The University of Lincoln's School of Fine and Performing Arts is thought to be unique in employing a professional producer to support students' creative work. Rachel Baynton explains how her role bridges the gap between academia and artistic practice.
My job is an interesting one. Certainly, in conversations that my colleagues and I have had with other university arts departments across the UK, we have yet to find another higher education institution that provides an equivalent Creative Engagement Producer role. This is really a ‘would-like-to-meet’ – if there is anyone else out there doing this job, I’d love to speak to you!
A link to the working world
My post was created in 2017 in response to a perceived gap in support for students to emerge, post-study, as professional artists, creatives, arts managers and makers. Staff were aware that, despite the quality of the new work coming out of the school’s undergraduate programmes, too often their work was shown just once before they had to move on to the next module, the next assessment, the next piece.
Frustrated by this, the School of Fine and Performing Arts (LSFPA) team, led by Head of School Dr Karen Savage, conceived the idea of an embedded producer to maximise the impact of the school’s work and forge stronger connections with Lincoln and beyond. This would be a hybrid role combining academic and teaching responsibilities with practical, public-facing producing work, with the understanding that these different aspects would support and inform each other. It was felt that practical support for the students could best be offered by someone already immersed in the industry, and the role was designed with a professional producer in mind.
I tend to operate from the position that there isn’t any one ‘right way’ of doing things in the arts
I was appointed in September and tasked with supporting students and alumni of all four of our disciplines – dance, fine art, theatre and music – to develop the skills needed to take their work into the world.
Drawing on experience
My background in the arts is varied. I’ve worked on installs, strategy and collections management for museums and galleries, in arts marketing for concerts, theatres and arts centres, as a lecturer in theatre, fine art and arts management, and in fundraising and strategy for the fantastic Rhubarb Theatre (which specialises in work for families and those with additional needs). In such an interdisciplinary role, I find myself drawing on skills and experience from all the jobs I’ve done before.
I tend to operate from the position that there isn’t any one ‘right way’ of doing things in the arts, but rather that I might be able to point students towards useful information, networks, and materials that help them find their own ways to work. As a performer and a Co-Artistic Director of Proto-type Theater (a company of multi-disciplinary artists who create original work for national and international touring) I use any insights I might glean from current best practice, industry concerns and contacts to provide advice and broker connections on a project-by-project basis. My role at LSFPA is flexible, with many ‘hats’ to wear. Any given day might require something very different, as all those working as producers in the arts will attest.
Fruits of our labour
As a department, we’re negotiating the way this role might be useful for our different disciplines. For BA (Hons) Music, I help students with curating and marketing their annual Nebula Music Festival; for Fine Art, support is channelled into weekly management sessions to help students develop a sustainable practice beyond their degree show. For the Dance, Drama and Theatre courses, locating tour dates, brokering partnerships, providing online promotion and running a one-to-one funding application writing clinic have been my primary modes of support.
The initiative I’m most proud of so far is The Lincoln Company, LSFPA’s performance company. I've worked to refocus the company from being perceived as a brand in name only to a student-managed producing powerhouse. It now tours to venues and festivals across the UK as the school’s resident company of emerging theatre, dance, and performance makers. We’ve received four and five star reviews in the national press for shows we toured to Edinburgh over the past two years, including INKA (pictured), and a site-specific piece created with acclaimed theatre maker Michael Pinchbeck, which was described as “the best quickie show of the Fringe” by The Sunday Times.
Advice for educators
Having a Creative Engagement Producer role in our school has made these successes possible by enabling us to empower student practitioners as producers and makers. It also supports the University’s civic duty of producing new knowledge and disseminating it to our communities. I feel enormously privileged to support new artists and creatives at the start of their careers and to work for an institution that took a risk in creating a role like mine.
I’m aware that there are other university departments undertaking research into ways to help their students engage with professional practice while they study and support their transition into post-graduate employment. While it’s early days for this role and we’re feeling our way through it, an embedded Creative Engagement Producer is proving a useful way to help our students bridge the gap between their academic studies and a professional career in the arts.
Rachel Baynton is a Lecturer and Creative Engagement Producer for the University of Lincoln’s School of Fine and Performing Arts.