New chair heads up HVAF

HVAF has secured a new chair with the appointment of Mel Hilbrown, just as Mike Willison steps down from the role.

Mel outlines why a background in business is good for HVAF and why participation is key to our success...

My day job is Executive Director of St Albans Enterprise Agency (STANTA) which is a not-for-profit organisation providing support for start-up and small businesses in the form of free or low cost business advice and low-risk options for premises. I have been doing that for over five years now, but previously my career was in the commercial market. I worked in sales and marketing for a number of large companies and then ran a small to medium size business for 12 years.

I do not consider myself an artist, although I first picked up a paintbrush while I was at university in the 60s (where I read English) and have occasionally painted since; but have always had an interest in the visual arts and music, especially opera – which some would argue is partly a visual art form. I have acted as auditor for the St Albans Arts Society for a number of years too, but it was Andre Bottin, whom I knew through his business, Enterprise AB Ltd, who persuaded me to meet Mike Willison and Chris Green – and somehow I found myself voted into the chairman role.

I believe it is probably a good thing to have a chairperson who is not an artist, and who has business experience. It is difficult for most arts organisations to be sustainable, and the business awareness is probably more important for the chair than the artistic awareness. Being an artist and marketing yourself is not easy: very few become rich and only a fraction of those who try make a reasonable living from it. It can also be quite isolated and it is difficult to get your work seen, which is why I have always thought Open Studios was a great event. Without Mike’s understanding and hard work, Open Studios would probably have died, and frankly I would not have been able to consider taking on a role that involved that level of input.

But HVAF now has a strong organising group of volunteers, which is critical to the future of any arts organisation. And they are now helping to increase the range of activities. The membership would lose the opportunities to exhibit, the publicity, and the support of the group around them without the dedication and commitment of this team – and the help of outside volunteers that they recruit. It is important that the members do not take this for granted and are prepared to contribute themselves to help ensure the future of their HVAF.

HVAF’s primary role is to promote its artist members and their work and the Open Studios will remain the prime route for this; its role is also to encourage artists and encourage them to join, and to encourage interest in the arts. Open Studios has a big part to play in this. As well as the thousands of brochures, publicity and the opportunities to see the work and engage with the artists all around the county, Open Studios produced more than 13,000 studio visits last year. That is a great achievement.

But there is a lot more that can and is being done. The web is now a major vehicle to engage with the arts, and the capabilities here are being developed to allow not only for every member to have a web presence that they can manage themselves, but increasingly for the site to become one that those interested in the visual arts scan regularly to find works that interest them.

There are also active specialist groups which are getting stronger, additional exhibitions that are extending the opportunities to show work across more of the year and generally the organisation has a momentum which is exciting. I believe my role is to help encourage this, and in particular to help encourage the participation which will help ensure that all members get the maximum benefit from their membership.


Welcome on board!

A very warm welcome to HVAF Mel! I'm sure all Organising Group members and HVAF members will enjoy your presence among us. I wish you all the best! Andre

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