Donna Lynas

I’m Maddy the current Circuit intern and I recently got the chance to interview Donna Lynas, the Director of Wysing Arts Centre for the last 12 years, to find out what her perspective is on young artists, the Circuit programme, and the arts sector.

Here is an extract:

MT: What are a few of the most interesting parts of Wysing Arts Centre for you?

I like how artists offer an alternative view on the world

DL: Well definitely the most interesting part of it is having so many interesting people come here. I really feel lucky every single day to be around so many interesting artists and colleagues as well. Wysing is like a magnet for people who have just got really brilliant ideas, and I really love the freedom to be able to just talk about ideas and art and think about it and bounce ideas around, and it’s quite rare in the arts that you find somewhere like that. That there are that quantity of artists coming through- all the different stages so, that’s the thing that I love about it. And then I suppose the other thing really valuable about it is the location because I like the fact that it’s removed from anything.

MT: It is really nice..

DL: It’s on the edge of a village which is on the edge of a city which has got this huge international reputation that’s not that far from London, so in a way I feel like we can access the incredible resources of Cambridge and all the villages and London and further a field, but still somehow have this place to retreat back into here and really think about things and have space just to work things out and think things through and then you can go back out again and engage with all this other stuff and bring it back. It’s hard for people to come here, I appreciate that people have to make a real effort to come to our events, but in way I think that also makes them what they are, because people really invested time and often money to come here in terms of travel costs. So when they do that I feel really grateful and just want them to have a really good time, and an interesting time, but they’re already coming wanting to have that kind of experience because they’ve decided to come here. So I actually think the location adds to all of that.

MT: Everyone’s made a conscious effort to be here..

DL: Yeah. So the two things: people coming in and out and the location are my two favorite things about Wysing.

MT: What do you feel you have learnt from being a part of this programme, of Wysing and everything?

DL: I’ve learnt masses. I’m still learning things on a daily basis. What have I learnt most? Probably to just take more time really, because when I have worked in galleries before which have been in cities and their very much driven by moments when the gallery and exhibitions are open to the public, and you’re constantly working towards this constant revealing of work or in-gallery exhibitions. There’s a huge pressure to constantly think about that point when the public interacts with the work, and to not think about that requires you to really slow down and take things at a different speed and not to just expect everything to just be on a linear. Because even with our residency programme it doesn’t always work that people come, do a residency, get some support and finance  –  it doesn’t necessarily mean that a certain amount of time later their art work will have emerged or be logical. Sometimes accepting that sometimes there’s not always a logical kind of process to things, that things can be a bit messy and overlap and might not make sense but eventually they will. I think thinking about time in a different way maybe is the thing I’ve learnt most.

MT: Do you remember when or why you first became interested in art and the sector itself?

DL: Yes I do, sort of. I do remember being probably like 4, and just loving drawing. And always when I was a child I definitely thought I would be an artist. And if anyone asked me what I was going do that was what it was going to be. And I did go to art college with every intention of being an artist but, I don’t know, it’s really hard to be. In a way anyone can be an artist if they work at it really hard, but very few people can be an extraordinarily good artist and I recognised at some point that I might not be an extraordinarily good artist. But then I did an internship at the Modern Art Oxford. I had a studio for 5 years after I left college, and I was trying to make sculpture and struggling thinking why am I even doing this if I can’t be this extraordinary. I wanted it to mean something. So I thought I would just not think about my work for a while and I did this internship for 6 months and I completely loved it, I just found it really fascinating how it all worked behind the scenes of a gallery and I was really lucky because I had a really supportive boss who really encouraged me and gave me loads of opportunities, so I was able to progress quite quickly through that organisation from being an intern through to curator within two years.

MT: Wow!

DL: I know- it’s a bit mad. I was just very keen, and it was good timing for the people who were there helping me, I was a curator for quite a long time before I wanted to move more into directing. And the reason was more because actually being a director is very much about ideas and about being creative. There are less creative sides of it obviously but when you’re shaping the identity of a whole organisation it’s a very conceptual process.

MT: it’s like an art-form in itself.

DL: it is. It really did feel like that and in a way even when I was a curator, I was feeling quite restricted. I loved working- I loved working with artists and delivering their visions but I felt itching to try a vision of something. So, I’ve really really liked being the director because of that opportunity to shape and be creative and almost approach it like an artistic practice.

MT: This might be a difficult question to answer but what has been your favorite exhibition or show you’ve held hear so far?

DL: Yeah that’s always tricky!

Wysing approaches everyone as an artist, a potential artist of the future, an artist at a different stage in their lives, or careers.

MT: Or just one that stands out?

