A soft spot for Southwold and why Great Yarmouth has it all, by SeaChange Arts’ boss Joe Mackintosh

PUBLISHED: 13:59 14 September 2018 | UPDATED: 14:02 14 September 2018

Joe Mackintosh, chief executive of SeaChange Arts

Joe Mackintosh, chief executive of SeaChange Arts


Joe Mackintosh of SeaChange Arts shares his East Anglian heaven and hell

Joe Mackintosh has been Chief Executive of Great Yarmouth’s SeaChange Arts for 20 years. Under his leadership the organisation has become one of Arts Council England’s National Portfolio Organisations and a major player on the UK and international circus and street arts scene. Whilst operating on an international level SeaChange are proud of their base in Great Yarmouth where they now have their own venue The Drill House. Their annual Out There International Festival of Circus and Street Arts began eleven years ago and is one of the largest outdoor arts festivals in the country. It runs from 14-16 September 2018 all over the streets and parks of the town centre. Gina Long talks to Joe Mackintosh, Director of SeaChange Arts.

What is your connection to East Anglia?

I grew up in Norfolk, studied in Edinburgh, and then worked away for some time. I returned 
to the east of England specifically to work here and to develop the arts in Great Yarmouth. A task 
I’m still happily embracing twenty years on.

What is your East Anglian Heaven?

I love the coast and all it offers. I have a soft spot for Southwold, and love traipsing across the beaches of North Norfolk. And, of course, Great Yarmouth! The town is genuinely crazy and wonderful. It’s said of lots of places but it really does have something for everyone, with a fascinating history and some quite stunning architecture. Of course there is also the Golden Mile of glorious beaches and all the elements you need for a proper traditional seaside holiday. There’s also lots of hidden histories and secret things and places – the Portuguese quarter around King Street for example. The town is home to one of the most multicultural populations in the county, giving it a unique and thrilling character all of its own.

What is your East Anglian Hell?

Tough one. We’ve had a wonderful summer this year, and it’s not unique to East Anglia, but like anyone involved in the outdoor arts, I find the vagaries of the English weather unsettling!

What is your favourite East Anglian restaurant?

Quayside Plaza on the river in Great Yarmouth, run by the amazing Angelo and Magda, a husband and wife team. It’s a family restaurant specialising in Portuguese & Mediterranean food that attracts a really mixed cosmopolitan clientele and SOOO good. But book, it’s busy.

How best to spend a summer evening in East Anglia?

A relaxed summer cycle ride to a country pub. I’ve been a keen cyclist since my teens and used to be a member of a couple of cycling clubs. Nowadays the emphasis is very much on the ‘relaxed’ with the incentive of a good pint of local ale at the end.

Favourite East Anglia landmark?

The Nelson Monument in Great Yarmouth. Yes, we have our own Nelson’s Column! And I’m much more fond of it than the Trafalgar Square version.

The best thing that happens in East Anglia every year?

We’re lucky to have so many varied festivals in the region but I have to say The Out There International Festival of Circus & Street Arts! This year is the 11th and it has become the region’s largest free arts festival through some very hard work from our team and a not insignificant amount of European funding. It’s always marvellous to see the streets come alive with so much colour and spectacle and it attracts a great range of people – more than half from outside the area.

What’s your Mastermind subject?

European funding programmes and application forms of the last 20 years!

Always in my fridge...

The fridge always seems to contain an infinite number of empty fruit juice cartons left by my four sons.

My simple philosophy of life...

Change is the only certain thing. Change is something that many people fear but it truly is a certainty and if we embrace it rather than try to avoid it we would all have a better life.

Favourite film?

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, one of the greatest westerns ever made but it goes beyond that. It’s a great buddy film showing the nature of true friendship and trust, it looks really good and has some very funny moments. What more could you ask for?

First job?

Carrot factory worker near Swaffham when I was 17. Eye opening.

Most treasured possession

I guess my grandfather’s Bechstein piano that I have restored. It is well played by me and all my children. It is amazing that something made over 100 years ago still sounds so good and gives so much pleasure.

Who do you admire most?

All those who give back. Bill Gates is a pretty good example of someone who puts his wealth to good use. He has pledged to give most of his wealth to charity during his lifetime via the Gates Foundation which donates money to improve healthcare and ease poverty across the world.

Biggest indulgence?

I seem to have amassed a lot of old tubas. What started as a small creative upcycling project at work, has turned into something of an obsession. Now I have tuba lights, tuba plant pots… you name it!

What I like most about myself

I guess my tenacity – anyone who knows me is well aware that I don’t give up easily, also nurturing talent in others. I find this really pays off.

Worst character trait

Where to begin? Let’s say swearing, especially when I’m needing to employ that tenacity!

Holiday destination

Tropical islands are hard to beat although it’s been a while since work commitments allowed me to visit one. Indonesia has some of the best.

Best day this year

So far, our Festa Fiesta event in June. We produced it as part of Great Yarmouth Arts Festival, with a stunning circus carnival. It was all part of celebrations to mark the 250th anniversary of circus this year. It involved lots of local people and was the very first outing for the incredible life size elephant puppets that we produced in partnership with Norwich City Council.

Favourite breakfast

A simple cup of tea is my usual start to the day.

Favourite tipple

A good G&T especially if it features one of the newer artisan gins from Norfolk.

Hidden Talent

I play a bit of funky fender Rhodes electric piano sometimes...

Most embarrassing moment?

At the launch speeches for Out There, one time I totally forgot to introduce the Area Director of the Arts Council who was there to speak. He took it with good humour as he’s a good guy.

Earliest memory?

Playing with a hosepipe in California in 1973. My parents did 
a year’s teacher exchange there. 
As a child I was always encouraged to immerse myself in ‘messy’ play. It’s something I’ve continued with my children. We’re always den-building, messing about in the water and making rope slides. One of the joys of living in the Norfolk countryside – you’re never far from an adventure!

Funeral Song

Hey Joe by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, don’t think I need to explain why.

Something people don’t know about you?

Many years ago I had a job helping victims of miscarriages of justice to be released from prison.

Worst thing anyone said to you?

“You’re hired” (see carrot factory answer above!)

Why live here and nowhere else

Well this is where I am! It’s a brilliant place for children to grow up with lots of adventures to be had. I travel around Europe a lot, seeing shows and making contacts, but East Anglia is a very homely and relaxing place to return to.

I want to tell readers about...

If you have never visited the Out There festival you should! September 14-16 in Great Yarmouth. It’s huge and spectacular, it’s totally free with great diversity of performers from around the globe and much closer to home, all of them indisputably world class. This year we have a really special edition to mark 250 years of circus. The Saturday headline show Bivouac250 from Marseille’s G�n�rik Vapeur involves 250 local people and it’s set to immerse the town centre in an anarchic, crazy rock ‘n’ roll adventure that will explode across the streets with colour, music, mayhem, smoke and fire. If you only visit the East Anglian seaside gem that is Great Yarmouth once a year make it during Out There - you’ll love it!

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