The Lowedown - 5 Things you didn't know about Stephen Lowe (Scattered through issue) 

  • He used to be a shepherd
  • He was once air-lifted out of Tibet by the Indian Army suffering from altitude sickness.
  • He killed off Diedre Barlowe's second husband Rashid. (Deirdre)
  • He nearly drowned playing Dirty Dick in Whitby Bay.
  • He once had a show T-Shirt censored by Richard Eyre because it read "Touched by Stephen Lowe"


Limelights at the Nottingham Playhouse seems an apt place to meet Stephen Lowe, never one to shy away from it as writer, actor, artistic director, public speaker and now the Chair of East Midlands Arts. Stephen was delivering a speech at the ArtsMark awards when we met, telling school children about building bridges and the joy of play. The joy remained as he talked about his own company, his views on the new Arts Council and his vision for the future of East Midlands Arts. Meeting Ground, which Stephen co-founded and co-directs brings together artists from all over the world to "celebrate each other's work and see what is possible."
(didn't say how good lookiing, charming I am!!! My mother will be disappointed.

You're part of a company that facilitates contact between artists, is that what you're doing as Chair?

"We're trying to open communication, to share an excitement of art. Individual voices being allowed to express themselves is a central aspect of what EMA and the ACE are about, not just churning out the stuff which is a big attraction but actually the grass roots, providing support for the diversity we enjoy. We listen to voices that need to find expression. That crossover, that breaking down of what art is, is essential to this. We need an organisation that understands, that can respond and nurture."

You talk of a single, unified and responsible organisation. How will it work?

"The new system has a good structure, it cuts through the duplication and the fragmentation of the old system. Whereas before you were going to a separate organisation for funding with no (limitted)access to the decision making, now there is a regional presence central to the debate. The new Arts Council has all the representatives of the chairs of each region, the senior executive team is composed of senior executives of the regions plus key arts officers. There will be an overlap between regional discussions and we can learn more than ever before about each other. The lines of communication move both ways more freely. How much passes through this interchange is what we have to find out.

Will it work?

"There has been great debate about (the need for one single voice to speak up for the arts) an organisation speaking about the arts, politically. ( A unified, national voice, not simply London based). We need someone to open up this arts organisation and challenge it. The arts are funded far less here than in the rest of Europe, (and we need to fight for more ). Nevertheless, what it achieves here is incredible. Without celebrating creativity and the wonderful diversity that exists in this country this would be a bland place. What's important to me is that people making their own work don't lose their creative freedom. We want to reduce the complexity of paperwork when applying and be more responsive to where people are."

What are the benefits of the merger?

In the past if you wanted funding you could go to the Arts Council and you could go to your region. There should be a way in which you enter the process in one area and the structure carries you across. There should be more artists involved in decision making. Working on YOTA was fantastic, we were funding artists directly with small amounts of money and so much happened, partly because the board were all artists. The new council all have a passion for the arts and a wide array of artistic experience."

You meet for the first time in September, what will be on the agenda?

EMA is moving, to bring the organisation more accessibly into contact both with artists and with other organisations we need to relate to e.g. EMDA, EMMEDIA etc. so it's crucial we address this. We'll be asking "what is devolved?" Not only will we promote the region, we will also see ourselves as part of a national entity that we can influence, where we can share models of good practice, knowledge and experience. The key decisions to be made at the moment are about what can be done, where we want to go and what finances are available. We have to set the parameters because we are still in this changeover period.

How will you represent the East Midlands on a national scale?

I celebrate our extraordinarily diverse and vibrant culture. Other regions have a clear identity, the Midlands is the middle line of this country and is incredibly different in profile of all its many major towns. There are very different questions arising in the High Peak than there are in the flatlands of Lincolnshire. We are faced with challenging problems in all the key areas and have vision and experience in dealing with them already. There needs to be a national debate of all these issues and (for example the question of art in rural areas ) should be put on the national agenda. What's more, through having a single, responsible body overseeing all of this there is also more scope for thinking about the East Midlands in an international context.

And the future?

We're all looking forward to getting over the small-print. These changes will open us up to questions and approaches, keeping us better informed and allowing us to do our job to the best of our ability. We should think nationally as well as regionally, to identify real areas of vision where money and resources need to be applied more readily. Initiatives like the Creative Partnerships (see issue 23) and Cultural Diversity (see page ) need to have strong infrastructures, so that funding isn't just a nominal amount with no longevity. We need to widen the definition of art and the understanding of what it can do.- (the hope, the excitement, and joy it can bring into all our lives.)

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