In this regular Sunday feature, we ask people about 10 things that changed their life. This week, Alexia Holt, Cove Park associate director and visual arts programme producer.

1. William Howard School

The National: William Howard SchoolWilliam Howard School

LIKE many other comprehensives, there was nothing particularly outstanding about William Howard School at Brampton. I grew up in a fairly rural part of Cumbria, about seven miles east of Carlisle, and it was the teachers that opened my mind to the outside world. It might be a bit of a cliche to say that teachers can change your life, but it’s true – they really do.

When it came to seeing art, there was the Tullie house in Carlisle, but it didn’t do much in the way of contemporary art. An art teacher, Mr Barker, took my A-Level art class to the National Galleries in Edinburgh to see a Matisse exhibition at the National Galleries. It was one of those life-changing moments for me. I had never been to such a prestigious gallery and to see that work on such a scale was phenomenal.

Comprehensive schools work on tight budgets, but the effort that some teachers made to make sure we had access to not just exhibitions but also theatre such as the RSC production of Macbeth ... these experiences define me as a person.

I have three children and when I meet their teachers, I always think, “are you going to be the teacher that makes that difference? Are you going to be the one that helps to shape them?”

2. Moving to university

The National: Transmission GalleryTransmission Gallery

I MOVED to Glasgow in 1988, to study History of Art at the University of Glasgow. That was absolutely brilliant, of course, but the importance was the wider Glasgow at that time. The vibrancy of the city was a marked contrast to my life in Cumbria. Places like the Queen Margaret Union changed my life in terms of access to live music and I also met my partner, who is still my partner, during Freshers’ Week. Going to places like Transmission Gallery in the early 90s was transformative.

My move came two years before Glasgow became European City of Culture in 1990. Even though I was focused on my degree and spent a lot of time on the university campus, I felt the city opened up to me.

3. Student Grants

The National: Margaret ThatcherMargaret Thatcher

IN 1989, the Conservative Party (Under Margaret Thatcher) froze student grants. If I hadn’t been lucky enough to get a grant, there’s no way I would have been at university.

It’s obviously something that’s a huge cause for concern for young people who can’t access even anything close to the level of support I had.

That’s why the rules on tuition fees in Scotland are crucial, particularly when the value of certain degrees is questioned by some people, like studying art for example – it’s seen as abstract in some ways. With the kind of background I came from, moving to Glasgow to study art without that support would never have happened.

4. Glasgow School of Art

The National: Firefighters battle a blaze at Glasgow School of Art in June, 2018, four years after the building was badly damaged by fire in May, 2014Firefighters battle a blaze at Glasgow School of Art in June, 2018, four years after the building was badly damaged by fire in May, 2014

My mum came from a single parent family but my grandmother somehow managed to support her so she could go to art school in Carlisle. I understood the impact it had on her life.

Art schools allow you to have different ways of thinking about the world and to challenge things. Of course, any good education can do that, but I think art school also provides different ways of expressing those ideas.

So when I came to Glasgow, you can imagine the pull of the Glasgow School of Art. I was even a Mackintosh tour guide for a wee while, after I graduated. Even though I hadn’t been a student there, I got a chance to experience the building. There was an inclusive feeling about Glasgow School of Art. Even if you didn’t study there, it was a place where you felt you could be part of something.

Working there for a while with people like Juliet Kinchin and Ray McKenzie was inspirational.

Of course the GSA been through such a horrific time that it’s important to not lose sight of how important and valuable it’s been to so many people.

The people who worked in it, in some ways, were as important – but the building is such a representation of Glasgow.

5. John Smith and Sons

The National: John Smith's bookshop at the University of GlasgowJohn Smith's bookshop at the University of Glasgow

INDEPENDENT bookshops are vital. I had a Saturday job with John Smith and Sons and probably ended up being the longest-serving Saturday girl in a bookshop in the western world! When I worked for them, there were so many branches. There was St Vincent Street, Byres Road, one at the university and one at Strathclyde University.

I served my time in pretty much all of them, but when they opened a branch at the CCA, which was really all art books, I moved there.

