Jeremy Swan speaks to Adam Buss, Chief Executive of Derby QUAD, about careers, stand-up comedy, and his cultural vision for the city.
Unpredictable twists and turns seem to characterise Adam Buss's career, yet running through it all is an unbridled passion for the arts and a desire to make a difference in society.
Since completing a Film and Theatre degree at the University of Derby in 2001, Adam has worked as a stand-up comedian, Head of Media, Marketing Manager, and is now the Chief Executive of QUAD. He's a firm believer in seizing opportunities and this goes some way to explaining his colourful CV.
Raised in Hastings, Sussex, he got his first taste of working life getting up at 6am on weekends to clean caravans in a nearby holiday park. "My parents instilled a very strong work ethic in me," he explains, "so I had to work as soon as I was able to. I worked in a fairground once, operating the rides. You never know, it might come in useful one day."
Adam has been involved with QUAD since its inception in 2008 and has aimed to remain true to the original vision since his appointment as Chief Executive in March 2014.
"Everyone here believes in the power of the arts to change people's lives for the better," he says as we sit down to a cup of tea in the QUAD’s café bar. "We've deliberately tried to set up the organisation with a flat structure, so that anyone can bring ideas forward. One of our best loved groups, KnitsQuad, was set up by our admin officer, Hannah."
Aside from knitting groups, QUAD also features three cinema screens, a category 'A' contemporary art gallery and hosts regular and one-off events including live music, book clubs and guest talks. It's a hive that’s buzzing with activity.
"We wanted this to be a place that's rooted in Derby but speaking to the world... you don't have to be in London, New York or Paris to make exciting or interesting things happen."
One recent exhibition showcased local football memorabilia, much of it from the history of Derby County Football Club, alongside contemporary art pieces. Not a combination you would often see, but for Adam it was a great experience to bring the two worlds together.
"Someone once told me that art's greatest role is telling the story of society, and a lot of what we do has its focus on Derby. Art is all about bringing people together and the people of Derby are our core audience. They are our priority and we want to tell their story and celebrate their diversity."
This emphasis on the local has not blunted Adam’s ambition, however.
"We wanted this to be a place that's rooted in Derby but speaking to the world," he says with a determined note in his voice, "you don't have to be in London, New York or Paris to make exciting or interesting things happen. There are brilliant things about Derby that don't happen anywhere else."
Two such events are the Derby Film Festival and FORMAT International Photography Festival, both of which Adam is involved in organising. FORMAT especially is helping to put Derby on the map. It's the UK's largest photography festival, attracts visitors from around the world and is organised in partnership with the University of Derby.
Adam's energy and enthusiasm are clearly big factors in his success, but he looks back at the challenges he's faced as some of the defining moments in his career.
"The times when I've learned the most," he reflects, "were the times when I've been the most scared. Most people are reluctant to put themselves in situations like that, but the more you do it the more you'll learn. I have a simple mantra – 'Don’t be afraid to be afraid' which has helped me greatly in my own personal development.
"I'd also say getting a mentor is really important. I didn't get one until about three years ago and I wish I'd had one sooner. It's really helpful to be able to discuss ideas, hopes and fears in a neutral environment."
How do you get a mentor? Adam chuckles. "You just ask!"
Adam's turning points
What was your biggest career break?
It has to be when I was elected as a Sabbatical Officer for the University of Derby Students' Union. The role came with a huge responsibility and that was a steep learning curve, but it led to great opportunities to develop personally and professionally. If I had lost that election would my career have taken a different direction? I don't know.
Who has been your biggest inspiration?
My family are brilliant but I couldn't single one of them out, but the other person who always comes to mind was my first drama teacher, Mrs Marchant. She believed in me and opened up my eyes to all sort of possibilities. I think it's important for young people to find someone who believes in them and who they can believe in too. It's a crucial stage in anyone's development.
What skills do you prize in new staff?
The ability to innovate and be creative is important, and that is something we encourage right through the team. I also look for an ethos that matches our own values such as inclusivity, diversity and commitment to customer service – people expect good service, and rightly so.
Remember any good jokes from the comedy circuit?
Nope! I didn't really tell jokes to be honest, that was my biggest problem. I always had a vague idea what I was going to talk about, and then I would just ramble. It worked about 70% of the time…
CV – ADAM BUSS
2014 Chief Executive, QUAD
2013 Director, Derby Film Festival
2010 Director of Audience Engagement, QUAD
2009 Marketing Director, FORMAT International Photography Festival
2006 Marketing Officer, QUAD
2004 Press Officer, Derby Playhouse
2002 Head of Media, Making Waves Communications, London
2001 Leicester Mercury Comedian of the Year finalist alongside Jimmy Carr, John Bishop and Miles Jupp.
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