Concerts and arts management

,  8 February 2011

Since he was a teenager, Marcus Davey has enjoyed 'putting on concerts, making things happen.' This passion has led him to become Arts Manager for Dartington Hall Trust and Chief Executive of the Roundhouse.

Marcus Davey is Chief Executive of the Roundhouse. Photo by Steffan Hill.
Marcus Davey is Chief Executive of the Roundhouse. Photo by Steffan Hill.

Starting out with concerts

Davey studied music at Dartington College of Art, focussing on composition and 'Music in Society', the first course in community music. His final year project, an ambitious concert with over 90 groups, ran continuously for over 72 hours. “It seemed to work and I loved it,” says Davey. “I always felt that I was much better at putting people together to do things rather than being on the stage myself.”

“I worked every weekend, I didn't have a holiday in two years. That's how I learnt and if you put enough hours in early enough in your career, it serves you well.”

After graduating, Davey took on ushering jobs. He also worked in the café of the Dartington Summer school, going to concerts and hanging out with musicians in the evening. A chance meeting with his former head of music led to his first role: Administrator to the Dartington Summer School.

It was a steep learning curve: “I was absolutely appalling, I'm sure I was. The only thing I knew how to do was to talk to people, so I did.” Janet Ritterman, then Principal of Dartington College of Art, took Davey under her wing. “She challenged me, was quite tough with me which was good.”

“Gavin Henderson [then Director of Dartington School] was the other side of that. Everything was done through communication and talking and saying ‘yes’ and making it happen. Janet was kind of rigorous on the paperwork and so between the two of them I learnt a hell of a lot.”

Getting into arts management

After a year as administrator, Davey became Arts Manager for Dartington Hall Trust. ”They must have been completely insane,” he says, “but we were making money and good artistic products and the summer school was doing well.”

During this time Davey was organising around 500 events a year. including a year-round concert series, cinema, and art gallery programme. He also found time to organise Exeter University's concert series.

“I worked every weekend, I didn't have a holiday in two years. That's how I learnt and I think if you put enough hours in early enough in your career it serves you well.”

Mentoring at the Roundhouse Studios

When local businessman Torquil Norman, bought the then-derelict Roundhouse building in 1996, his aim was to bring the building back to life and to place young people at its heart.

“You need to love the people that work for you. If you don't really want them to succeed individually, then you're not going to succeed."

Today, the building houses the state-of-the-art Roundhouse Studios. They provide a varied programme of arts projects, courses and events for 13–25 year olds.

The Studios are integral to the ethos of the Roundhouse, giving young people the opportunity to work with and be mentored by professionals from the creative industries.

Norman's vision was to “build the Roundhouse Studios to make an impact on young people, enable them to learn new skills, gain experience and find a better future. About 40 percent of the opportunities that we offer, which is about 5,000 a year, are for the most excluded and disadvantaged. That is absolutely core to what we do.”

Davey says that, whilst leadership courses such as Clore have helped an enormous amount of people, “the truly great leaders of tomorrow can't be processed.  I think that the future will be owned by the people who find their own way through it. If you look at any business, they found their own way from an early age by getting it wrong, getting it right, putting in thousands of hours and just doing it.”

Skills needed for leadership

“To be honest, I think it's a lot of love,” says Davey. “You need to love the people that work for you. If you don't really want them to succeed individually, then you're not going to succeed.

“You've got to be brave. You've got to be tough, communication is really important. You need to be able to be a dreamer, but to get that dream to become a reality you need to have your feet on the ground.”

“It's also important to know your environment, the context in which you work and where other organisations are going. I think most people in the arts and creative world want to do something. Your important job as a leader is to just enable them to do it and not get in the way, because people want to achieve themselves.”

Davey has been inspired and helped by the composers and artists he has worked with over the years. “All the people that I've worked with have given me support in different ways.

“The most important leader I've found is somebody who says: ‘come with me’, introduces you to someone and then says: ‘go on then’, and they don't get involved. Then it's up to you.”


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