Neil Butler is the artistic director of Glasgow-based charity UZ Arts which works across borders and artforms in Europe and further afield. They make, commission and produce work usually to be presented outside conventional venues and often in festivals and events. In the past, that’s included Glasgow’s Hogmanay, Artfair and Merchant City Festival, and Big in Falkirk. And now they’re running Vault Art Glasgow. Here are Neil’s first five jobs.

At college in Brighton in 1977 I was elected vice president of the Students Union on an anarchist ticket and spent a year promoting the Clash, Damned Vibrators, Stranglers and Siouxie. I got introduced to Situationist theory and the glories of performance art, set up a contemporary art festival with Roger Ely, promoted Genesis P. Orage’s Throbbing Gristle and started an enduring creative relationship with Ian Smith of Mischief La Bas.

I followed that with seven years teaching Drama whilst performing in local bands with names like the New Rotics, Extremists in an Igloo and The Screaming Sirens.  I eventually found modest success with a performance group called the Wild Wigglers.

Around the same time I set up an underground club called The Zap, which mixed leading edge art and entertainment. We championed Stomp, The Blue Man Group, Kathy Acker, the Bow Gamelan Orchestra, the entire first generation of alternative comedy,  Oasis, U2 and countless others at the beginnings of their career. I also set up a religion with Ian Smith based around surfing. By the mid 80′s we were programming at the South Bank and ICA and then picking up on house music and creating “art raves” that toured Europe with artists, entertainers and DJs taking over warehouses for parties.

In 1988 I was invited to Glasgow to create festivals and events as part of the preparations for 1990′s European City of Culture. We created a company called Street Biz.  (Our first gig was at the Briggait, which I returned to when it reopened last year: UZ are based there, and of course it’s now the location for Vault.)  We put on Slam, Bing Hitler the group that was to become Stomp, Julian Clary and many others.  The whole period was very exciting: lots of street theatre and large-scale events like the first big Hogmanays and the Big Day Out.

In 1994 we set up UZ and were very lucky to be involved in developing some great events with a very talented team of artists, organisers and crew. A personal highlight was 1999’s Wrap the World project when I made a piece of work that linked artists across 6 countries and 4 continents and was televised to a ridiculously large audience.  Some of the best fun was setting up Dressed to Kilt fashion show as part of Tartan Week in New York and showcasing Scotland in Toronto with Scottish Ballet, astonishing the locals by dancing to the Nine Inch Nails remixed by Aphex Twin.

I’m a surfer, and so I first went to Sri Lanka to follow my sport, however, in the past few years I’ve set up an arts centre there which runs training in performance, IT, art and English. We also offer residencies to international artists, one of which led last year to an extraordinary show, Life Streaming, by the Dutch theatre maker Dries Verhoeven. The performers were in Sri Lanka and the audience in festivals across Europe, watching live streaming online. As a progression of my involvement there, I’ve become the Director of Colombo Arts Biennale.


We’ve asked professionals in creative industries what jobs they have had in the past to get their foot through the door (or at least pay the rent). For more in the “My First 5 Jobs” series look here.