Student Story: Emma McFarland.

Emma's background in Performing Arts and her diverse industry experience has given her a unique perspective and experience during our part-time MA in London.

We asked her a few questions to understand her insights as a student on our part-time Digital Media Management programme in London, and as part of #dmmpt2.

Hey Emma, please tell us a bit about yourself:

I work freelance in the Performing Arts sector in many different ways. I’m a Creative Producer devising and producing artistic work. I’m a Strategic Designer who works with organisations and individual artists. Here, I re-design their companies, programmes and projects to meet audience and sector needs. Finally, I also work as a researcher and evaluator.

I started out in investment banking over 20 years ago after completing a degree in Economics. I held various senior roles in the Arts and Charity organisations before moving into the performing arts and the dance sector. I launched one of the voluntary sector’s first integrated e-learning and comms sites back in 2001.

Why Hyper Island?

I have worked on many digital projects over the years, and I wanted to expand my knowledge and understanding in this area. Most importantly I didn’t want an academic course. I wanted something which was industry based. Something that would enable me to bring new ways of working, thinking and understanding into the Performing Arts sector. I did my research, and I think I’m the only UK arts sector professional who has taken this course. That puts me in a pretty unique position as a freelancer and gives me a competitive edge. I love the fact I get to meet people on the course and through the industry leaders who come from such a wide range of backgrounds.

What has caught your attention so far?

Design thinking has been the biggest ‘revelation’ so far. I’d come across it in general terms but never had the opportunity to delve deeper; it offers so much potential for the arts sector. While working in the studio is creative, many arts organisations are run along very traditional lines. The funding system reinforces this conservatism and lack of risk-taking. There is an urgent need to shake things up if we are to design the arts organisations capable of surviving the disruption of the next 10-15 years. Design thinking inspired approaches combined with artistic thinking offer arts organisations the tools, processes and methodologies to do this.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned?

The biggest lesson is just how much you can learn by working with people from outside your sector. I have had an eclectic career but have very much focussed in the performing arts for the last ten years. The course has reminded me of the immense value of different perspectives and getting outside your comfort zone. As an independent freelancer, it’s also reminded me just how valuable the team is. I’m making it a priority to work more collectively going forward.

What advice would you give to future students?

Go for it! I spent over a year deciding as I knew so many people who had been disappointed by other postgraduate courses. Plus this was my second postgrad, so I knew it had to be good to justify the cost and the time. It goes so far beyond the traditional MA. It forces me to examine myself, my motivations, my interactions with others. It encourages me to challenge many of the orthodoxies in my industry which I enjoy. It’s equipped me with tools, skills, knowledge and understanding which I can apply every day in my work. It’s creative food for the brain, and I don’t think you can help but be changed by it – as a person and of course professionally.

Have you applied any of your learnings at work?

I have managed to get two design thinking focussed projects off the ground working with current clients. With one client, we are using a design thinking approach to create and prototype a touring dance theatre show aimed at ‘Generation Z’ teens. I am also working with this same client using some of the business transformation tools to re-envisage and re-design the organisation to better reflect and respond to the world today.

With another client, I secured funding from Arts Council England to work with Lawrence Kitson. He’s a Hyper Island industry leader, and we’re using design thinking processes to research and prototype a new resource to support talented disabled young people to progress in the performing arts. I have noticed Hyper Island changing my approach to all my work – for example, engaging client teams much more in developing solutions using creative workshops as part of a research brief, rather than the more traditional Consultant-focussed approach.

Also, it’s made me rethink how we present research and recommendations in the arts – perhaps 60 page densely written documents are not the best way to get information across! Infographics and a well-designed deck are far more engaging – I’m looking for a designer I can collaborate with on this going forward. Finally, it’s made me reflect far more on how I work with others and helped me understand better the culture and group dynamics of the organisations I am working with.


Emma is a student on our MA Part-Time Digital Media Management Programme.

Our part-time MA in Digital Media Management offers an innovative learning experience delivered by some of the world’s most innovative leaders and pioneers.
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