In March, Creative Exchange, the umbrella program for a series of webinars, podcasts and videos produced by the partnership between Creative Victoria and ArtsHub, launched its first webinar – Thinking outside the box.
Following the success of that event, the second in this series of free webinars is:
A new way forward: how inclusive leadership is driving change
The webinar was presented at 11am on Friday 2 June 2023
This webinar examines the topic of leadership in 2023. With the arts and cultural sector’s increasing awareness of the change in attitudes to styles and effectiveness of leadership, our presenters will reveal current best practice and discuss how to produce and encourage collaborative, inclusive and diverse leaders.
With a focus on the importance of developing pathways for emerging leaders, it’s the perfect time for a conversation-style webinar featuring two presenters with long histories of experience and expertise in the field.
KATRINA SEDGWICK OAM
Katrina Sedgwick OAM is the inaugural Director and CEO of Melbourne Arts Precinct Corporation (MAP Co), which leads the $1.7 billion transformation of the Melbourne Arts Precinct, oversees the management and operations of Federation Square, and seeks to bring to life a single continuous arts, civic, and cultural precinct stretching from Fed Square through Southbank.
Prior to MAP Co, Katrina was Director and CEO of ACMI, a role she held from 2015 to April 2022, Head of Arts for ABC TV, founding Director/CEO of the biennial Adelaide Film Festival, producer for the Adelaide Festival of Arts (1996, 1998 and 2000) and the artistic director of Come Out ‘99 and Adelaide Fringe 2002. She has held many committee and board roles with a wide range of creative industry and arts organisations.
In 2020, Katrina was awarded an Order of Australia Medal for her services to performing arts, screen industries and visual arts administration.
Katrina is currently Chair of the Back to Back Theatre Board and is an Advisory Committee Member at Grimwade Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation, Faculty of Arts, University of Melbourne.
In the 2020 Australia Day Honours, Katrina was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for “service to performing, screen, and visual arts administration”.
Dewi Cooke is the CEO of The Social Studio, a not-for-profit social enterprise providing education and work opportunities in fashion and the creative industries to people from refugee and new migrant backgrounds. Here, she oversees an RMIT-accredited training program, an Ethical Clothing Australia-accredited manufacturing studio and a socially-conscious retail venture, as well as numerous creative and community projects.
She’s passionate about the intersection of creativity, community and opportunity, about dismantling barriers to participation for those from non-traditional education backgrounds, as well as the potential for revitalisation within the Australian textiles manufacturing industry.
Prior to joining The Social Studio she was a journalist with 15 years’ experience working across the arts, social affairs and podcasting, much of it spent at The Age in Melbourne. She has a master’s from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism in New York, was a Knight-News21 fellow and has three hair-raisingly energetic children.
Watch the webinar
Transcript of webinar
Welcome to the Creative Exchange webinar: ‘A New Way Forward: How Inclusive Leadership is Driving Change’. I’m hoping you can all see me because I can’t see myself.
The Creative Exchange webinars are presented by Creative Victoria in partnership with ArtsHub. While we’re all currently in different locations, I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land on which we each live and work – here, Wurundjeri country. It’s a delightful sunny grey morning, it was cool before. I pay my respects to the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung Elders past, present and emerging, and to all First Nations people who are joining us today. Sovereignty has never been ceded.
I’m Ruth Gormley. I lead the strategic marketing team at Creative Victoria and I will be hosting today’s conversation between Katrina Sedgwick and Dewi Cooke. My preferred pronouns are she/her, I’m a white woman with short brown, greying hair, thick blue-rimmed glasses, a black-collared shirt and a mustard-coloured jumper. So before we dive into today’s conversation, there’s a little bit of housekeeping. The webinar is being live captioned. If you’d like to access the captioning, just select Show Captions from your Zoom menu. Or, if that doesn’t work, click the link in the chat.
We’re also recording the session, so any questions you ask will be on record. And the recorded webinar will be available through the Creative Exchange page on the Creative Victoria website and, of course, on ArtsHub.
Please ask any questions you have for Dewi and Katrina through the Q&A function. And we’ll have about a quarter of an hour for questions at the end of the session. If you want to join in the conversation online, the hashtags for today’s event are #CreativeVic and #CreativeXchange with an X not an E. My esteemed ArtsHub colleagues will pop the proper hashtags up on the screen for you.
And we plan to keep the conversation to about half an hour, with 15 minutes for questions at the end. But now the main event. Today we are delighted to be joined by Katrina Sedgwick, and Dewi Cooke. Welcome Dewi and Katrina.
