Creative drive as MacPherson starts new job

Robin MacPherson: 'struck by the breadth and the depth of the creativity in the islands' - Photo: Hans J Marter/ShetNews

THE UNIVERSITY of the Highlands and Islands’ first chair of creative industries has vowed to boost the status of the arts in the north of Scotland as he begins his new job.

Professor Robin MacPherson took up the Shetland College-based post in August as the university increases its creative activity.


The former Napier University director is bringing with him a wealth of experience, having been involved in film and television since the late 1980s.

MacPherson produced the BAFTA-nominated drama The Butterfly Man and he helped to establish Screen Academy Scotland in 2005.

The professor is now settling into the new job, which is partly funded by Shetland Islands Council, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Creative Scotland, as he gets used to life on the isles.

MacPherson cites three main areas that he will be involved in on a day-to-day basis: research, curriculum development and knowledge exchange.

This will entail investigating the links between the Highlands and Islands and the creative sector’s businesses, for example, as well as building the UHI’s portfolio of culture-based offerings.


“One of the things the UHI is looking to do is to develop a degree offer,” he said.

“This is so that students in the Highlands and Islands have more of a choice – they won’t have to go to Edinburgh, Glasgow or London, for example, to study.”

So what exactly are the creative industries? “There’s been a bit of time spent trying to define that,” he laughed.

“The obvious ones are fashion, textiles, music, broadcasting, film, publishing and craft. One of the interesting things is that a lot of creative jobs are not in the creative industries.


“You could work in the oil industry as a graphic designer, for example. It ranges from subsidised art forms through to others areas, so it’s very diverse. It’s a catch-all term.”

Shetland is known for many cultural exports, and MacPherson cited textiles, craft and music as three areas the isles have a “global reputation” in.

The UHI currently gives Shetland students the chance to learn in some of those fields through courses such as contemporary textiles and applied music.

“There’s a lot of opportunity in Shetland, particularly with the growing digital nature of creative opportunities,” he added.

“There’s an opportunity to build up the brand of Shetland internationally.

“We’ll also be able to identify where there’s opportunities for jobs and business turnover in Shetland.

“We can work with businesses to identify ways in which to take things globally. If you’re a craft maker in Shetland, you can be selling to customers worldwide. They may need help to see that there’s demand there, or to see there’s opportunities.


“There’s also developing the offering at the Shetland College and across the UHI networks for students, as well as for people returning through post-graduate opportunities.”

MacPherson left his job at Edinburgh’s Napier University to help launch the UHI’s new creative drive in the far north of Scotland.

It seems Shetland, however, has been on his mind ever since he set foot on the isles two years ago.

“I first came to Shetland a couple of years ago and I was just really struck by the breadth and the depth of the creativity in the islands,” he said.

“With video conferencing, being based in Shetland is possible in a way which might have been very difficult ten years ago. And I’m sure a change of scenery for me will blow the cobwebs off.”