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Meet the Team behind Small Town Big Dreams – Graeme Watson

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Small Town Big Dreams is a podcast which shares the stories of creative entrepreneurs in Northern Ireland. It was founded in 2018 by Blick alongside Graeme Watson and Karishma Kusurkar it is a collaborative project that we have worked together to develop.

We thought it would be nice for everyone to find out a bit more about the team behind the podcast and their experiences during lockdown and the pandemic. We begin this week with Graeme Watson.

 

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?

My name is Graeme Watson, and by day I work in marketing and communications in higher education, but by night, for the past 14 years or so, I’ve been very active in building the comedy scene in Northern Ireland as a promoter and producer.

 

You have a background in comedy, what has been the impact of the pandemic within the comedy scene?

Comedy across the UK and Ireland has been hit very hard by the pandemic. From the smallest gigs in pubs to the largest gigs in theatres and arenas, comedy has been ‘cancelled’ along with live theatre and music. It has been interesting to watch how comedians have responded to this period though – from doing shows on Zoom or Twitch, having more time to concentrate on video or audio content, doing shows in people’s gardens, or ‘drive-in’ shows etc.

So there’s been a lot of creative responses, but for the vast majority of people who make a living performing comedy, or promoting it, it will have been an incredibly challenging time in terms of making a solid living.

 

Are you optimistic about the future of comedy and live performances?

I think comedy will always find a way through a situation like this. One thing that’s been interesting in Belfast is that with social distancing and curfews being in place, live comedy is now seen as being one of the only viable forms of entertainment for a Friday night. This wasn’t the case before the pandemic, because a disco or live music was seen as a more profitable option. Whether this is unique to Belfast I’m not sure, but in the long term comedy will recover.

That said, I suspect the pause will also act as a kind of watershed moment for some performers and clubs, who may decide to pack it in or not re-open. So I think the comedy scene after the pandemic subsides will be quite a different place from the one before it.

 

What kind of changes do you think the pandemic will bring to that sector?

It’s very hard to predict – I suppose the thing we haven’t got our heads round yet is how long the restrictions might be in place. Many of the public health people strongly hint that we will be living with this virus for a long time. So if the virus remains a high threat to public health for the next 3 or 4 years, for example, at the minute it feels like night life of all kinds is going to be the most heavily restricted. But for how long? That’s the big question really – I think most people in live entertainment are thinking they can just about survive until the Spring, but if there is no end in sight then I think this sector will be in the bleakest despair, quite frankly.

 

What about your own creative work, how has it been impacted by the pandemic?

Well, strangely, as I turn 40 this year, I had decided to take a bit of a sabbatical from running events to take stock and get re-inspired and re-energised. I had been getting used to sitting in more at night (and thinking how strange it felt), only to then be thrown into the situation of doing nothing but ‘sitting in’ for 4 months. So if anything it just turned my year of reflection into something even more intense! I wanted a year that was a bit different, and that’s what I got…

I suppose I didn’t really have a creative plan for this year, but I definitely wanted to develop more audio projects, so making The World Turned Upside Down was a great opportunity to really stretch my ambitions and abilities on that front. I also produced and edited a short story podcast with an author friend, called Inside John Patrick Higgins. That has been fun and interesting to do as well.

 

How was the lockdown for you?

Looking back, I think for sure at the start it was very strange and a little bit scary initially. It came all of a sudden, and was such an unimaginable scenario – everything being shut down and being told to stay at home, in a very short space of time. I felt very lucky to have been in a secure job that I could carry on doing at home – if I had gone into promoting comedy full-time as I was once planning to, I think this would have been a total catastrophe for that business, even if it was ticking along reasonably nicely.

The thing that I appreciated about lockdown was being able to spend more time in my home and appreciate it, and just the opportunity to slow down and get a bit more organised domestically and think about daily routines and exercise and things like that. It was really back to basics, wasn’t it?

 

What was the biggest change to your life?

I’m not sure I have an answer to that yet! There have been lots of changes, but I’m not sure which are temporary and which might be more long-lived!

 

Any changes you are planning to make to your life long term?

It feels dumb to say this, but there are definitely healthy daily habits that I developed during lockdown that I would like to keep as normality resumes. It’s easy to live very reactively when you are very busy all the time, rushing from one thing to the next, but I felt it gave me the opportunity to take a breather and get a bit more control, and maybe use my time better too.

 

What did you find most challenging?

