Vicki Garson chats to JLife’s Sarah Nelson about her new-found role and aspirations as cultural director of Menorah Synagogue.
“Manchester really is on the cultural map of Great Britain. As well as existing theatres and cinemas, there are lots of new establishments being born. I don’t think there’s a better place to be.”
And there’s nobody more fitting to depict the community’s continued commitment to cultural happenings than Vicki Garson, who has recently taken the reins of Menorah Synagogue’s art programme. Since being designated to the position by the board, Vicki has been tasked with co-ordinating the array of activities that take place.
She explained: “My primary role is to build Menorah’s cultural reputation. Its foundation programme, which includes Film Club, Book Club and Menorah Arts n’ Drama (MAD) among others, are all led by other Menorah members but I support them in any way that I can. But as well as that I take on or initiate events that fit alongside this programme and look to integrate its communication and extend Menorah’s partnership with outside institutions.”
She has been associated with Menorah for more than 20 years, and it was when she joined the board in 2014 that Vicki’s cultural ties were officially forged. In 2011 she was a leading member of the team behind the SMart Festival, also involving Melissa Dorfman and Kerry Barlow. Hundreds of visitors flocked to witness the host of shows over two weeks, but rather than being overwhelmed, Vicki enjoyed the “extensive work.”
She said: “There was such a lot to do but it was great; and everything I now organise is much simpler in comparison!”
And in the wake of the event’s success, Vicki’s transition to cultural director was a “natural progress” as it became “increasingly clear that one person on the board was needed to oversee the cultural activities.”
Since her appointment, she has quickly made her mark by being involved with a number of prominent ventures including the Choral Extravaganza, the UK Jewish Film Festival (a cross communal event lead by Menorah member Judith Gordon) and Peace: an Evening of Words and Music.
“In that moment, they each become the favourite thing that I’ve ever worked on. There’s always a sense of community.”
And in terms of any challenges that have been encountered thus far, the battle is to ensure that events are constantly “fresh”.
Vicki said: “There’s so much enthusiasm to put on cultural events but it’s important to make the most of the calendar, rather than exhausting it.”
Interestingly, Vicki’s background seems to stand in contrast to her present position; her career started off in the scientific world before she concluded as an HR Director for a large global business.
“I always found it hard to choose between science and the arts – films and books are a major part of my life – but now I don’t have to!”
2015 is gearing up to be an active year for Menorah, as Vicki overviews the influx of activities that visitors can look forward to, such as a dance workshop in January and a production of The Real Inspector Hound in February. But she is particularly excited about the Jewish Book Week, running from 1st to 3rd March.
Vicki explained: “The origins of the first one began in 1938, organised by Collette Hassan, and now it’s returning to Manchester, cross-communal across three synagogues.
“Bowdon’s Harvey Bertfield had previously hosted authors from the London event. He invited Stephen Lentin from Hale and myself and Melissa Dorfman from Menorah to work with him, in conjunction with Jewish Book Week in London, to deliver a Jewish Book Week for Manchester.”
And as for her long-term forecast for Menorah, Vicki intends to promote partnership and for it to remain a “vibrant place to go to”.
“When I’m at Menorah, I feel immediate warmth and a sense of friendship. That’s what makes it stand out.”
For more information about upcoming events at Menorah Synagogue, visit Menorah.org.uk.