Outgoing director of Norwich Arts Centre speaks of the venue’s achievements

After being at the helm of one of Norwich's key arts venues for more than eight years, Stuart Hobday will soon be taking up some new challenges.

The outgoing director of Norwich Arts Centre is leaving to pursue research work and travel. And as he prepares to step down, he says he is proud of Norwich Arts Centre's achievements, in particular how the St Benedict's Street venue – which just a few months ago was named the top small venue in East Anglia by NME.com – has survived the tough economic times and continued to champion the cause of emerging artists.

Mr Hobday, who was previously an operations manager for the Millennium Dome in London and who will leave the arts centre in the autumn, said Norwich was lucky to have a good arts scene and to have a place like the arts centre as a platform for new acts.

'I will really miss the arts centre. It is a really great community here. There is always something new happening, always something unexpected, and never a dull moment. It is great fun,' he said.

When asked what he is most proud of during his time at Norwich Arts Centre, he said: 'That it has survived, that it is still going and it is thriving as well in difficult economic times. It has survived through unprecedented funding cuts and recession. We are always putting on new and interesting bands, and by definition that is always going to be a hard sell with the public. To keep that going, to champion the alternative and the new bands is so important – and I hope that Norwich Arts Centre continues to do that for many years to come.'

He spoke of how one of the most rewarding aspects of running the venue was supporting talent in all genres – from poets such as Molly Naylor, Luke Wright, and John Osborne to bands like Fever Fever.

He also highlighted how Norwich Arts Centre has been involved in many projects across the wider city and county, including the Norfolk and Norwich Festival and the Shop Art project which has seen artists' works showcased in empty shop units in Norwich.

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The arts centre has played host to many big music names over the years, and Mr Hobday said seeing some of his favourites perform at the Arts Centre had also been among his highlights.

'When we had Jimmy Webb here in 2010 that was a special moment for me because I grew up listening to him sing,' he said.

'My favourite band is The Jayhawks, and one of them – Mark Olson – played here in the first week I was at the arts centre in 2004.

'This November we have his band mate Gary Louris playing a gig here. In a way there is a strange symmetry – they have 'bookended' my tenure at the arts centre.'

One of his final projects at Norwich Arts Centre will be Norwich Sound and Vision, for which the Evening News is a media partner. The festival celebrating the music, film and multi media industries also includes the John Peel Festival of New Music and is from October 11 to 13.

'I wanted to stay and deliver Norwich Sound and Vision, which is going to be a really good busy festival, and a nice way to finish. This is going to be its third year and it will be bigger and better than ever.'

When Mr Hobday leaves, he plans to do some travelling around Asia and some research work, in particular on Harriet Martineau, the 19th century writer and social theorist who was born in Norwich.

'It is a bit daunting but it is also exciting, and I just thought the time was right to grab a new challenge,' he said.

For more about Norwich Sound and Vision visit http://norwichsoundandvision.co.uk/ Mr Hobday is giving a free talk called Harriet Martineau: Norwich Radical in America 1834-5 at 6.30pm on September 18 at the Millennium Library in the Forum, Norwich. The talk will look at the 19th century author's journey around America and analyse her influential writing. For more information call 01603 774740.

Norwich Arts Centre is now recruiting for a new director. Visit http://norwichartscentre.co.uk/

Are you part of a new arts project? Call reporter Emma Knights on 01603 772428 or email emma.knights@archant.co.uk

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