The new Executive Director of Spare Tyre, Lynette Shanbury, explains how she came to lead this tiny company that does big work.
Executive Director, Spare Tyre (Nov 2014 – present)
Spare Tyre is a tiny company doing big work. We are a participatory theatre company, working with voiceless communities to transform lives through creative activities. We currently work with older people (60+), adults with learning disabilities, women who have experienced violence, and people with advanced dementia. Our tagline is “theatre without prejudice” and I can honestly say I’ve never worked with a company that puts diversity and inclusivity so strongly at the heart of its activities every single day.
I think it was the idea of working with a small company, to help it thrive and extend its reach, that drew me to working with Spare Tyre. I was also interested in working in a sector that puts social and political issues very much at the heart of the art being created. I knew I had a lot to learn, having never worked in the participatory arts sector before, and I wasn’t disappointed. This is an incredibly diverse and complex sphere, and Spare Tyre’s ethos is one of quality and long-termism – not easy to maintain when funding and economic structures are continually shifting and disappearing.
After eight years of running a building (as well as a company) in my previous role, adapting to the diversity of activities (and geographical locations) at Spare Tyre is fascinating. Our projects currently include a community internet radio in Wandsworth, an immersive storytelling installation that tours nationally to care homes for people with advanced dementia, and workshops for people with learning disabilities in Newham and Hounslow. In the pipeline are various digital and performance projects, all using the Spare Tyre method, which puts the creativity of participants at the centre of everything we do.
Executive Director, Little Angel Theatre (2006 – 14)
I became Executive Director during my final 15 months at Little Angel Theatre, an extraordinarily busy puppet theatre in Islington. The post was created – following a period of incredible growth – by splitting my previous role of General Manager into Operations Manager and Executive Director. Looking back, I would describe my first few months as General Manager, which followed an initial 9 months as Administrator, as more like a sheer cliff face than a ladder – I had to learn the role very fast. Luckily I was surrounded by a group of exceptional individuals, not least Artistic Director Peter Glanville (now at Polka Theatre), who showed unwavering faith in my abilities and hauled me over the cliff face.
I am incredibly proud of all that we achieved at Little Angel Theatre. During my time there I saw the turnover and staff team double, our audience reach extend to over 70,000 in-house and on tour, our professional development programme expand massively, and two essential capital programmes reach completion, not to mention all the astonishing productions that we produced. Before I left we finally secured a lease on a second building, which will become a hub for education and training activities over the next 10 years – a job that somebody else will have to take on!
Researcher and Evaluator, Arts & Business (2004 – 06)
I joined A&B pretty much straight out of studying and it was a great way to get an overview of the arts sector, to understand the breadth of organisations, how they networked, and get a good grounding in the theory of fundraising (which would be essential later on). In the end, it was my desire to get back to the action of a working theatre that led me to move on.
And before that…
Prior to my role at A&B I undertook an MA in Arts Management from City University. At the time it seemed a clear route into a career in the arts, and although I certainly don’t think it is the only route in, it served me well. Alongside that, I also had box office experience (two years of Saturday mornings!), a highly memorable placement month at The Gate in Notting Hill, where I was inspired by the brilliant Erica Whyman, and a short period as Assistant to the Principal at RADA whilst doing my MA. All of these experiences, plus my time at Nottingham University helping to run the student theatre and take productions to the Edinburgh Fringe, have all given me a good view of different parts of arts organisations and how they run. I definitely believe that every experience, no matter how short or apparently inconsequential, provides you with just a little bit more knowledge, which will always help you along the way.
Lynette Shanbury is Executive Director of Spare Tyre.