Creative Kernow’s new Chief Executive Fiona Wotton reflects on her first few weeks in the role
It is a bit of an understatement to say that it has been a busy first month. Any hopes of a gentle induction period or following the established rule that the first 100 days as a new leader are all about listening were thrown out of the window with the announcement of a second lockdown. Rather than inviting colleagues to tea, cake and a good chat about their work, one of my first tasks was updating our risk assessment and checking everyone had what they needed to carry on working from home and meeting remotely.
There was no time to dwell in that moment of disappointment however. It is hard not to stay optimistic when surrounded by people within the organization and working closely with us who thrive on challenge and keep adapting their ways of working to respond to the ever shifting sands of the pandemic situation. This agility and positive attitude will stand us in good stead when we tackle the other great challenges of our time – Brexit, the worst recession for 300 years forecasted and our climate emergency. My Christmas message is therefore one of hope, exemplified by these ‘Top 3 reasons to be cheerful’:
Our charity supports the creation, distribution and promotion of the arts and creativity in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. We measure our impact in lots of varied ways but the difference we make is sometimes best expressed through a good story. The FEAST programme has given out over 25% more grants than usual to ensure that creative nourishment was available to all communities at this time of potential isolation and compromised mental health. My two personal favourites are Physical Postcards in which letters from the community are choreographed and performed as dance messages. The project has been so successful it has now received funding from the National Lottery Community Fund to roll the project out across Cornwall. And the Make a Cup project devised by ceramicist Jacqueline Clark saw the distribution of bags of clay and instructions to over 100 people in Devoran, with participants ranging in age from 18 months to 89 years! These projects brought people together, gave them confidence and focus, helped them develop new skills and perhaps most importantly made them feel happy.
We have also been able to help over 450 creative businesses navigate the unsettling economic situation with tailored business coaching, networking and skills development events and investment grants through the Cultivator programme which is funded by the European Development Fund, European Social Fund, Cornwall Council and Arts Council. Our Baseline survey, created in partnership with Cornwall Council and the CIOS LEP, has documented the impact of the Covid pandemic on creative businesses in Cornwall and has been used to lobby support from government and to develop links with other creative hubs in the South West.
My tour of the Krowji on and off-site spaces was one of great contrasts. The new extension to the Percy Williams Building opened this month and has created an additional 21 studios for creative businesses. These bright, airy, blank canvasses are already filling up with new tenants who swell our Krowji community with their talent and connections.
Alongside this, Bill’s Attic brims with colour, curiosity and intrigue. Filled with the entire contents of WildWorks’ artistic director Bill Mitchell’s attic workspace, the space invites artists to work with this treasure trove of objects. Several residencies have taken place and the team are exploring how the space could also be used for meetings and away days by local businesses.
And finally, down the road in Redruth we also have the Yard to provide spaces for artists who can’t be accommodated at Krowji because they are “too noisy and messy” – including those who work with stone and metal. This small off-shoot community is looked after by the Krowji team and more spaces are being developed to meet demand.
We are fortunate to be in a relatively secure position for a charity, receiving core funding from Arts Council and Cornwall Council. We have ambitious plans for the future and will need to find new ways to fund our activity in an increasingly competitive and uncertain funding landscape. The lifting of Lockdown 2.0 at the beginning of December allowed for some meetings with key funders and to begin planning for the future.
Another important landmark is the publication of Cornwall Council’s Creative Manifesto which makes public the importance our local authority places on culture and the creative industries. This kind of public statement of intent and support is envied by regions around the UK and will be an important lever for investment from central government. We are pleased that Creative Kernow’s work is referenced throughout and we are looking forward to working on the detail of delivery in partnership with the Economic Development team and other key cultural organisations.
Visit from Cornwall Council Economic Development team
Our trustees and directors of our trading companies have also offered unwavering support and wisdom. The Screen Cornwall board has been overseeing the development of bids for a targeted growth fund for the screen industries which will help develop talent within Cornwall and hope to attract largescale productions which will provide work opportunities for the growing crew database. It was great to join the team for their away day in November to hear about these plans.
Screen Cornwall away day
We have also felt the love from our communities through our recent fundraising initiatives. Our Crowdfunder campaigns through the Creative Cornwall Calling platform brought in much needed donations to match a grant from the Arts Council Culture Recovery Fund. This has helped to keep Cornwall 365 What’s On’s Winter Guide and C Fylm’s community cinema sustained. And through the ‘Big Give Christmas Campaign’, further funds have been secured to advance the work of Carn to Cove’s rural touring programme. Thank you to everyone who supported us. You have given us hope and brought light at a time of great uncertainty.
On behalf of everyone at Creative Kernow, I wish you all a very Happy Christmas and a much healthier and happier 2021.