Alan Weston speaks to MIKE STUBBS, director of FACT, as it prepares to celebrate its 10th birthday
IF STUFFINESS can be an occupational hazard for directors of major arts organisations, then Mike Stubbs is something of a breath of fresh air. My first introduction to the man who has been in charge of FACT for the past five years is when he comes bounding out of the Wood Street building with two table tennis bats in hand and enthusiastically suggests I interview him while playing a game on one of the nearby ping-pong tables.
He then reveals himself to be something of a petrolhead when he points with obvious pride to his motorbike, which is tied to a street bollard.
This down-to-earth, informal approach somehow seems fitting for FACT, or the Foundation for Art and Creative Technology, to give it its seldom-used full name. While some arts institutions can appear forbidding or elitist, the emphasis here is on accessibility and inclusiveness.
Next year the centre, the flagship of the redeveloped Ropewalks area, will be celebrating its 10th anniversary with a wide range of events. They will include a major survey of the art of the pop video, a sci-fi extravaganza utilising both cinema screens and galleries, and a show and accompanying book called Turning Fact Inside Out.
By way of preparation, both the street frontage and inside reception area are being given a makeover.
In the longer term, a new three-strong executive team is being set up, comprising Mike as overall director in charge of the artistic side, along with a part-time finance director and a yet-to-be-appointed executive director who will have a commercial and business focus. This will include finding new sources of income to make up for the expected shortfall in public funding.
Mike himself has an extensive background in arts management, having arrived at FACT in 2007 direct from Melbourne, where he was curatorial manager of the Australian Centre for the Moving Image.
In addition, he is an award-winning moving image artist in his own right, including making and curating short experimental films for Channel 4. His aforementioned fascination with motorised vehicles has also found its way into his artwork.
Mike, who is Hertfordshire-born, said the prospect of Liverpool being European Capital of Culture in 2008 was a powerful factor in his decision to move from Melbourne – recently ranked the most liveable city in the world – to the more bracing climes of Merseyside.
He also admitted: “My predecessor Eddie Berg had done all the hard work as founding director in getting FACT off the ground.”
But while FACT played a full role in the success of Capital of Culture year, harsh reality soon came knocking in the form of economic recession and city council funding cuts.
Mike likens it to “arriving to a Champagne party called European Capital of Culture, then waking up in the morning to a credit crunch and there is no aspirin”.