I live on my own, which I guess other people would find challenging, but I’m sure it was much more challenging to be looking after children and other people during all of this. The most challenging thing was definitely just not being able to see family and friends. Sometimes I think this current period is actually worse, because although you might be working, the things in life that give life enjoyment and make work-life tolerable are severely restricted. I think that will be a difficult thing to sustain.

 

What kept you sane during this period?

Making the podcast definitely helped! I am a firm believer in always having a few projects on the go – I think that’s how I maintain sanity. Learning new things, even simple things, and having some purpose to your day is the recipe for sanity that hasn’t failed me yet. Lockdown was a new scenario in that you had really no idea when it was going to end – so there was no future planning, just day-by-day living, and trying to inject some purpose into the present.

 

You heard all the interviews in full, what was your biggest takeaway piece of advice or insight from all the interviews?

I was really struck by how people adapted to the situation so quickly, trying to find the opportunities in it, despite dealing with what I’m sure was quite devastating consequences of lockdown for some. I think Sean Duncan from Redcap Productions said something quite insightful about this being a ‘shared trauma’ that we’ve all experienced. I think that’s what’s so unusual about it – so many people on earth have experienced this strange purgatory, this strange hell, but we’ve all experienced it in ways that are utterly unique to our personal circumstances. In that respect, this moment in history has changed all of us quite profoundly in some way or another.

 

Finally what are your plans for your creative work in the future and how can people find you online?

For the moment my interest is definitely in writing and creating more interesting audio projects, so I think I will find a way to experiment with that in different ways.

People can find me online on Instagram at @graeme_theory, or on Twitter at @graeme_watson.

 

You can find out more about Small Town Big Dreams and listen to all previous podcast episodes  and episode 1 of Small Town Big Dreams new audio documentary ‘The World Turned Upside Down’ on the impact of the pandemic on creative entrepreneurs in Northern Ireland here: https://www.smalltownbigdreams.co.uk/

#blickstudios on
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We just wanted to wish everyone Merry Christmas and a Happy New year! ⁠
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What a year it has been, with everything going on. We hope that you all take the time to relax, and have a well deserved break and slow down over the Christmas season.⁠
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Spend time with your loved ones and stay safe! ⁠
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See you all in 2021!
Gorgeous sunny start to the week at our Hill St studios 🌞☀️
All 4 episodes of our @stbdpodcast audio documentary 'The World Turned Upside Down' on the impact of Covid-19 on the creative industries in Northern Ireland are available now for listening on Soundcloud Spotify and iTunes with full details on our blog (link in bio) 

https://www.blickstudios.org/.../small-town-big-dream.../

Big thanks to project co-creators and hosts @karishmasworld and @graeme_theory and academic partner Dr Brian Dixon and project funders FutureScreensNI and @northernirelandscreen
@belfastdesignwk took place from 2nd-8th November 2020 and included a Pop-Up Design Museum in venues across Belfast city centre with work by commissioned designers.

It was great to see such variety of work from designers & makers, the different types of people collaborating together and the will to keep going and showing up, despite how testing 2020 has been. 

The theme of Belfast Design Week 2020 was "Environment" and it was great to see the broad spectrum of how people interpreted the theme within their work. 

Thanks to everyone that joined us and supported us this year!
These are some of the highlights from this year's Belfast Design Week as filmed by @foreversocialweddings
We are excited to introduce our newest Blick Resident - @dannisimpsonart ⁠
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Danni is an Australian artist who specialises in Commercial murals and Illustrations. Her style is an urban fusion of detailed floral illustrations where wildlife clashes with architecture and typography, sprinkled through with dashes of art deco and mandala patterns.⁠
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Danni has a side project, The Creatives Market which showcases local NI Makers and Creators will be holding a virtual Black Friday Christmas Market to encourage people to Shop Small and local this year. ⁠
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Head over to her page today to check it out or visit her website at www.dannisimpsonart.com⁠
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Be sure to check out the full interview on our website https://www.blickstudios.org/meettheresidents/meettheresident-danni-simpson/⁠
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Filming this week in our main room in our Malone studios which is currently available to rent hourly or for the day or evening, prices and info on our website or get in touch for more info

#creativespace #creativeworkspace #coworkingspace #creativehub #workspace #studiospace #Belfast #southbelfast
We had some gorgeous light shinning on our Malone Road studio this morning! Feels like the last of those crisp autumnal mornings before winter arrives!
Monday morning vibes at our Cotton Court Studios! ⁠
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We love how different all of our different studio spaces are but still have the same feel about them. ⁠
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We make sure in all studio spaces that there is a relaxing communal place for everyone to come together ( socially distanced of course). ⁠
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#blickstudios #creativespaces⁠
We've got that Friday feeling at our Hill Street Studios! We hope that you all have a great weekend and keep cozy!
The COVID-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact across the globe across all industries.

