My Herts Life: Maria Iredale

PUBLISHED: 09:51 28 April 2015 | UPDATED: 09:51 28 April 2015

Maria Iredale at Letchworth Arts Centre

Maria Iredale at Letchworth Arts Centre

© Christian Trampenau

The Letchworth Arts Centre manager talks about gaining inspiration in the US, meeting the Queen, and the power of the arts to improve communities ahead of June’s Letchworth Festival

Maria Iredale meeting the Queen at Buckingham PalaceMaria Iredale meeting the Queen at Buckingham Palace

What brought you to Letchworth Arts Centre? I started off working in retail management for Gap and Nike, but I’d done an arts degree and always wanted to work in a creative business so I steadily moved in that direction. I was working for a children’s arts charity in the north-east when I saw an advert for an interim position, to write a business plan for the arts centre. We really missed the south so jumped at the chance to move back. That was in 2006 and a year later the trustees asked me to run the place. I’ve been here ever since.

What’s the best thing about your job? Being able to take an idea and make it happen and turn it into a big event. I speak to promoters, see what other people are putting on, watch arts programmes – ideas can come from all over. I also get to go to the Edinburgh Festival and this year Brighton too, and from there we pick what we think our audience would like.

You met the Queen this spring, how come? The Queen is patron of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust which gave me a fellowship to travel to the USA to explore art as a catalyst for community regeneration. I met her at a reception in Buckingham Palace this spring (right) to mark the 50th anniversary of Churchill’s death and it was an incredible opportunity. I’ve always believed firmly in the capacity of the arts to boost communities so with my fellowship I went to places where they’d made that happen, from Detroit to Boston.

What are you working on now? In America I heard of this fantastic theatre group who we are bringing over in June for a residency, to perform and work with local students as part of the Letchworth Festival (June 13-28). TC Squared are performing a piece about World War One, Messengers of the Bitter Truth, and working with Da Vinci School pupils who will create their own response piece. They’re also doing four shows at the arts centre, bringing the words and artistry of people who survived the Great War to the stage.

What motivates you? The arts has a role to play in making things happen, to change people’s minds and as a force for good. Artists are active citizens who can make people rethink their lives and their potential. Entertainment is just the start.

What’s next? I’m now working with theatre companies to develop pieces which will start in Letchworth and then tour. That’s very exciting: starting from scratch to create something new.

I saw a documentary about Northern Soul music and found it amazing so I started looking around for people involved in that. I found a photographer called Dean Chalkley who has taken some wonderful pictures of Northern Soul clubs and is internationally recognised, and together we are creating a Northern Soul event in September with live music and an exhibition. It’s those collaborations which come out of a shared passion where you can create something magical.

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