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'Mother Goose' to boost culture across South Kesteven

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When it comes to taking a top new role with South Kesteven District Council, decades of experience in pantomime just might be appropriate.

If your task is to fulfil the cultural as well as the economic ambitions of the council, playing Mother Goose, not to mention a Fairy Godmother may also be essential.

Michael Cross is 55 and has joined InvestSK, SKDC’s economic development arm as its Head of Arts.

The actor and art director took up his role in May and has spent the time busily touring arts and other groups across South Kesteven as he begins the task of developing a new cultural strategy for the council, something which will be debated by its members next week.

Michael was born in Peterborough but grew up in South Holland and attended Stamford College. He went to drama school in Birmingham which saw him develop his acting the hard way, touring the country doing variety shows and many summer seasons.

His favourite roles included being as the dame in Mother Goose, but he has also been an ugly sister as well as a fairy Godmother in Cinderella. He has played Widow Twanky in Aladdin and he was once the Wicked Queen in Snow White.

His work with Michael Rose Ltd, a new production company, saw the young thespian become production manager and in time a director, becoming involved in finances and budgeting.

This was in addition to choreography, set and costume design projects as well as writing and adapting plays, musicals and pantomime.

At the turn of the century, a chance to ‘return home’ happened, and Michael became artistic director of Key Theatre in Peterborough.

As well as wearing the frocks and treading the boards, Michael had a very broad role, becoming the face of the organisation and organising the annual Peterborough Festival.

He told the Journal: “Underneath it all was all the business of looking after a building, running it and keeping the doors open. This is where your business acumen comes to the fore, there’s marketing, promotion, budgeting.

“They were good times and the theatre changed massively over the 12 years I was there with three major refurbishments.”

During this time, Michael also kept busy as a lecturer in performing arts at a number of colleges and universities.

A spell as venue director of the White Rock Theatre in Hastings followed , developing its programme, community activity and engagement. He then returned to freelance work before joining Peterborough Music Hub as programme manager.

Earlier this year, InvestSK sought someone to handle the arts and cultural side of things, as the council-owned body takes a more ‘holistic’ view of economic development.

The Conservative-run council believes quality of life, which includes matters like arts, culture and heritage, as also being essential in attracting businesses and jobs to the district.

For Michael, the opportunity presented a chance to use all the skills and talents he has developed over the years.

“We reach an age when you want to use your skills in a positive way. Being an actor is more selfish. It’s all about you. When you work on management you work with and for others.

“You are working on behalf of all these creative people. It’s very exciting. You understand how creatives work. I work with designers, musicians, I understand how they tick having being there. I understand how to get the best out of them.”

As Head of Arts, Michael brings his acting and business talents together to be the voice of arts within InvestSK. He is joined by Andrew Norman, it’s head of the visitor economy, Claire Saunders its heritage regeneration officer and Paul Allen, who works with town centres and markets.

Each has their own area of expertise, but by working closely together in The Maltings, the team can collaborate on projects and make them better.

Since joining InvestSK Michael has toured the district and being bowled over by the variety and depth of arts in South Kesteven.

What Grantham has its famous Gravity Fields and Stamford it’s festivals, Michael has been focussing on Bourne and the Deepings to ensure the district acknowledges all its four towns.

The Deepings have saved their library, which will be the catalyst for a literary festival next May.

Willoughby Gallery in Corby Glen has staged fine arts displays and every village he has visited all seem to be doing something to make it worthwhile to return.

St Wulfram’s Church in Grantham also hosted fine displays from Grantham College.

Michael continued: “I want to use my role to celebrate the arts and promote it. I also want us to share it and get groups to work together to create a more regional presence.”

Another task will be developing South Kesteven’s new cultural strategy, which will operate from 2020. With the start of a new decade, he sees much opportunity for fresh thinking.

Already Michael “having conversations” with various arts and related groups to help develop this strategy.

“The creative industries are very much the future. We are now in a good place to think long term about how the creative industries in the economy come together.”

“The way people are working is changing. A lot of innovation comes from people with creative and imaginative minds.”

Already music and the arts adds £45Bn to the UK economy, responsible for 140,000 jobs and 30.9 million ticket sales a year.

Steve Bowyer, InvestSK’s Strategic Lead confirms how bringing this all together creates a “more enlightened” approach to economic development.

To help make it happen, Michael is keen to talk to anyone about arts and culture and what they are doing.

He can be contacted via michael.cross@southkesteven.gov.uk

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