials from both the Northcott Theatre Archive and the Nicholas Toyne Photography Archive (a collection of negatives and photographs from early Northcott productions), with the University of Exeter’s Special Collections and Digital Humanities departments
  • Engaged with a diverse range of underrepresented community groups via ‘opening up the archive’ workshops, resulting in longer term participative work
  • Recruited and trained a team of local volunteers in oral history techniques and begun the collection of oral histories from people connected to the theatre’s history
  • Commissioned an artist and diversity consultant to respond to the archive and produce a report of findings and recommendations for the future use and sharing of the archive materials
  • Developed and installed a major new mural artwork and animated digital installation in the front of house area of the theatre
  • Hosted a series of high profile panel discussions streamed live online, exploring key archive themes and their relevance to the local community in the present day.

Key project outputs and themes

Community consultation

Embedding the viewpoints and ideas of the communities we serve into creative processes as early as possible. This way of working has emerged as an important consideration from our streamed panel discussions, community workshops and from early planning with the commissioning circle.

Access and barriers to engagement

This has been a recurrent theme throughout our archive research and in conversations in workshops. What is the etiquette and expected behaviour at the theatre? How is the theatre perceived as a space? Dress codes for example have been frequently mentioned by audience members in archive materials and also cited as barriers to engagement by workshop participants we have worked with. The theatre has historically grappled with its mission to be a ‘theatre for everyone’ and a ‘theatre for all of Devon’ and its management teams have interpreted this in a variety of ways.

Legacy

The creation and content of the archive allows us to better understand the history of stage craft, community outreach and theatre education, and gives us a record of the different people and careers that have been connected to the Northcott. We also have the opportunity to consider the long term impact of our work now. How will it be documented and how will any lessons learned be factored into the programme of the theatre moving forward? What would we like to see in the archive in 50 years from now?

Storytelling

Who gets to tell their story at the theatre? Representation and voice have been key considerations for the artistic teams at the theatre over its history – and widening participation has been approached in a wide variety of ways, some more successful than others. We have made many important discoveries in the archive relating to this theme and our panel discussions have also resulted in some very practical and urgent suggestions for moving this conversation forward.

Examples of Archive imagery and materials can be found here.

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