How Derby’s QUAD are preparing for a post-lockdown summer of fun

QUAD and Guildhall, Derby Market Place

QUAD and Guildhall, Derby Market Place - Credit: Ashley Franklin

Nigel Powlson speaks with Adam Buss, CEO of Derby's cultural hub QUAD, about plans for 2021 and how the arts have still thrived during a testing period.

It has been a 12 months to forget for the arts with cinemas and theatres closed, music concerts cancelled and exhibitions delayed but hopes are high that 2021 will see a revival of fortunes – once we are able to once again experience the joy of a shared performance. 

Derby’s QUAD arts centre is forging ahead with its programmes for 2021 and praomising that two of its biggest events will definitely go ahead this year.  

QUAD and Guildhall, Derby Market Place

QUAD and Guildhall, Derby Market Place - Credit: Ashley Franklin

The popular outdoor film screenings at historic venues under the Summer Nights banner is also back on the schedule. 

READ MORE: Outdoor cinema showings in Derbyshire this summer

That’s on top of the cinema screenings, events, exhibitions, classes and workshops that form the core of the QUAD programme and which have been greatly missed over the past 12 months. 

QUAD’s CEO Adam Buss is optimistic that the arts will bounce back in 2021 although realistic about the challenges that still lie ahead. 

What he does know is the strength of the connection QUAD has with its audiences and how eager they are to engage with the arts. 

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‘One of the really positive things during this challenging time is that we have continued to connect with our audience through digital means and through our fundraising campaign, where we raised more than £11,000 from individual donations, which was fantastic,’ explains Adam. 

‘And it wasn’t just about the cash that was donated, but also the individual messages we got back which reaffirmed our commitment to fight our way through the challenges. Customers were clear they wanted to be back as soon as they could be, that they wanted to engage with us and although they really enjoyed the stuff we were doing online they really wanted to come back to QUAD. 

‘Our stakeholders have also shown their commitment in ensuring not only QUAD but other arts organisations can survive. We received emergency funding from the Arts Council, from Derby City Council through the grant from central government and, even though we have lost £1.5m in income, we have been able to survive because of that and furlough payments for staff that are not working.’ 

QUAD has continued to engage with people virtually during lockdowns and the success in building audiences will be something it continues with.  

‘We ran our largest online portfolio review for photographers during the last lockdown and more than 150 engaged with that programme,’ says Adam. ‘We do that in normal times, helping them develop their work and showing them where opportunities are, but this has clearly grown. 

‘Our curators have provided mentoring sessions for individual artists to show them what funds are available and we have been playing our role in the wider arts community and like all arts organisations in the city have been thinking about the cultural ecology.’ 

QUAD’s annual film festival took place online in 2020 as did some of its core programmes. 

‘Some of the online engagement has reached audiences we have never previously reached,’ adds Adam. 

‘Our Q Club works with young adults on the autistic spectrum and it was vitally important to keep that operating online. What it revealed was that we can reach parents and young people in similar situations around the world and we have had participants from North America, Europe, other parts of the UK, who we have never previously engaged with us - going forward we will look at a blended approach carrying on with the best of the digital engagement alongside the in-person experience. 

QUAD offered a Covid-secure environment ahead of the latest lockdown

QUAD offered a Covid-secure environment ahead of the latest lockdown - Credit: Charlotte Jopling

‘We launched a film podcast prior to the pandemic with Adam Marsh our film programmer and we increased numbers, engaging with people who want to talk about film culture. We don’t just show films at QUAD, we find ways of contextualising them and talking about them. 

‘However there is something special about that in-person experience and being part of an audience enjoying a performance, which you can’t replicate online; audiences miss the experience of coming to QUAD.’ 

Cinema has been badly hit, with major releases like the new James Bond film being continually put back. Cinemas need hits like 007 to guarantee audiences but Hollywood blockbusters need to know audiences are there before venturing out into an uncertain world. 

