Blog » Cian Smyth

Cian Smyth

22nd August 2012

Role: London 2012 Creative Programmer

Company: Arts Council of Northern Ireland

Track Record: An arts student, Cian previously worked with the UK Film Council and Northern Ireland Screen

What does your role involve?

I lead the creation and promotion of the Cultural Olympiad programme and its finale, the London 2012 Festival in Northern Ireland, which runs until September 9. In broader terms this also involves working with DCAL, local authorities and the London Organising Committee in realising the Northern Ireland Olympic and Paralympic Torch Relays and the Big Screens in Belfast and Derry. We have had 350,000 people engaged with over 67 Cultural Olympiad projects since the handover from Beijing in 2008 and now we are into games-time festival mode.

How did you get into the position in the first place?

I previously worked with the UK Film Council and Northern Ireland Screen and have been dedicated to film most of my career. Film is my first career love, but I began as an arts student of English literature and history.

I always wanted to satisfy my broad interest in the arts by working across a number of artforms. The London 2012 opportunity came up and was a perfect fit – celebrating the arts in the broadest sense. It also offered an opportunity to work once more on a ‘show’ with a definite delivery date.

I love that pressure of delivering an event and chased the opportunity, applied for the job and was lucky enough to get it.

Did you always want to work in this sector in some capacity?

Yes, in school there are kids who want to be firemen, spacemen, policemen and so on. I always wanted to work in the movies. I never thought I would do anything else. I am glad I had that determination as it is definitely needed in order to succeed in that game.

What training or previous experience do you have that has helped you in your current role?

I have worked in everything from project development to talent promotion in the film industry, but I began as a student volunteer at film festivals. Volunteering at these events is your training ground. It is very much a business where the ‘just do it’ attitude gets you everywhere.

What is your organisation’s role in the local community?

What the Cultural Olympiad is offering us at the Arts Council is the opportunity to create a programme of work that marries the participation of young people and communities in the arts with the celebration of excellence in the London 2012 Festival programme. 

We want communities and participation in the arts to aspire towards excellence, inspire  great art and work on removing any perceived barriers to access.

And how does your role fit in as part of this?

It’s been about finding great community based art projects across Northern Ireland that deserve that extra bit of recognition only the Olympic Games can offer.

There are brilliant community art projects we have been involved in like Open Arts’ Luminous Soul project which recognised that Northern Ireland had no dance facilitators or choreographers with a disability.

Through Legacy Trust UK support and the recognition of the Cultural Olympiad, they have spent the last three years correcting that. That is a fantastic achievement and deserves celebration.

Similar activity has been happening in many more projects covering circus, carnival, theatre, libraries, museums, visual arts and more, the length and breadth of the country.

What sort of personality and qualities do you need to do your job successfully?

It is very Gok Wan, but it really is about confidence. With it comes leadership and an absolute belief in any strategic vision you may have planned.

Whenever people used that word ‘confidence’ to inspire me in the past, it is the first word that is hard to digest. It is meaningless unless you actually believe you are confident in the first place, and very few people do. I certainly didn’t think I had it, and I certainly slip into not having it now and again.

However, all I can say, by way of example, is you would not have caught me speaking to a room full of people when I started my career but eventually it becomes the least of your challenges.

What are the biggest rewards of the job? And the biggest challenges?

It is incredible to think I am one of only 12 creative programmers for the Olympic and Paralympic Games in the UK. It is such a unique experience, no matter how challenging the role can be, you cannot deny how rare an opportunity it is. There will not be another opportunity like it again in my lifetime.

It is a privilege to be able to see the impact of the games on local community arts projects we have worked with to date and to do so in the company of some of the best artists in the world, from home and abroad.

The challenges are endless. It is a project that last took place in China, which is incomparable, and the last time it was in the UK was 1948. There is not much immediate learning to hand and the project involves managing the largest and most complex set of nation-wide partnerships. The benefit of all of this is everything is new and you are constantly learning.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

Know your audience. This is something that is common in many textbooks but there is nothing better than really understanding it in practice and through experience.

In some industries there may be set rules as to how to identify your audiences, there are certainly methods of analysing markets through ticket sales in the arts too, but I am talking more about the gut instinct.

For an artist creating a piece of work, the audience may be a person or foundation commissioning their work or it could be the general public as part of a show, for someone like me it could be talking to schools, elected officials or artists. You don’t talk to everyone the same way and people don’t respond to any statement you make or an artwork the same way. That is why life is exciting but, professionally, the more you tap into the audience in front of you the more successful you will become.

Be authentic though, have integrity and don’t make things up to suit your audience.

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to do the same job?

Be strict with yourself, don’t accept every opportunity. In this job, every opportunity seems exciting. Have integrity of voice, decide what the vision for your programme is and let that define your positive or negative reaction to new opportunities.

Also, when information is hard to get and the decision-making process is vague, have the confidence to make your own decision with information to hand.

What do you enjoy doing outside work?

Since a child, it always has and always will be going to the movies and reading books. I like adventures in life and these are the easiest, most immediate way of achieving them.

This summer will be one big adventure though, so movies and books might take a back seat for a bit – really looking forward to seeing Hans Peter Kuhn’s FLAGS near the Giant’s Causeway, Robert Wilson for the first time at Enniskillen International Beckett Festival, Oscar Munoz with Draw Down the Walls in North Belfast and the children’s opera, Noye’s Fludde, with NI Opera in Belfast Zoo and many more in between. It’s going to be fantastic.

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