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A first timer’s guide to the NRTF Conference

Let me set the scene: Murray wins at Wimbledon.

The following day, excitedly, a red-headed French lady, a blonde Yorkshire lass and a brunette Welsh gal head up to Scotland on the East Coat Mainline. Not to celebrate in Andy’s home town, but to attend a conference just 4 miles down the road at the Macrobert Arts Centre, Stirling. It is very hot and we are on our way to the National Rural Touring Forum (NRTF) Conference 2013. This is Rural Arts ON Tour, on tour!

As we board the train in Edinburgh, we begin to realise that a few passengers are heading there too, so we start sharing stories; explaining what Rural Arts ON Tour is all about, chatting about #CreateTour and asking people about their experiences of Rural Touring. And that was it – we barely stopped for three days. Ice-breakers, networking meetings, break out groups, artist showcases, presentations, discussions, workshops, a Ceilidh and even trombone playing; all washed down with plenty of tea, cake, lots of chatting and a few drams of whisky!

Christine enjoying a Highland fling with the Ceilidh Minogues


Although I’d been working at Rural Arts on the #CreateTour project for about 5 months, it was only at this conference that I grasped the breadth of Rural Touring. The amount of people involved across the UK is huge! Each regional touring scheme represents tens if not hundreds of volunteer promoters, and thousands of professional shows per year. What’s more, the conference chair Ed Robson (Cumbernauld Theatre) asked us to broaden our horizons. There were Kiwi and Canadian artists on the bill and talks about cross-border artistic collaborations with Swedish and Dutch artists; proving that international artists shouldn’t be off the cards, just because you live in a rural area.

I could talk in great detail about the conference, but I will just describe my own personal highlights to give you a flavour of events.

Firstly: Meeting David, Alice and Kirsty from the NRTF

Rural Touring Schemes come in many shapes and sizes. Across the country there is a complex tapestry of touring schemes – each with their own unique way of funding, running and promoting events. It was great to meet the NRTF team because they really care about their members. They work strategically to develop work and deliver high quality art experiences that strengthen rural and other communities. They also listen to their members, and come up with solutions to try and please everyone. Respect!

Secondly: Producing new work and reaching new audiences

This for me is a crucial area for Rural Touring. Without an audience, there can be no performances. I also believe that the arts should be made as accessible as possible, especially to those who have extra barriers, such as living in a rural area, where physically getting places can be a challenge.
Our Chloe spoke about the #CreateTour project, which I must say, brought a tiny tear to my eye. (See other blog entries for details of this!)
We heard from Sian Kerry at Arts Alive about their Textures, Tones and Traces partnership with Birmingham Contemporary Music Group and Craftspace where artists are creating art, music and film installations based around the theme of ‘Contemporary’. 
And we saw Sophie Willan’s brilliantly hilarious showcase ‘An Audience Without You’ – a one woman detective tale which is “heart warming, heart breaking, ridiculous and sort of true!” This is one of two show being developed by Contact Theatre with the aim of creating and supporting young rural promotor networks across the country. A very exciting project!

Third and finally: the Showcases

This was the fun bit! Getting to see a wide variety of shows; from talented musicians to high quality theatre, from site-specific performances to puppet shows.
As we were in the land of the thistle, and due to CreativeScotland’s support there were numerous Scottish artists including Poorboy’s “Pirates and Mermaids”Macrobert’s “Educating Ronnie”, Nutshell’s “Allotment” (to be performed on an allotment) and the Ceilidh Minogues. There were also international artists such as the Pacific Curls (multi instrumental trio), the award-winning James Hill & Anne Janelle (ukulele and cello) and the acclaimed Ian Sherwood (singer/guitarist/sax). All in all a wide variety of artists with lots to see and say!
And I must admit, although I do like to say quite a bit myself, it was a welcome break to sit down quietly for an hour in an air-conditioned theatre.

And there you have it – my whistlestop guide to the NRTF which flew by but was so jam-packed that it felt like a months worth of conversations had taken place. Overall I would say that the thing I felt most strongly about at the conference were the people. It was a great opportunity to feel part of a bigger network of people who all care strongly about the arts. There were such a wide variety of artists, promotors, scheme representatives, arts council officers, old hats and new hats alike. Everybody wanted to chat and discuss, everybody was approachable, warm (quite literally) and friendly, and as a first timer to the NRTF I felt very welcome. 

As we waited for the train to take us back to Yorkshire, I noticed that almost a third of the station platform was now made up of familiar faces. I had discovered a lot in three days; I had new ideas, fresh perspectives and a contact list as long as my arm. 
So until next time NRTF: guid cheerio the nou!