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Inspiring and guiding future leaders

Miranda Tay

A five-month mentorship program in Footscray will take emerging leaders into a bold, new world.
Inspiring and guiding future leaders


Chinese Vietnamese Australian Jen Tran grew up in Melbourne’s western suburbs of Footscray, St Alban and Sunshine. When she finished her studies in industrial and interior design, she undertook a mentorship with Platform Youth Theatre to focus on set design.

When she completed a Graduate Certificate in Arts and Community Engagement at the Centre of Cultural Partnerships, VCA, she developed a program pitch to bring the Chinese Vietnamese and African communities of Footscray through food and spent the beginning of 2013 building relationships with the Creative Rebellion Youth and Lentil As Anything in Footscray.


It was during this time that Tran identitied a need to develop her skills and resources to implement the project, and entered the Emerging Cultural Leaders program, where she was mentored by community theatre maker, David Cuong-Nguyen.

‘My mentorship with Dave was really inspirational,’ said Tran. ‘Before the ECL program, I was already in contact with Dave. I met him at an event my friends hosted and we connected straightaway due to our Vietnamese background, Footscray and our high energy of enthusiasm. He gave me a flyer of “Zombies”, which he was working on, and I invited myself along to the fortnightly workshop to learn how he facilitated.’


Jen Tran. Image:

The Emerging Cultural Leaders (ECL) program is in its fifth year of its skills and mentoring and learning program designed to address an identified lack of cultural diversity in management, administration and facilitatin in the arts sector.

Its five-month mentoring program at Footscray Community Arts Centre (FCAC) is supporting emerging leaders to build sustainable careers in the arts and community engagement sectors.

There have been more than 30 graduates to date and the program places participants in mentorships with sector leaders such as Chi Vu, Richi Hallal and L-Fresh the Lion, while also delivering a weekly workshop program with guest tutors including Indigenous singer-songwriter Robbie Bundle, Writers’ Victoria director, Kate Larsen, writer Tom Cho and audience engagement consultant, Fotis Kapetopoulos.

FCAC Director and CEO, Jade Lillie, said the program addresses an identified gapin the lack of cultural diversity in leadership in the arts and cultural sectors. ‘The Emerging Cultural Leaders program has been designed to develop the skills of our next generation of contemporary arts and community cultural development practitioners and leaders,’ she said.

‘We intend for ECL participants to lead successful community engaged arts programs in the future. ECL participants engage in a series of planned activities designed to introduce them to some of Melbourne’s key arts organisations & venues, as well as a number of forums and group discussion sessions with leading community-based arts practitioners, and mentoring to help them bring this knowledge & skill back to their own communities.’

Lillie, a recipient of the 2009 Kirk Robson Award which recognizes outstanding commitment to community-engaged practitioners under 30, believes it is essential that sector leaders taking an active role in mentoring early career practitioners.

‘Long term, the goal of the Emerging Cultural Leaders program is to actively support and increase the development the next generation of cultural leaders,’ she said. ‘The mentors and tutors engaged in the program indicate the level of support and interest in this program across the arts and community sectors.’

Successful recipients of the program include Jen Tran and Ez Eldin Deng, who completed the program in 2009, she said. ‘Ez Eldin initially came to FCAC to attend English language workshops,’ she said. ‘From here, he participated in the ECL program which built on his skills as a musician and performer and developed his networks in the community-engaged arts sector. He then moved into filmmaking, eventually enrolling in film studies at the University of Melbourne.’

Eldin is now freelancing as a film maker, workshop facilitator and community engaged practitioner. He is also working on film and television productions across Australia, including on Master Chef and an SBS program.

 ‘Throughout the program, participants are encouraged to share their experiences working with community and the questions and challenges it often raises,’ said Lillie. ‘This is led by the mentors and tutors who draw on their own experiences to encourage discussion amongst the group. The mentorship structure supports participants to gain skills and strategies to develop and produce community-led, contemporary and innovative arts based programs and projects.’

‘I feel that key to the entire process is developing connections between the current leaders in the arts and community sector, and the next generation who are coming through. On the individual participant level, this means connecting participants to the right mentor.’

‘For FCAC it is about long term engagement with ECL participants and industry beyond the program. Big picture and long term, it is about encouraging the entire sector mentoring and supporting that next generation of practitioners to have a sustainable career in the sector.’

Over the next five years, FCAC hopes to build the ECL initiative into a national program providing the opportunity for emerging leaders across Australia to access skills development, networking, career pathways and build capacity and project delivery in their local area.

In 2014, with support from the Australia Council for the Arts, a pilot for national delivery is being implemented in partnership with Information Cultural Exchange in Sydney’s west and Darwin Community Arts Centre in the Northern Territory.

On the weekend of 8 - 10 August the ECL participants from NSW, NT and Victoria will take part in the opening weekend intensive, meeting the mentors and tutors for the first time. The program will culminate in an industry showcase on November 26 at which participants will be able to present their work to guests from the arts and community development sectors.

More about the program here:

About the author

Miranda Tay is Deputy Editor of