DL: When people ask me what my favorite thing is I always say it’s the music festival actually. It’s the thing that I’m most involved with and the thing that I enjoy the most. I’m very interested in live events and liveness and an audience coming together to share this live moment of listening or dancing. So those are the moments I’ve enjoyed here more. I’ve really enjoyed a lot of the exhibitions and one that was curated a long time ago actually by curator Gareth Bell-Jones called “The Starry Rubric Set”, there was something about that that kind of had an energy about it that I still really like, really remember.

MT: How do you feel that Circuit joining the mix has, if at all, impacted on Wysing in any way?

DL: Yes, it’s impacted massively. I guess in terms of just bringing obviously a much younger generation of artists into contact with Wysing has really bought real energy into the organization. And also bringing individuals like you and Lou, that’s been really important because you are the future artists of the world, so it is really important that you are a part of this place, because as we all get older we start wanting to start handing over to the next lot of people coming through. I say Wysing approaches everyone as an artist, a potential artist of the future, an artist at a different stage in their lives, or careers, so I definitely see the Circuit group as like a group of potential artists at a certain period of their lives really, and I really want that group to play a role in Wysing and to be visible. And I love it when they programme things for their peers and stuff I think its really important, because I think I’d be happy if everyone in the whole world was an artist really because I feel like artists offer an alternative view on the world. Its usually very socially responsible and inclusive and kind of utopian sometimes, but I feel like the more people we can support to have a different world view that art offers, is a lot better for the rest of society as well.

MT: yeah.. I think the Circuit group is a really great opportunity.

MT: How do you feel Circuit works with the Wysing programme? Do you think it works well?

DL: yeah I do yeah. Obviously I love it when the group engages with the programme and goes and sees the shows. There were a couple of events that were programmed by Circuit, not just the big events but I think we had an arts award session that one of the days was programmed by Circuit for teenagers and I really thought that was brilliant. I love it when the artists are coming to do residencies here and they can then work with the group and things like that, I love all that.. Crossing over and I would just like there to be more I guess, but its all down to what’s possible, and we’re conscious that it’s a small group of people and you can’t really ask them to do things all the time you know- you have to balance without overloading them with things basically.

MT: What would you like to see from Circuit and Wysing in the future, and what are your hopes for it?

DL: Well I hope the group will be able to continue and grow, and what my really big thing that I would love was if- cause I’m kind of conscious that there are a lot of young people all over the place and I think Circuit is such a great example of a project that has brought lots of different kinds of people together, and there’s so much learning from our experience with that group of people that I would really love it if there was a way of Circuit supporting other young people to set up other groups, and just sharing all the knowledge and sharing some of the experiences, and it’s getting incredibly idealistic and its complicated but I do feel like the people who’ve been part of it are an incredibly knowledgeable a huge resource, and maybe learn how that gets shared beyond the walls of Wysing or wherever. I’d like it to continue in much the same way as it can.

MT: in your view, what are the biggest challenges that young people face either as artists or programmers at the moment?

DL: well there are many things but I think one of the biggest challenges, and one of the most worrying for me is just the education system, its just a disaster on every level! Right from the minute you start its so over regulated, I really feel for people going through gcse’s and things with it’s the pressure is now. And its so driven by perceived success and all the rest of it, and the schools and colleges are so beleaguer and I just think where is the space to be creative and to make mistakes to make a mess to do it all wrong, and for it not to matter. I think this country’s in a really serious state with its education. It needs to sort it out.

MT: yeah, aren’t they getting rid of the arts as well?

DL: yes the whole stem thing.. With huge emphasis on sciences it’s just really short sighted. Every single other successful country- you look at somewhere like Finland one of the highest achieving small country’s in the world, and they’ve got a completely different approach to education. Its so much more creative it puts creativity at the heart of everything, and for me that is the only answer. That’s what the whole thing needs to do, but I feel like its going really fast in the opposite direction and its frightening actually. Even personally, my son did really well in his GCSEs art but he didn’t want to do A level art because of the curriculum is so ridged, there’s not much space to be an artist in art A level! Like what? No one who was genuinely an artist could endure that because it’s just to focused on being able to demonstrate, some measurable understanding, I can see that there has to be an element of that- but there needs to be a lot more space for people to be creative.. And for them to be misfits and not fit in and for that to be a good thing not a bad thing.. So yeah I’d love to change the education system.

MT: I’m with you there. I was fortunate enough to go to a Steiner school

DL: you were lucky!

MT:  I don’t see why they don’t see its as important as it is to have creativity in schools

DL: well I did read something in the newspaper the other day about how, because you know that the world is becoming or will soon be run by computers, so lots of people are going to be out of jobs because they’ll be replaced by some sort of algorithm or computer programme but, someone was talking about how if you want your kids to be future proof send them to art school. Because- although if they do just choose it carefully because again they’re also highly regulated now.- But ultimately the message was make your children as creative as they can be because that’s one thing that’s going to help them survive, which I completely believe actually.