That gave me a lifelong love of books and passion for independent booksellers. I do shop in all the main booksellers, but there’s a difference to the independent. It can open up the choices of what is available, and can in many ways respond better to the context that the bookshop is in.

6. CCA and the Tramway

The National: Alexia (far left) at the Tramway, where she workedAlexia (far left) at the Tramway, where she worked

I REALLY can’t separate these two important places in the effect they had on my life at that time. When I graduated, I went from working in the bookshop to taking part in different projects such as working with programmers and Penny Lewis, the CCA director at the time.

She asked me, along with a few other young women who were working there in various roles, if we would help with a Women in Art conference. This was my first big independent role – we were given a lot of leeway. It wasn’t really that event in particular – it was the ethos of the CCA in general, which continues with director Francis McKee.

At that time I was also working with Tramway, which really is one of the city’s most incredible assets and spaces. Apart from its history, the influence it has had to attract international artists and performers is incredible. It was a place that definitely contributed to my thinking.

One of the most important aspects of Tramway for me was the fact that it was and still is such a part of its community. With additions such as the Hidden Gardens, it really has been a magnet for community use. People feel it’s their space. Tramway feels so alive.

7. Apps and podcasts

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CONSIDERING what I said about independent bookshops, this could sound strange. However, I used to have a massive collection of cookery books and now I’m addicted to cookery apps – in particular one from The New York Times.

I have been listening to a lot of podcasts – I think it can be complementary to more tangible experiences such as independent bookshops rather than replacing them. You can appreciate the beauty of books as objects, but also engage with the written word through the podcast format. Podcasts can be so immediate and direct and personal that they are a very different experience to any other media. And, to be honest, I prefer international ones. The ones that the BBC makes just don’t feel as special.

8. Europe

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THAT’S Europe on so many levels: the culture, the people, the food and the whole idea of Europe, politically, socially and culturally. Obviously Brexit is a worrying time for so many people, but from the perspective of the arts I’ve already seen the acute impact on freedom of movement, how that will affect artist mobility and what that will ultimately mean for audiences.

In response, we have a new programme, starting this year, called the European Residency Programme. We were fortunate enough to get some funding from the British Council and Creative Scotland to help us work with eight European partners, including Norway. We thought that was important because of its model in relationship to the EU, and from a Scottish perspective that’s interesting.

9. Cove Park

The National: Cove ParkCove Park

I CAME here in 2004 and in many ways I can split this into two. One is Cove Park the venue, with its amazing location and the landscape it sits in. The other is the people who founded it – Eileen and Peter Jacobs, who set up Cove park in 1999 in such a spirit of openness and generosity and a genuine desire to change people’s lives. They opened up this space for artists, who could come here and not be expected to produce, in that there’s no compulsion to finish anything and present a highly finished piece of work at the end.

The Jacobs were generous enough to let people come and make mistakes and try things, and doing that is such a leap of faith and a hugely generous thing to do. Apart from that spirit, Julian Forrester, the director here, absolutely contributes to the atmosphere – to do and to make and to think.

We’ve been very lucky. Every year in the summer programme alone we have about 50 artists. That’s multi-artform, with musicians, filmmakers, writers as well as visual artists. In the time they spend together they can bounce ideas off one other.

It’s been a privilege to be here, meeting fantastic friends and seeing artists’ work evolve when the pressure is off.

10. Scotland + Venice

The National: Artist Charlotte ProdgerArtist Charlotte Prodger

THIS is another moment when I’ve witnessed the power of collaboration. The Scotland + Venice programme is a great example of the tie-up between the people and place and ambition to get things done.

With Creative Scotland, the National Galleries of Scotland and the British Council coming together we have made Scotland + Venice happen.

We are working with the artist Charlotte Prodger and her new single channel film commission, which will open in Venice on May 9.

This is also an opportunity to look at the professional development of young artists who are often still in the art schools, and there are great opportunities for young people from Argyll and Bute, who might not be in formal education at the moment but will go out to Venice to work at the exhibition.

We have been holding training days with them in everything from health and safety to talking with the artist and understanding more about the work. It almost goes full circle. Back to the opportunity I had to do something that without the support and understanding of others might not have happened. It’s about opening that door. It happened for me and changed my life and this could do that for the young people involved in this.