What does Dep Arts do?
We are experienced creative producers working with theatre, dance and circus performance companies to deliver exciting and innovative live arts events.
How did Dep Arts come about?
I’ve spent the last 20 years working in arts and culture. I trained in London at the Central School for Speech and Drama in the mid-90s and then worked in London before moving to work for the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford and had roles with the Lowry Centre in Salford as well as the Phoenix Dance Theatre in Leeds. I then decided I wanted a new challenge and turned to freelancing for an initial 12 months until the right job came up – eleven years later I’m still working for myself.
To start with, Dep Arts was just me, a mobile phone and a laptop, working from home. After 18 months I thought we needed a part-time administrator, we took on trainee producers, found some office space and started to learn what it was to run a business as well as being an arts producer.
Why are you called Dep Arts?
I’d say it is really important to think hard about the name of your business from the start because it’s really difficult to change later. As a freelancer I worked under the banner of David Edmunds Projects. We then took on some staff so I shortened it to Dep Arts which seemed less egotistical but doesn’t really mean anything to anybody. A branding team I worked with thought, given we’re always setting off to do lots of touring work, that it was a clever play on ‘Departures’. Unfortunately the truth is nowhere near as exciting as that.
What events have you helped produce?
We were based in Leeds for nine years and involved in flagship projects such as Liverpool during its year as Capital of Culture in 2008. We were also heavily involved in London 2012’s Cultural Olympiad in Yorkshire and last year we worked with England Rugby and Leeds City Council to put on a huge outdoor show as part of Leeds’ hosting some of the tournament games. The main show we delivered had a community volunteer cast of 200 people and an audience of 3,500 all of whom came to the show for free. To work at that sort of scale and work with sport and culture hand-in-hand was brilliant.
So you were happy to build the business up from a one-man band?
Yes, but it had its drawbacks. We grew as a business and every time we got more work we felt like we needed to employ more people, have a bigger office, buy more computers and then generate more work to pay for all the people. I’d got to the point where I’d lost the core of what I wanted to do – I was just serving the needs of the company. Big isn’t necessarily better for me. I wanted to get back to me being involved more directly in the delivery of our projects.
So I decided that I needed a fresh perspective and in January 2016 moved the business to York. We now work with really brilliant consultants, associates and freelancers – often people we’ve worked with before – who come in on any given project whether it’s a three-year or a three-month project. We’re much more nimble and without the overheads of a bigger company.
Does that make you the Danny Boyle of York?
Well, if you can’t afford Danny Boyle, come and see me…
What business mistakes have you made along the way?
I could talk for hours about the mistakes I’ve made, but one of my early bosses gave me a brilliant piece of advice when he said ‘I don’t mind if you get things wrong as long as you don’t make the same mistake twice’. If you touch an iron and burn yourself you know that iron is hot. If you do it again and burn yourself, then that’s a problem.
The other lesson I’ve learnt is that it can be easy to get stuck in a rut – this is what we do and this is what we’ve always done. You have to constantly evolve and adapt and keep asking yourself questions.
What are your ambitions for the future?
We’re developing a brand new arts festival for Selby for 2017 which has come out of being fed up as to how little high quality arts and culture is available locally without having to travel to York, Leeds and Manchester. I get frustrated with the notion that only cities can have really high quality arts and culture and we’ve almost forgotten about the smaller northern market towns.
They are an interesting audience because they don’t necessarily care who makes the show, or who wrote it, who is in it, or who composed the music. They just want to know if they are interested in it or not. If they think it’s good, they’ll tell you. There is a real honesty there that might not be there at the bigger venues.
Is there a Shakespeare play you would like to put on?
A good version of a Midsummer Night’s dream, probably outdoors, involving a community cast alongside professionals, alongside lavish music in a beautiful forest setting would be pretty near perfect. If there is anyone out there willing to fund it?
To find out more about Dep Arts.