As a creative business-focused organization, we wanted to understand how other creatives have been affected by the pandemic as well as how they have coped with the situation that has been forced upon us.

The toolkit provides an insight into how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the creative industries in Northern Ireland and gives practical advice and guidance on how to stay positive during this period of uncertainty.

The toolkit was compiled by Dr. Brian Dixon Ulster University from evidence gathered from the Small Town Big Dreams audio documentary ‘The World Turned Upside Down’ about the impact of the pandemic on NI creatives.

To get access to the toolkit, click the link in our bio and it can be downloaded or visit our website at www.blickstudios.org
Very sad to see the Cathedral Quarter so empty on a Saturday evening 😥
The 4-part audio documentary series has come to an end. It has been amazing to hear different people's experiences and perspectives on how they have been navigating the pandemic. We wanted to revisit the 4 episodes which are available to listen to on our website - www.blickstudios.org⁠
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Episode 1 - The Great Disruption ⁠
Our guests - Jacky, Patricia, Noxy, Sean D, and Sean McC ⁠
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Episode 2 - Together Apart ⁠
Our guests: Aisling Rusk, David Moody, Nisha Tandon & Ryan Ward ⁠
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Episode 3 - Connection Lost?⁠
Our guests: Shannon Delores O’Neill, Emma Johnston, Andi Jarvis & Lauren Taylor⁠
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Episode 4 - Staying Sane⁠
Our guests: Paddy Raff, Tessa Ann, and Matt & Abby Bonner.⁠
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We will be releasing a creative enterprise toolkit designed by Dr. Brian Dixon on Sunday as part of @belfastdesignweek⁠
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We are looking back to our final episode of the 4 part documentary - The World Turned Upside Down in collaboration with @stbdpodcast

This 4 part audio documentary series of sharing stories of how the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic has impacted the lives and livelihoods of people working in the creative industries in Northern Ireland. 

In part 4, we find out how creative entrepreneurs have attempted to maintain mental health and well-being during this very challenging time. 

Here is a snippet of comedian @paddyraffcomedy sharing his experience during the pandemic.

You can listen to all 4 episodes at www.smalltownbigdreams.co.uk
Belfast Design Week is starting next week from  2/11/20 - 8/11/20 and we are very happy to be involved again this year. 

The theme for Design Week this year is Environment. Design influences all aspects of our environment which in turn impacts our lives and surroundings and how we experience and live in the world. 

All of the events are now live on the Belfast Design Week website, so visit www.belfastdesignweek.com
Behind the team of Small Town Big Dreams - Dr Brian Dixon

Dr. Brian Dixon was our academic partner for Small Town Big Dreams audio documentary 'The World Turned Upside Down'. He worked with us throughout the series to shape the direction and select participants and to use the evidence gathered to create a Creative Enterprise Toolkit which we are launching next week as part of Belfast Design Week.

We asked Brian to tell us a bit about himself and share his experiences of the pandemic and its impact on University education as well as what he learned from the interviews for this project.

To read the full article, visit https://www.blickstudios.org/small-town-big-dreams/meet-the-team-small-town-big-dreams-dr-brian-dixon/
The World Turned Upside Down is a 4-part audio documentary sharing stories of how the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic has impacted the lives and livelihoods of people working in the creative industries in Northern Ireland.

In Part 4, we find out how creative entrepreneurs have attempted to maintain mental health and wellbeing during this very unusual time.

With the world having been turned upside down, many people have struggled to make sense of the new normal. With so much uncertainty and when what’s at risk is as serious as people potentially dying, it’s no wonder that it has been so difficult to stay mentally well at this time, no matter how hard we try. 

But 2020 has also offered a pause for thought. It has forced us to re-evaluate how we live and work. Whether we really need to go to all of those in-person work meetings, or even have as many. Whether we need to buy fast fashion or whether we can do with consuming less. 

Whether we should finally do that thing we have been putting off, whether that is learning to cook or proposing to a partner.

But has 2020 fundamentally changed us as a society? Has it permanently altered the way in which we work in the creative industries? Or is it a glitch in time before we simply move on and Covid-19 eventually becomes just a distant memory?