‘In terms of release schedules it has been a moveable feast,’ says Adam. ‘There’s now huge uncertainty about when key tent pole releases like James Bond will be released and what will come out around them.’ 

But with world cinema, independent films and classic reissues being a large part of QUAD’s schedule a dearth of Hollywood product might not be all doom and gloom. 

‘A lot of independent films don’t take a huge notice of how the big Marvel films are doing as they live in a different space for audiences,’ explains Adam. ‘I think more profile will be given to some of those independent films that have been in the shadow of bigger releases as the more commercial side of the industry is looking for that ideal time to put a film out there. Independent film makers know if they get an opportunity, audiences will seek them out.’ 

QUAD still needs to have a selection of films that it knows will sell out screenings, however. 

‘Moving forward we are looking at things like Blithe Spirit (Judi Dench starring in a remake of the 1945 Noel Coward/David Lean classic), which would have fitted very well with our audiences and our wider programme. We need films like that to blend into smaller releases,’ suggests Adam.  

‘Our biggest challenge is that the film industry is global not local, so things happening in terms of tier systems in Derby are important but what is happening in the US and China is more important.’ 

There should be less problem with programming Summer Nights, QUAD’s open-air film season which takes place at historic venues such as Kedleston Hall. 

Summer Nights has spread beyond its Derbyshire roots in recent years, taking event movies like The Greatest Showman and Grease to ever more venues. 

'We are in discussion with the venues we have previously worked with, making plans and booking dates and several new venues have come to us, so hopefully we can do all that we did before and reach into new venues that we haven’t been to previously,’ says Adam. 

The exhibitions in QUAD’s galleries have been long planned and can hopefully continue to bring internationally renowned artists to Derby audiences, as Adam explains. 

‘The timelines for exhibitions are very different from cinema and they are often programmed three or four years in advance as we are working with a cohort of international artists who have their own schedules or we are commissioning new work that takes time to create. This means we have our programme, but are making contingency plans if we can’t deliver all or part of them.’ 

One thing that will definitely go ahead is FORMAT – the UK’ leading international photography festival, which takes place in venues across Derby every two years. 

‘We are committed to the FORMAT Festival which will open in March,’ confirms Adam. 

‘One way or another we will deliver the festival. The questions marks are around how much of that can be physical and in what places and venues as we use non-traditional spaces like empty shops, disused factories and railway station platforms as well as traditional galleries. It’s about how much we can deliver in person and how much virtually.’ 

There are still financial pressures and uncertainty to cope with in 2021 but Adam can see a pathway back to something like normality. 

Nothing beats face-to-face engagement and interaction 

Nothing beats face-to-face engagement and interaction - Credit: Charlotte Jopling

‘We are making strides in the right direction. There are bumps in the road and the difficulty is predicting things for certain, so budgeting is tricky as we don’t know when customers will be back and at what levels. What we do know is that we still need to make significant savings which will mean a slight reduction in overall activity but we will still be making the core activity as exciting and transformational as we have always done. 

‘It’s about making sure core programmes have an impact. 2021 will be a reflection, looking at how we work and what we want to do going forward so our next three years after that are sustainable. Some of it will be informed by the pandemic but we are never cash rich in the arts as public funds are always stretched so we are always looking at being more efficient, having more impact and generating more funds in different ways so we are well set to address the challenges as it’s something we do anyway.’ 

And will audiences come flooding back? 

‘I don’t know, and anyone who says it will be this or that I’m sceptical of. This time has been the period of my life I have been most wrong. 

‘But I do think there will be some people significantly affected in terms of mental health and other issues who are less likely to want to come out, at least in the short term. I also know some are desperate to get out and do things.  

‘What I think it will do is offer us an opportunity to reach new audiences as they will see we will be putting on a vibrant programme and there will be something in there for them. 

‘Overall, it’s about those personal connections and human interactions that people miss, and I know they want to get back to that and we will be here for them.’ 

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