‘Cultural animateur-in-residence’ is not the most common of job titles, and on first glance Natalie Kerr, 24, thought she had seen an advert for an animator.
It was only on taking a closer look that she realised what the job involved and that it presented a great opportunity for a young arts practitioner starting out in her career.
A Gray’s School of Art sculpture graduate who had already built up experience in participatory arts, including a residency with the Scottish Sculpture Workshop in Lumsden, Natalie secured the new role based at Robert Gordon University (RGU) and has spent the past nine months planning and running a programme of cultural events on campus. The residency has been supported by Aberdeen City Council’s Vibrant Aberdeen fund.
“An animateur is described as a person who enlivens or encourages something,” she explained.
“The role is deliberately different to that of a curator and is designed to break new ground and build new connections as well as build on our established links.
“I think people perhaps expect my role to be about putting on exhibitions but that is already done really well across the university so I see my job as being complementary to that and broadening RGU’s cultural offering. As the title is unfamiliar to a lot of people, I’ve found that it sparks conversations straight away.”
Natalie said: “It is the first year of the residency and means that there has been a lot of flexibility in how we started building the programme of events. It is called Open House as the aim is to bring a new audience to Garthdee from local communities and get them to engage with the campus in a way they may not have done previously.”
Among the events run so far as part of Open House has been a dance residency as part of the Dance Live festival, which saw a site specific piece performed in the university’s Riverside East building; a celebration of the Doric dialect called Nae Futrets Here held in Garthdee House; a cultural networking event with local organisation AB+; and the first training day to be held in the north-east for the Scottish Prison Arts Network (SPAN), at Aberdeen Business School.
Natalie said: “I’ve been really pleased with the range and quality of the events that we’ve held so far. It has been a conscious decision to hold the events in different places around the campus as a way of trying to open up the spaces to the public and the great thing has been that we seem to be attracting different audiences to each event.”
Natalie’s focus for the immediate future is two events related to Look Again, a visual art and design festival being held in Aberdeen between April 8 and 12. A partnership between SMART, RGU and Aberdeen City Council, the festival will see a range of workshops and exhibitions being held at Garthdee and across the city centre. Natalie is currently working with a local community youth group and videographer Fraser Denholm to document and capture footage of the festival as it happens.
She said: “Gray’s School of Art has helped provide some of the equipment for this project and Fraser is teaching the youngsters involved how to operate the cameras to produce footage of the festival, with the aim of encouraging them to participate in the arts.”
The other Look Again event has seen Natalie set a live brief for undergraduates at the art school inspired by a mural which was once painted in Garthdee House by local artist and former Gray’s student, George Kelly.
“It will be exciting to see what they come up with,” she said. “We are looking for them to submit digital designs, with a winner being commissioned to produce a large scale piece of visual art to be installed in the site of the original mural at Garthdee House. The brief came about through conversations with a retired member of staff, Jim Fiddes, about local colloquial stories and characters in different sites within the university’s buildings. Through further engagement with RGU’s Arts and Heritage Collection, as well as George Kelly’s remaining family, we started to build up a picture of George’s art practice which has informed the brief.”
Natalie added: “I haven’t really had time to reflect yet on what we’ve achieved over the past months, but I know that I will look back on this in a few years and realise how influential it has been on my career. There are not a lot of opportunities like this and I feel very lucky to have secured this role. I feel quite strongly that it is through residencies and opportunities like this that will allow Aberdeen to retain its creative talent.”