In our season finale, you’ll hear from creative entrepreneurs Tessa Ann of the Sound Healing Spa, Matt & Abby Bonner from Forever Social - Film + Photo, and comedian Paddy Raff.

Thanks also to Alex McMillian, Katie Ireland, Chris Thompson, Dara Flanagan, and Meadhbh McIlgorm for their call-in contributions, reflecting on their experiences during 2020.

Presented by Karishma Kusurkar and Graeme Watson.

Produced in association with Blick Shared Studios, with support from Future Screens NI, Northern Ireland Screen, and Ulster University.

Supporting Academic Research by Dr. Brian Dixon.

Full Episode Details: https://www.blickstudios.org/small-town-big-dreams/audio-documentary-the-world-turned-upside-down-episode-4-staying-sane/
Behind the team of Small Town Big Dreams - Introducing Karishma Kusurkar who is one of the co-founders of Small Town Big Dreams, Co-Director of Belfast Design Week, and is a multidisciplinary designer based in Belfast.⁠
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We asked her to share her experience of how lockdown was for her, what impact the pandemic caused for her business and how she was able to get through the experience. ⁠
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Karishma's key takeaway from the guests she had on the series, was how resilient everyone has been.⁠
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This seems to be the key theme in all creative businesses in the current client. Learning how to adapt to the uncertainty and learning how to move forward despite the chaos of the world. ⁠
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To read the full interview, visit our website at https://www.blickstudios.org/small-town-big-dreams/the-team-behind-small-town-big-dreams-karishma-kusurkar/⁠
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We love to share the new residents that join Blick Studios. We are passionate about the creative industry here in Belfast because we get to learn and develop long-term, meaningful relationships with other creatives. 

We want to introduce our newest resident @jenny_eva_design

We got to catch up with Jenny a few weeks ago where she shares her journey of becoming self-employed, what keeps her motivated, and tips for other creatives that are just starting out. 

It is always lovely to hear other people's experiences because it can give you the clarity that you need, or just hear that other people share the same struggles. 

To read the full interview, please visit our website https://www.blickstudios.org/uncategorised/meettheresident-jenny-eva-design/
We are reminiscing about our Belfast Design Week Big Design Day Out 2019, where we had created an array of different events last year for both kids and adults throughout Belfast City. 

It was a magical time being able to connect with different people and celebrate all things design related!

Unfortunately, this year isn’t possible to run the same type of events as we have done in previous years, but there are still lots of exciting things coming up for Belfast Design Week 2020!

The program is being released next week, so be sure to keep an eye on their feed to see what’s coming up! 

Follow @belfastdesignwk or visit www.belfastdesignweek.com for details on this years festival 

Video by Ross McConaghy
Part 2 of our new Small Town Big Dreams 4-part audio documentary ‘The World Turned Upside Down’ sharing stories of how the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic has impacted upon the lives and livelihoods of people working in the creative industries in Northern Ireland is out now.

In Part 2 we look at how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected communities and networks. We speak to architect Aisling Rusk Studio Idir, videographer and fellow podcaster Ryan Ward Morning Coffee Podcast , film-maker David Moody, and arts organisation director Nisha Tandon Arts Ekta

Self-Isolation. Social Distancing. Herd Immunity. Working From Home. Social Bubbles. These phrases have all become synonymous with 2020 as we navigate the various relationships in our lives and how we can look after them even at a distance.

 People have rekindled their long lost hobbies and found newfangled ones too, from music to DIY to making poetry. What’s been more important than ever before is community – which can mean different things to different people, from our families, friends and work colleagues to the collectives we belong to. “We are all in this together” is a phrase we have heard many times before but this actually does ring true, both on a local and global scale for the first time this century.

The World Turned Upside Down is presented by Graeme Watson and Karishma Kusurkar with support from Future Screens NI, Northern Ireland Screen, and Dr Brian Dixon Ulster University.

Full episode details and info: www.smalltownbigdreams.co.uk or listen on Soundcloud Spotify or iTtunes
We are excited to introduce our newest Blick Resident @lukehaslett from iakoe, who is based in our Malone Road studios.

We got to hear about Luke’s new search marketing agency that was founded in March 2020. They combine SEO, content marketing and digital PR to drive long term search visibility and ROI. They work with everything from high growth startups to household name brands.

In this interview we asked him what the biggest hurdle has been starting out and what advice he would give to people starting out in a working environment. 

Be sure to check the full interview on our Blick Studios website https://www.blickstudios.org/meettheresidents/meettheresident-iakoe/