We’ve brought these two brilliant leaders together to talk about leadership because of the depth and breadth of their professional experiences. Both have had careers that have spanned multiple industries, and introduced them to a range of leadership styles, allowing them to learn on the job in ways that have helped them thrive in leadership positions.
Katrina has had a broad ranging career in the creative industries. She is Director and CEO of Melbourne Arts Precinct Corporation, and has previously held roles including Artistic Director of Adelaide Fringe, Head of Arts for ABC TV and, most recently, Director and CEO of ACMI.
Dewi comes to the creative industries with an extensive background in journalism. She is CEO of the Social Studio, a not-for-profit, social enterprise, providing education and work opportunities in fashion and the creative industries, to people from refugee and new migrant backgrounds.
So let’s start the discussion. Now Katrina and Dewi to start off and help frame today’s conversation, I thought it would be useful to reflect on how you got to where you are now. You’ve each had an interesting and varied career pathway to reach your current role. So what are the key lessons that you’ve learned along the way that have become essential to the way you lead a team? And can you point to any specific experiences that have helped you learn those lessons? Katrina, let’s start with you.
Well, for me, I think I’ve always worked in the arts. And I was lucky enough to be raised in South Australia on Kaurna land during the premiership of Don Dunstan, which was a time of incredible investment, and focus on creativity on ideas. And so you couldn’t help but feel engaged with the arts and creativity and feel very empowered, and included in that as a child. And it’s no accident that Adelaide, people from that area, spread like a kind of virus across Australia or the globe, engaged in all sorts of areas of the arts. I think it’s a direct result of that kind of vision.
But for me, you know, I finished school and I was going to go and do a BA, but I ended up going straight into performing. And I was lucky enough to start working with a really great collective of artists, who formed a group called Etcetera Theatre Company. And I got to join that when I was 18. And with some really experienced practitioners. I think the oldest person in the group was a wonderful composer, Ian Farr, who was in his early 40s by that point, so that was the real kind of age range.
And there was also a real range of practice. So Julia Cotton, who convened the group, was a choreographer trained through the Australian Ballet School, who then set out her own much more contemporary practice; Russell Garbutt, an incredible performer and also an illusionist; Ian Farr, just a magnificent composer; John Nelson, beautiful painter. It was a really mixed disciplinary cohort of people. And you know, we’d get a grant at that time of, say, $40,000, to make a show for a festival. And we would self-devise a production, then present it. We were based in Sydney – so we’d present it, say, at Belvoir St downstairs. And we’d be entrepreneurial with it, and then tour it nationally, internationally, basically live off it for the next kind of three or four years, alongside doing a whole lot of other things.
So we performed in theatres, we did street performance, we performed at parties and corporate events. And, you know, it was a very fruitful training ground. And I think far better for me personally than going and doing a BA because what I learned was how to work collaboratively, the value of cross-disciplinary collaboration, the value of an environment when you’re making a show.
It’s a ‘yes, and’ environment, the resourcefulness that you have to apply in the independent sector and in the world of theatre, just the practical things about producing to, not just devise a show, but how do you put it on? And then what’s the sort of process of touring it and how do you contract? It’s just all those sorts of different skill sets, I suppose that you had to do when your tiny little ensemble with no money was just this very kind of fertile learning ground.
To cut to a few years later in my mid 20s, when I realised that my acting career was not going to continue, I was not going to be the next Cate Blanchett or Toni Collette or Deborah Mailman and I had to find something else to do. I then went and worked for festivals, as a producer, and I found that I was able to apply the skills that I learned in making theatre directly to those jobs.
And really, my career has continued step-by-step from there. So I put it all to training in the world of making theatre. And I think working in an ensemble, making work, talking about ‘yes, and’, and being resourceful with every single cent is something that has formed the DNA of my leadership in my professional life.
Fabulous. So you really come from a background of working that is an unusual place to come from, possibly. Dewi, can you speak to us about your career pathway?
Happy to, although, you know, I’m in the shadow of a storied arts practitioner with Katrina. Having been a lowly journalist for most of my career. I was mostly at The Age, I started my cadetship at The Age and, even before my cadetship, I was there as an assistant. So really I came of age at The Age. And there I covered a lot of news, as most journalists do when they first start out. So my primary patch was an area called social affairs, which was social issues, welfare issues, demographic issues, looking at multicultural communities, housing, homelessness and that sort of thing.
And so that’s really where I think I first started trying to understand the diversity of the city, in all of its socioeconomic ways. And it was such a special role to have played for so many years. Because I really feel like I just had this privilege to get to know people who – just because you ask questions – they share their lives with you and I think that that is probably something that has stayed with me in terms of how I approach the job still, even though I’m no longer a journalist.
