Blog » How I Became A Creative Learning Manager

How I Became A Creative Learning Manager

14th January 2022

The Post:  Creative Learning Manager at The MAC

The Post Holder: Elaine Forde

Strong communication skills and the desire to create opportunities are crucial to Elaine Forde’s role as a Creative Learning Manager.

Give a brief outline of your career to date.

In June 2021 I took on the role of Creative Learning Manager at The MAC. It’s an exciting post in a great organisation. My role is varied and so much of my role focuses on creating access points to enable people to engage in our exhibitions or live events.

The other main aspect of my job is working with communities to address inequality through the arts. I have the privilege of working with five 3rd Sector organisations to design projects with homeless people, asylum seekers, refugees, members of the LGBTQ community and people with mental-ill health.

My most recent role was Head of Engagement at The Playhouse Derry/Londonderry. I worked at The Playhouse from 2010-2021 managing a variety of community focused creative projects. This work enabled me to use art to address inequality and social issues – for example enabling first responders e.g., retired nurses, firefighters, and journalists to share their experiences of serving in the Northern Ireland conflict through theatre. Our work was educational and transformational enabling people to gain a different perspective of our past.

One of the key Playhouse projects I created is called Street Talk which is a youth arts project focused on justice and human rights. Through art we enabled young people to explore crime, justice and citizenship. We created a range of learning tools including an Open College Network qualification, and educational short films. Our latest short film Bonfire was screened in Belfast Film Festival, it was brilliant to see it on a big screen rather than my laptop.

From 2008-2010 I managed Artlink, a visual art organisation in Donegal. One of the main highlights was enabling secondary school aged young people to access national and international artists exhibited in our gallery through a project called Ways of Seeing. The young people became more culturally aware.

Previously I was based in London for nine years during that time I worked for various arts organisations including the Hayward Gallery, the Chisenhale Gallery, Arts Inform and Tate Magazine.

What was your favourite subject at school?

Drama until the age of 14 and then Art and Art history

Did you go on to further/higher education, if so what did you study and where?

I studied for a BA (Hons) in Fine Art at Ulster University and a Masters in Fine Art at Chelsea Art College, London.

How did you get into your area of work?

When I moved to London I volunteered in the Chisenhale Gallery, I was based in their learning department. They then offered me a one-year artist in residence contract working with young people with behavioural and emotional needs. I was then invited to coordinate an education project for Arts Inform called Designs on London. I worked under a brilliant woman called Frances Morrell, who wanted young people living in disadvantaged communities to have access to the arts. Both opportunities enabled me to see how the arts can connect with people and transform lives.

Is this what you always wanted to do?

No, I first wanted to be an actor, then an artist.

Were there any particular essential qualifications or experience needed?

You need to care for people, have a love for the arts and a desire for equality.

Are there alternative routes into the job?

There are many routes to my job – but the main route is having a passion for the arts, the ability to create strong relationships, to build trust, the desire to live in a better and more equitable world, and the ability to organise. In all aspects of the arts, you just have to get involved in whatever way you can.

What are the main personal skills your job requires?

Strong communication skills as I spend a lot of time with people. The ability to develop relationships and partnerships between diverse groups of people. I usually work on multiple projects at any given time so having good organisational skills is a plus. You need to have an understanding of the arts and the desire to create opportunities for artists and people to collaborate.

What does a typical day entail?

Each day is varied and could include planning workshops with community groups and artists, attending workshops, giving groups a tour of our gallery, budgeting projects, attending management meetings, programming with colleagues, replying to emails and popping out to Thyme to grab a salad.

What are the best and most challenging aspects of the job?

The best part of my job is welcoming a wide range of diverse groups to The MAC to engage in our work. Since I started at the MAC I have welcomed people who are dealing with mental health issues, refugees, asylum seekers, homeless people, local and non-local children, international students, breast cancer survivors and many others – I always feel so privileged and excited to welcome people to the arts, and to The MAC.

My main challenge is that there are so many great opportunities that I want to say yes to everything but realise I can’t do everything.

Why is what you do important?

Because everyone has the right to access, participate and enjoy the arts.

What advice would you give anyone looking to follow a similar career path?

Take risks, and trust your journey.

If you weren’t doing this what would you like to do?.

I would still like to run my own business.

What is the one piece of advice you would give to yourself on your first day?

Relax and just enjoy it all.

Describe your ideal day off.

Blue sky, warmth from the sun and sitting on the rocks by the sea with my favourite art or fashion magazine.

How has Covid-19 impacted your business/role?

Covid has been very difficult for art organisations and artists financially, with shows, exhibitions and events cancelled or at best limited in audience numbers. I admired my colleagues in the sector who lobbied for artists and the arts to get the support they needed.

What adjustments have you had to make?

We work in smaller numbers, and risk assess all events and activities to ensure people feel safe participating in our work.

And finally, what’s the key to any successful job search?

Focusing your energy on where you are at the moment and where you want to get to.

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