Rosie made her mark as dale's arts officer
From touring musician to helping connect people to the arts, Rosie Cross has enjoyed a varied career. Here, she picks a few highlights...
Can you remember the first time you performed on stage?
My eldest sister used to organise street carnivals when I was a little girl in Leeds. I recall making up a little song and dance with a friend and performing it on next door’s drive, which served as a stage, as it was a few feet higher than our drive, which was where the “audience” sat.
Was it always your ambition to forge a career in the arts?
Yes. For a long time I wanted to be a music therapist, but my keyboard improvisation skills weren’t good enough. (I think the profession has moved on since those early days when the piano was very much the centre of focus for music therapy). However, I’d always had languages in my qualifications and for many years taught French, Latin and Spanish to supplement my income when I was a touring musician in the folk-rock band Pyewackett.
What led you to Teesdale District Council, where you were arts development officer?
When Pyewackett stopped touring, I got jobs in Humberside and then Lincolnshire as a folk arts development worker. During that time I retrained and was awarded a masters degree in arts administration.
After a brief spell in rural Lincolnshire, I knew that I wanted to work in arts development in a rural area. The job in Teesdale came up in 1991. I remember driving up for the interview on a blazing hot day in July. I got the job, and started in September of that year
As the dale’s arts development officer, what was your role?
It was multi-faceted. That was one of the great things about it. In a nutshell it was making a connection between the people of Teesdale and the arts – very often participatory arts. I knew little about the visual arts but learned quickly. I commissioned quite a lot of public art, which was informed by conversations with local people.
I am very proud of the 11 pairs of parish boundary markers along the Teesdale Way, which I co-commissioned in 1996 from artist Richard Wentworth.
All the markers are still there today. Later on came the commissioned stile at Holwick, depicting the balance between grouse and heather, and there are the stone carved sheep on the Pennine Way just above Low Force. Both of these are the work of local sculptor Keith Alexander.
I instigated a number of community arts projects for young people, older people and intergenerational projects.
A project for people with mental health issues, called Good for the Soul was particularly memorable and rewarding.
Then there were trips to see larger performances and galleries outside Teesdale. Of course, there was precious little money in the district council for any of these arts ventures.
As a result, every project that I undertook involved an enormous about of fundraising. Luckily at that time Teesdale was eligible for European Development funding.
You were instrumental in helping to establish the Highlights Rural Touring Scheme – how did the scheme come about?
One of the things I did as arts officer at Teesdale District Council was to organise professional performances in village halls. I called it Seen & Heard in Teesdale (a nice name, but rather unfortunate as an acronym).
At the time there were a number of rural touring networks being set up around the country. My arts development colleagues in Tynedale, Eden and Weardale were running similar rural performance ventures. These districts make up the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
We four arts officers were already collaborating on other projects, including an annual North Pennines Storytelling Festival.
After a few years running separate rural touring schemes in the four districts, the four of us joined forces, raised the necessary funding, created Highlights Rural Touring scheme and recruited a coordinator.
In its earliest days it covered the four North Pennines districts only. Later it expanded to include South Lakeland, rural Carlisle and all of Northumberland.
I served on the Board, then, when Teesdale District Council ceased to exist, I was lucky enough to join the Highlights team as a staff member.
After many years of trying to explain to different funding organisations the value of rural touring for isolated communities, Arts Council England realised its importance; and these days it offers financial support to a good number of the rural touring schemes across the country.
How did the link between Highlights and Canada come about and develop?
A Canadian arts organisation called the Atlantic Producers Association runs an annual showcase event to introduce and promote Canadian performers to theatres and producers across the eastern Canadian provinces. They realised that the rural touring circuits in the UK were similar in many ways to touring in Canada.
Added to that, the Canadian Arts Council offers Canadian artists generous grants to perform in the UK. It’s a happy and productive partnership.
Many audiences in Teesdale have enjoyed the wonderful performances we’ve hosted in Teesdale from across the pond and I’ve been lucky enough to visit showcase events in Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and New Brunswick.
After more than 20 years, you must have a pretty good idea of what works well in a small village hall. What’s the secret to a successful rural show?
A show which really communicates with an audience. There’s an intimacy which you don’t get in a bigger theatre or arts centre. This gives a very different dynamic.
The audience is “at home” and the performers are the visitors. The performers need to understand this. It’s great for the audience to meet the performers and chat to them. You don’t get that in a larger theatre
You recently retired/ stepped back as co-director of the scheme – do you plan to remain involved with Highlights and what are your hopes for its future?
My involvement will be as an audience member. I can’t wait for live performances to be possible again.
I intend going to as many shows as possible and it will give me a wonderful excuse to go to many of the fabulous villages in our region. I love Northumberland, so can’t wait to get back there again.
Do you still enjoy getting up and performing?
Yes and no. I miss the buzz of performing, but I don’t miss the touring.
I still get a great deal of joy from singing with Barnard Castle Choral Society and playing bassoon for the annual outdoor carol singing in Bowes village.
What’s next on the agenda?
It’s still early days as yet. With the second lock down, opportunities for volunteering and amateur music making are severely restricted.
For now, I’m secretary of Music at the Heart of Teesdale (Cream Tees) and I’m heavily involved in the organisation of Bowes Carnival (fingers crossed for 2021).
Added to that there are innumerable jobs in the house, garden and on the allotment, which have been on the “to do” list for way too long.
And it will be lovely to spend more time with friends and family who live further afield – when we’re allowed to again.