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Work & study

A Fortunate Turn Of Events

Kate Veling | August 25, 2020

Community-minded producer, Sue Horkings, has found the perfect medium to create connection through experience via events management.

Starting out as a volunteer organising community events, Sue Horkings has racked up some great experience in events management on the Gold Coast. She’s currently the producer of Storyfest On the Road – an educational program that inspires kids to get excited about reading.

But her path into events management had its beginnings in a much different sort of scene. Many years ago, Sue and her husband managed a “slightly wayward” backpackers in Notting Hill, London. “My role was guest experiences; in-house functions, guest tours,” recalls Sue. “Anything that brought people from across the globe together and made them feel connected by experiences they shared that would be remembered fondly.”

The couple went on to open their own backpackers in New Zealand, which is still in operation. Hospitality inspired in Sue a desire to connect people; socially, locally and as a community. It didn’t take her long to realise the event space was the perfect medium to fulfil her mission.

Sue’s first foray into event production was as the organiser of Varsity Vibe Markets at Varsity College, where her children went to school. The markets were a huge success thanks to a team of passionate parents and a three month crash course for Sue into dealing with council, external vendors, 70 stallholders and 5,000 people on opening night. The amount of information I absorbed in that little time is years’ worth of knowledge,” she laughs.

VIBE.street Market at Varsity Lakes
Sue Horkings at VIBE.street Market in Varsity Lakes
Varsity Winterfest

The experience, skill and connections made from the markets compelled Sue to join a local community board, where Varsity Winterfest was formed. It was a larger community event created to activate multiple spaces throughout the suburb and transformed it into a bustling festival with symphonies, comedy, skateboard workshops, markets, theatre, fireworks and a massive 22,000 visitors annually.

Sue had discovered a passion for production but was not sure where to go next. She wanted to make the leap from volunteer to professional, gain experience working on a major festival and work alongside industry peers.

It was then a friend, a co-producer of Varsity Winterfest tagged her in a post about the upcoming Producer Placement Program through the Gold Coast City Council. Sue applied and was delighted to be accepted. She was matched with Somerset Storyfest writers’ festival in January 2019 to assist in the production of several events at the annual festival in March.

The experience was invaluable. “Having co-produced reasonably sized community events, there was no clear pathway for me to follow that gave me an opportunity to professionalise my experience and skill set,” explains Sue. “So programs like Producer Placement are so valuable in that they give creatives like me the opportunity to work within some of the Gold Coast’s best festivals and connect with their peers.”

The placement gave her experience working in a professional events team, the opportunity to network and build relationships in the industry – and a career! Her mentor recognised the enthusiasm and competence Sue brought to Storyfest, as well as her potential, and the placement turned into a job.

Sue is now the producer of Storyfest on the road – a mobile extension of the program of writing, illustrating and storytelling workshops, delivered at schools and early learning centres on the Gold Coast, in Brisbane and beyond. She’s passionate about establishing and growing the program, and is driven to bring authors and illustrators into the classrooms across the region to inspire all kids.

VIBE.street Market at The Kitchens, Robina Town Centre.

As someone who’s now very much involved in the local arts community, Sue says the Gold Coast has huge potential to cement a spot among one of the best places in the country for creatives to work.

“I think the collaborative direction of our creative community is positively impacting the way in which it delivers events on the Gold Coast,” she says. “In my experience, I have found council and local government most supportive, which only reinforces the importance of connectedness, which creates a much stronger and unified community.

“Our landscape makes our creative culture unique,” she reflects. “We are one of the most picturesque places in the world, with an abundance of creative practitioners, so the more collaborative activations we present, the richer our community will be and the more desirable our city will become.”

The City’s investment in arts and culture is reaping rewards. We’re becoming a place where artists, performers and arts industry workers are excited to call home and a destination cultural tourists are keen to explore. The Gold Coast is gaining a reputation for being a creative city.

To support the development of creative practitioners and arts workers on the Gold Coast, the City offers motivated individuals the opportunity to undertake a broad range of professional development activity accelerating their career opportunities. Visit our website to find out more.