It’s a sort of a curiosity and empathy with individuals and I suppose with ideas or causes, so I was a social affairs reporter for nearly four years, and then I moved across into a few different areas. I covered city issues, which again, is super interesting, a different side of Melbourne. It’s really looking at planning and development and the intersections there with, you know, again, with housing, and how a city sees itself and how it grows and how it responds to the needs of its citizenry. I covered the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission, which was obviously a momentous historical event and my shorthand became very, very good. And then I moved into arts reporting. And I can really say that arts reporting and social affairs reporting, and the intersection between those two, are the two areas that I draw most on, in my work at the Social Studio.
So in the arts, I found, I guess, a community or a world that was just filled with beauty, and you know, not always beauty in an aesthetic sense, but a real pursuit of what makes life beautiful to people. And so, I saw that across many different disciplines. And I think that now, when I work at the Social Studio, it’s that sort of intersection between what makes a city tick, what are the issues that are important to people? What are the issues that we don’t hear about as well? And how can we, using visual communication or creative pursuits, tell the story of that? So in that sense, I feel like that’s really defined what I do as a leader, and I’m on a much earlier path of my trajectory with that than Katrina is. You know, I’ve only been at the Social Studio a couple of years.
But I can say that, in my time as a journalist, I also had to learn from being a journalist, where you’re sort of a bit of a lone wolf, and you get to do things on your own, to having to work collaboratively. And even though I would say newsrooms are collegiate, I can probably point to a couple of really influential leaders in my time there – editors that I had the benefit of working under: Debbie Cuthbertson who’s now Sunday Age editor, she and I were ‘dynamic arts duo’ together.
And she was my arts editor while I was deputy editor. And I just think that there’s something about having people that can nurture you, and people that can see your talent and see your ability and give you a shot. And Debbie was one of those people. Farah Farouque is actually the Board Chair of the Social Studio, who was my social affairs editor, in my early days, she’s another one of those people. You know, there are people who will remember your name, 15 years down the track, 20 years down the track. And I think it’s that sort of approach to being really human, that really resonates with me, and it makes me, you know, want to be that kind of leader as well.
You’ve spoken, Dewi, about people who’ve nurtured you. To flip that round, what sort of strategies and approaches do you use to identify and foster the development of emerging leaders in your organisation? And in the community that you’ve mentioned?
Again, one of the skills I think I learned as a journalist is: you have to try to get people to take you into their trust quite quickly. Because you’re obviously asking, sometimes, personal questions of them or asking them to appear in the newspaper to tell their stories, that sort of thing. And I think that that’s the basis from which all my relationships are built at the Studio or beyond. It is really trying to understand who my staff are as people, what motivates them, what their lives are, when they’re not at work as well?
And what are the things that they have to juggle, because the truth is that everybody’s lives are complex, but in particular with some of the communities that we work with, life is even more complex. There are many family cultural, religious, responsibilities that people are having to integrate into the rest of their lives. And so understanding where their priorities lie is really important. As far as how I nurture or, or look for leaders, something that I do is I get approached a lot when we are advertising for jobs, or even for volunteers, and I keep every one of those CVs on hand. And they are the people that I always go back to first if I ever have an opportunity. Because what I find is that quite often I’m interviewing people who have a lot of potential, who are really great, who maybe are just not quite right for that one role. And yet, I don’t want to let them go. And so I try to keep in touch with some people that I think are particularly high potential. Or I’m also seeding their CVs to people that I know in the sector or beyond because I think one of the nice things about getting to the stage of life that I’m at, after almost a couple of decades now of working, you can start to realise that you know a lot of people and you know a lot of people of influence.
And I think one of the main philosophies that I really have is to try to turn over all that inherent networking and opportunity that many of us grow up with, or have access to, and turn that over to people that don’t have access to that as easily because of where they grew up, or how they grew up, or how they have been defined or whatever.
So that’s something that I’m really regularly doing. And I am being asked a lot… I got asked this week if I could recommend somebody for an EA position. And, you know, it’s that sort of thing that I just, I try to spread the love, I suppose. And I also internally work with a lot of really exceptional, almost entirely young women, who really need somebody to believe in them, and to give them the opportunities to just stretch themselves a little bit. And I find that like I’ve had, you know, having an older, shall I say, woman, believe in me, having older women believe in me has really made me take a leap, and I want other people to feel that they can, too.
Thank you. What about you Katrina, do you find that you are using similar tactics to Dewi for growing and identifying and fostering leaders? Or are there other things that spring to mind for you for developing emerging leaders?
Hmm, yeah, it’s really interesting. I’m just sort of nodding as you’re talking Dewi. And I think that’s absolutely right. And that kind of thing, what you’re talking about too, is leading with a kind of generosity I suppose, and a sort of flatter, more ensemble approach to working collaboratively rather than something too hierarchical. And I think that’s quite important in leadership to be open, to be able to talk to people across the organisation, to encourage ideas.
