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Tom Higham is Creative Director of Mediale, passionate about the power of digital technology. His early career was shaped by an accidental discovery of an artistic community in a pub and inspiration from a basketball hero.

Image of Tom Higham

I went to a good school and a Russell Group university, but I only realised a career in the arts was even a possibility at the age of 22. Until that point, I thought work was separate from what you enjoyed. I’m enormously privileged to have figured out it’s possible to work in something you’re passionate about.

Jo Hodson – Manager of The Cumberland Arms

Jo is a national treasure and the manager/owner of the best pub in all the western world, The Cumberland Arms in the Ouseburn, Newcastle. 

Having coasted through my Business Management degree - focusing more on sport and socialising – I’m lucky to have met the magical ecosystem of The Cumberland. In the early 2000s, Jo had an almost mythical talent for collecting slightly lost, creatively-minded young people. 

I could write this whole article about The Cumberland and all it represents but suffice it to say it’s central to a vibrant artistic community in Newcastle and changed my life. 

Honor Harger – Artistic Director of the AV Festival

My career started working on film festivals based at Tyneside Cinema in Newcastle. I pushed myself so hard on the first one that I ended up in hospital - not something I’m proud of. I gathered experience and skills fast though and was single-minded in pursuit of working for Honor on AV Festival – an international festival of electronic art. 

I’ve never been more in awe or inspired by anyone. Honor is wonderful and now runs the ArtScience Museum in Singapore. She’s a fantastically energetic curator, a brilliant artist and searingly intelligent. 

Two anecdotes spring to mind from working for her in the North East. First, was a surprising and upsetting negative decision on a funding application. The rejection letter used some standard / vague wording for the decision, which stung even more as we believed in the quality and impact of what we were doing. Honor’s response the next day was a 16-page thesis on every aspect of the proposal, the why and how it would create significant impact and represent excellent use of public funds. I was blown away, as was the funder who overturned their decision. 

And second was preparing for the AV Festival. It was a major biennial event, which took place across Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesbrough. It was huge, ambitious, and difficult. One afternoon, about 12 weeks out from the 2010 festival, there was low morale among the team with everyone feeling overwhelmed, up against it, and losing motivation. 

Honor has a Herculean work ethic, but she picked up on the vibes, and immediately told everyone to shut their laptops. She took us for a long lunch, during which she said: “Everyone’s at breaking point and that’s not ok. What do we need to change to make this worthwhile?”

It was the most mindful and inspirational act of leadership I’ve experienced. The arts could learn a lot from that example. 

Graham Harwood - Artist

At AV Festival, I worked with Graham on a project called Coal-fired Computer. It literally was that. We used a steam engine to power a computer which displayed data about all the miners who died as a result of the horrific working conditions in the mining industry. 

Graham was a deeply thoughtful, no-nonsense artist, from whom I learned so much just by being around him. Particularly about what working with communities can and should look like. 

John Amaechi – Psychologist and basketball hero

I grew up obsessed with basketball. Many summers I’d go to Ellesmere Port for a week to attend John’s basketball camps. I spent most of the 90s videoing NBA games broadcast in the middle of the night on Channel 4.

John is a beacon of clarity, insight and intelligence on all things leadership and race - and everything in between. His book - The Promises of Giants - should be required reading for leaders and his online videos always cut to the chase and cut through the performative grandstanding.  

Anab Jain – Director of Superflux

Anab is a genius - a kind and approachable one. She’s been making some of the best work for years in the interesting space between society, the arts and technology. She does everything with a deep and obvious humanity and nuance.

It’s the kind of work I aspire to in everything I do, making work that has something to say, resists buzzword hype nonsense, and that is about people, society and all of us.

Tom Higham is the Founder and Creative Director of Mediale. 

Watch Three Hundred and Thirty Three: Part One, the first of a triptych of films by Daisy Dickinson, co-commissioned and co-produced by Mediale and The Glasshouse International Centre for Music. 

Link to Author(s): 
Tom Higham