After 10 exhilarating years in the spotlight as the boss of Aberdeen Performing Arts, Jane Spiers has exited stage left.
The chief executive of the arts body that runs His Majesty’s Theatre, the Music Hall and The Lemon Tree officially stepped away from the role yesterday, June 30.
She leaves after a decade of remarkable highs, such as the triumphant renovation of the Music Hall and some lows, such as having to steer the organisation through the dark days of the pandemic.
“I am managing so many emotions at the moment,” said Jane. “I think the hardest thing is going to be saying goodbye to my work family here, especially after everything we’ve been through in the last couple of years.
“I picture myself on my last day, exiting stage door as I do every night, but actually not coming back to work. So that’s going to be really hard.”
Jane said she has loved every minute of her time with APA – and hopes she leaves a legacy of a team that has gone from strength-to-strength and is ready to boost the city’s cultural life ever further forward when new chief executive Andy Eagle steps in to the post next month.
“I’ve enjoyed it immensely. What I’ve enjoyed most and I think what I’m most proud of is the team that we’ve built together and everything we’ve achieved,” she said.
“It’s great to come into work every day with a bunch of people who live to work rather than work to live. And I think the incoming chief executive is going to be so fortunate to inherit that team.”
Jane Spiers will miss the thrill of working in a living theatre like HMT
Jane said she would miss the thrill of working in a living theatre.
“I’ve got the show relay in my office. And it does the five-minute call, beginners call to stage, crew on standby, then the bells for clearance for front of house and you just can’t replicate that feeling. So I’m really going to miss that very much”.
Jane first arrived to take up her role in 2012, fresh from her post as chief executive of the Horsecross in Perth, and in her first interview with the Evening Express she outlined her vision for Aberdeen Performing Arts.
Those ambitions included a revamped Music Hall and Lemon Tree and an arts scene the envy of Scotland and beyond – all boxes which she has ticked, with ambitious plans for the Lemon Tree unveiled this week.
In addition, Jane has pioneered the creation of three new festivals for the city – Granite Noir, True North and youth arts festival Light The Blue, all while keeping up a stream of West End hits and household names arriving to perform at APA’s venues.
One of her crowning glories is the £9 million transformation of the Music Hall, a labour of love for Jane, but not without some bumps on the road. Such as the discovery once work was underway that the almost 200-year-old building didn’t have any foundations.
Reliving moment the Music Hall was discovered to have no foundations
“I loved the Music Hall from the first day I walked in and I felt there was enormous potential to create a new hall for a new generation of artists and residents and I felt it was time to do that”, said Jane who received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce Northern Star Business Awards in 2019.
“But people had said to me, if you want to do anything in a Category A listed building, don’t dig into the foundations, but we had no choice but to make the one transformational move. When we dug in you might have expected to hit granite, but we hit just fresh air, no foundations.”
But with a “superhuman effort” from everyone involved to get the place ready – including the APA senior management team polishing brass up until midnight the day before, the Music Hall reopened in December 2018.
“The contractors were still on-site and handed the building over on the Thursday, we got the theatre licence on the Friday and I was on stage introducing Fran Healey on the Saturday.
Jane is immensely proud of the new festivals, too, particularly the crime writing extravaganza that is Granite Noir.
It takes her back to the very start of her career in the arts when the lifelong bookworm, who was born in Perth, arrived in London after graduating from Edinburgh University, with a rucksack, a fiver in her pocket and a job in bookselling and publishing.
Lifelong belief in power of the arts to shape, enrich and transform lives
“I’ve had a lifelong love of storytelling which is actually what we do in the arts. So to be able to bring a book festival to Aberdeen, one so located in place and international in outlook has been an absolute privilege,” added Jane, who was made an honorary Doctor of Letters by Robert Gordon University in recognition of her achievement with APA.
Many of those achievements have been away from the bright lights of the city’s main stages, in building an enviable outreach programme taking arts into the community and making the arts more accessible to all.
“I’ve been driven in my career by a belief in the power of the arts to shape, enrich and transform lives,” said Jane. “We’ve gone out into communities, far and wide, and opened our doors and I think we have improved access to the arts. I’m proud of that.”
Now, as she leaves her post, she has been able to tick off another of her ambitions by setting the expansion and renovation of The Lemon Tree in motion. It is a venue that is very close to her heart.
Lemon Tree is an amazing venue in Aberdeen and across Scotland
“It’s an amazing venue that’s not just significant locally, but across Scotland and some of my most heart-stopping moments have been at the Lemon Tree,” said Jane.
“Sitting listening to Peggy Seeger singing I’m Gonna Be An Engineer, that inspired a generation of young women, seeing Julian Cope, Wolfgang Flur from Kraftwerk, but also I’ve been introduced to so much more new music.”
And Jane has many other precious memories of special shows at His Majesty’s in her time as chief executive. These range from Wicked- “I know how hard the team worked to get that show to Aberdeen” – to The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time at HMT, to seeing Texas on stage at the Music Hall.
“That was the opening weekend of the Music Hall and to have Texas on that stage, I just felt we had made it and I was so proud of the team. The venue was looking amazing, the buzz was just out of this world and Texas were amazing on stage. I mean, Sharleen Spiteri, she’s such a role model.”
All of the various strands and projects of the past decade have also come together to realise another of Jane’s ambitions – putting arts and culture at the heart of life in Aberdeen.
“I’m confident as I step away that not just Aberdeen Performing Arts, but the cultural sector in Aberdeen had a stronger voice. I’m very proud of our contribution to the formation of Culture Aberdeen and to the culture plan as well. I see these young leaders coming through. That makes me very happy.”
Jane has high hopes for the future of arts and culture in Aberdeen
And she has high hopes too for the future of Aberdeen Performing Arts, an organisation she is leaving in good shape, not least after steering it through the disastrous impact of Covid when the venues were shut and revenue lost.
“We were so fortunate – and determined – to raise the funds to keep our team intact and that has helped us to hit the ground running, coming back from Covid.
“We’ve done very well in attracting our audiences back as well, probably better in the north-east, than in some other parts of Scotland. There are still gaps in all of that, but by and large, we’ve got a fantastic program ahead of us for the next two years. And we’re financially stable. What more can you ask for?”
She hopes that in years to come, APA will build on everything that has been achieved, by the team which Jane describes as her proudest legacy.
“I don’t feel it’s my job to give advice to the new chief executive, but if I was to give any, it would be ‘just be brave… and watch out for the scurries’.”
Jane is not done putting culture at the heart of people’s lives. Just last month she was announced as the new chair of the prestigious National Theatre Of Scotland.
“I’ve never shied away from a challenge in life, I like new adventures, so I’m excited, I’m optimistic and I’m curious for what the future holds for me,” she said, adding she sits on several other theatre and arts boards.
“So I don’t feel as if I’m being put out to pasture. It was my birthday last week. And my daughter sent me a really thoughtful gift.
“It was a paper diary, beautifully handmade, and it was embossed on the cover. It said: ‘Jane Spiers, New Horizons’.”