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Our NZ Pettman DARE Fellow tells all

Pettman DARE Fellowships offer a unique programme for early-career music educators. With Fellows embedded in Opera North’s busy Education department in parallel with postgraduate studies in the School of Performance and Cultural Industries at the University of Leeds, they are a groundbreaking and productive combination of theory and practical work in music education and community engagement.

The Fellowships are fully funded thanks to the generous donations of Mrs Maureen Pettman and the late Professor Barrie Pettman through the Opera North Future Fund. Reflecting the Pettmans’ love for New Zealand and their long history of arts philanthropy in the country, provision for a New Zealand Fellow was built into the scheme at its inception.

Following a two-year break in the programme caused by the pandemic, Andrew Gordon joined the scheme for 2022-23 from New Zealand Opera, where he was an Audience Engagement Co-ordinator. We asked him to tell us more about his time at Opera North.

Andrew Gordon, 2022-23 Pettman DARE Fellow © Tom Arber

“During my Fellowship, I’ve been fortunate to work closely with members of Opera North’s Education team on our residency in Richmond Hill, a district on the eastern edge of Leeds city centre. The idea behind the project has been to build long-term relationships in the community and give residents meaningful experiences with arts and culture. Co-creation and ‘creative placemaking’ – collaborating as closely as possible with the residents and organisations in the area – has been central to what we’ve been doing for the past year.

“The process has been a long one: it started before I arrived, with my colleague Jo Bedford going in to meet members of the community and discuss what was already being done by local groups, how Opera North could build on that, and what residents would like most of all to see.

“My background is in theatre and education, but as an undergraduate I hadn’t had much experience of the practical work of engaging with a community in this way. I’ve met so many different people as part of this project: leaders of community groups, longstanding and newer members, and lots of people who have never really been involved with arts and culture before, but are really excited at the prospect.

Bringing the community together for Picnic in the Park © Tom Arber

“Our relationships with individuals and organisations in Richmond Hill happened quite organically, through these in-person dialogues. Although people were very inviting and welcoming, I think some were slightly reluctant when we first asked them about their thoughts and feelings about culture. But we’ve just kept on showing up, and slowly but surely brought in some music: a string quartet, members of the Chorus – without really knowing what the response would be.

“It’s been about creating one-to-one relationships between a large arts organisation and the place it serves, and hopefully creating a blueprint to guide other organisations in engaging with the community in the future. It’s making sure that it’s done properly: creating a committee where everyone has an equal say, really listening to the community and ensuring we engage in an impactful and meaningful way. This consultative process resulted in a week-long festival at the start of July, created by residents for residents, built around pop-up performances by the Chorus and Orchestra of Opera North.

Lily Craig, Charlotte Perkins and Andrew Gordon

“Across the festival, the team led by Charlotte Perkins, Lily Craig and myself, delivered 12 events over six days in seven venues, with 46 performers from Opera North’s Chorus and Orchestra and 105 performers from across the Richmond Hill community, to an audience of over 1,000 people. The first event was The Great Get-Together, in the car park of Richmond Hill Academy, where Opera North teamed up with the school and other local organisations to create a celebration of the school’s community, with the Year 4 pupils singing side-by-side with members of the Chorus at the end of the school day. That intergenerational aspect was fantastic: the parents and grandparents of the kids in the student choir were spellbound. At the Picnic in the Park event at East End Bowling Club, we had members of Richmond Hill Elderly Action and St Vincent’s community arts, again performing alongside professionals from Opera North – I think that made for a real sense of occasion and excitement.

“One of the most inspiring existing initiatives was the Wednesday luncheon at St Hilda’s Church, which has been run every week for the last 12 years by Mary Brennan. Here, vulnerable members of the community, who’ve experienced homelessness or might be going through a rough patch, get a free meal – for many their only hot dinner of the week – and have a chance to socialise with each other in a relaxed, comfortable setting. To celebrate Mary’s hard work, and give her a week off, we planned a banquet in the Church, with a menu devised and cooked by Kino’s new Head Chef Josh Whitehead, and performances from the Orchestra and Chorus.

“To round off the festival, we held a Party in the (car)Park at Edmund House Club where residents engaged in football and boxing demonstrations, outdoor games and music, including getting to hear Opera North’s brass section play ‘Marching on Together’ in front of the new Leeds United mural on the side of the clubhouse. We were all then treated to a cabaret of music and a specially created drama piece about Opera North’s time in the community by members of the St Vincent’s performing arts group. The success of the entire week really showed how the community have been so appreciative about everything that’s going on.

The Great Get-Together at Richmond Hill Academy © Tom Arber

“Complementing this work within Opera North’s Education department, my studies at the University of Leeds have given me insights into arts management and cultural practice that would only have been possible within the framework of this unique Fellowship. I’ve had the opportunity to learn, but also to see those learning outcomes in practice at the same time. I’ve been able to streamline my thinking around co-creation and creative placemaking, and actually implement some of those theories and ideas. Theatre is my first love, so it’s been amazing to see how theory was used in a practical format, how it could potentially be used in my own work, and also being able to experience the fantastic Performance and Cultural Industries programme. Professor Edward Venn and Dr Katie Gardner have been a great help in guiding my studies and advising on different approaches.

“I’m delighted to be extending my stay until the end of the year to continue  our work in Richmond Hill and to see how we can build on this experience with other communities that Opera North engages with. I’m also excited to be around for the Green Season, and to see the results of the company-wide innovations which are so vital in moving the arts to a sustainable footing. And I’ll get to meet my successor as Pettman DARE fellow at the start of the academic year!”


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