I was thrilled to be part of the first cohort of the innovative Creative Digital Leadership Programme (CDLP) in November 2020, created by the always excellent Arts Connect. On reflection, the course could not be more perfectly timed.

As Creative Learning Producer at the Midland Arts Centre (MAC), I oversee a large informal learning programme, ranging from arts and crafts, to music, dance, wellbeing, and digital arts. During my time at the centre, I have developed a series of digital art courses for all ages, and I am the lead producer for a digital art and tech event for children, Little Geeks Festival. MAC has ambition and commitment to produce new and innovative digital experiences for audiences, and this ambition is central to the learning programme.

The reason the timing for Arts Connect’s course was perfect, was not only in terms of the influence it had on the projects I develop, but most pressingly the impact of COVID-19 on MAC’s artistic programme. There is a real sense of urgency across the arts sector to embrace digital platforms so that we can continue to provide high quality art experiences to our loyal audiences, but not lose sight of our ethos, our strategies, and our quality of programming.

How do we engage with our audiences in the new normal? What do our audiences want, need, and expect from us?

These questions are all key starting points for the CDLP programme. During our first session, led by Rebecca Hardy, we were introduced to these concepts and more.
The organisation of the course is excellent, and despite challenges usually associated with poor Wi-Fi (note to Mr Branson) it is well managed, well thought out, thought-provoking and most importantly, incredibly useful. We were introduced to our mentors, who are amazing practitioners, and I am very lucky to be paired with Ju Row Farr of Blast Theory whose work I have admired for many years.

As well as artistic presentations there is a highly practical strand of the programme, devised by consultants PDR who are experts in user centred project development. We were presented with a fun case study, the Banana Museum, which we all loved, and we agreed should exist ‘IRL’. Perhaps the digital cohort will make that happen in 2021/22.
As I write, I am thinking about the three or four challenges I will set and develop for MAC with the help of the programme and my mentor. I am excited about the prospect, and even though we are in another lockdown I feel positive for 2021, and am looking forward to re-opening the centre, creating, and realising MAC’s digital ambitions with my colleagues.

Sonya Russell-Saunders, Creative Learning Producer, Midland Arts Centre (MAC)