But also to be frank and be clear, when that’s not the direction you want to take it. And explain why. I think feedback is really important, but encouragement, I think, when I look at the sort of work I’ve done in my career, what’s been really lucky for me is, I’ve been given opportunities to do something quite different in each job. Or I’ve been allowed to stretch. I go into a position that I’m allowed to adapt and stretch that. So, for example, going into the ABC, and I was Head of Arts for ABC Television, which was a new role, it was previously entertainment, comedy and arts. So then it became entertainment and arts, and then when I took over, it was just arts. And it was clear that it was a bit of an obligation, rather than a pleasure in the context of TV, and that didn’t necessarily get great ratings. And it was complex to do. And it wasn’t necessarily showpony moments.
And anyway, coming in, I just really thought, what’s amazing about working at the ABC, is it’s a multi-platform broadcaster. It’s not just TV, it’s TV, and radio, and online, and all of those things. And of course, digital is just going crazy, across all so many different devices.
This was back in 2012, as everything was shifting and becoming much more multi channel and personal device-based. And having worked in the arts, you know, recognising that when you do a festival, for example, you’ve got to talk to five different people at the ABC to get all your coverage. And you’ve got all this sea of logos, ABC logos.
And so we decided to think more holistically about the arts on the ABC. Think about it as a multi platform offer. And you know it had never been done before, and wasn’t really my business. But it was really interesting, so we all got together and formed a group and worked at, and settled on a logo for ABC Arts or worked over stuff. That was very positive and it enabled the ABC to measure the fact that, in fact, they reached two million people a week through their arts coverage, which is huge.
And, you know, I think supporting people when they’re working for you to have ideas that aren’t in the box, just because your job description says X, Y, Z, you know you’re a coordinator of X, you know, or you’re an assistant of Y, if you’re enthusiastic and excited about the places that you work, or the purpose that your organisation is trying to deliver, and you see something that could be really interesting, a new way of thinking, a lateral kind of approach, a kind of partnership that could bring new rewards or an experiment, or a risk that you could take that may fail, but also could result in something fantastic.
To be in an environment where you can express that and get some time and resource and, if required, money carved out to be able to support that is really important. And I think that’s how people can blossom. You don’t just have to say, ‘it’s not the factory that we’re working in’. There’s not a single function that you’re delivering. Any element of the arts sings best when people feel energised, to be able to use their imagination and to be able to contribute, whether they’re somebody working in finance, or somebody who’s a performer, or somebody who’s a programmer, or a producer, or a policy-maker, whatever that is, and think I am seeking to create, I don’t think I always do by any means; it’s a hard thing to do.
But I think it’s important to try and foster an environment where people can have that. It’s not necessarily about autonomy, it’s not about people just being able to do whatever they want. It’s about fostering a sense of collective purpose and momentum, and then enabling people to be able to express their ideas. And then when it really works, resource it and that is how people develop. That is how they discover new things about themselves, build new skills, and move to that next stage in their careers I think.
Sorry, I was going to ask Katrina, whether you feel like you were more able to do that at a smaller scale in smaller organisations than at the bigger end? Or vice versa, like just having money and having budget and stuff allowing you to be able to do that, or is it less about resourcing, and more about intention?
I think it’s more about intention. Because, you know, everywhere that I’ve worked in my career, I’ve been surrounded by people doing exactly that. And I’ve been working on miniscule budgets, through to now massive budgets. And I think what I find is, the more resource you get, I mean, you’re working generally with more people. And the larger the organisation is, I suppose the harder it is to foster that culture.
I mean, I had a big shock of going from a core team of about eight, at the film festival where I worked for a decade, and then going into the ABC, where you’re in this gigantic, bureaucratic machine.
But you know that the rules are still the same, the individual can effect change. I suppose it’s just being confident enough to knock on the door and say, ‘hello, I was just thinking this’. And I suppose then, when you’re in a larger organisation, encouraging people to be able to do that. So you know, somebody in your facilities team, for example, you know, Fed Square is part of what we do, you know, how do you encourage anybody who works in the facilities team, to be able to come and talk to their manager, or to their executive or to me, or to somebody else about a concept or a different way of working.
You know, that’s harder to embed in a large organisation, than in something small. We’ve got a tiny team, and you’re all in a room to get around and you’re talking all the time. You know, that’s why I like being in the office. That’s why I don’t really like working from home, because I just really like being near people. You can just throw things out, you know. I have to say the feedback I do get is that I am a little bit annoying, because I have lots of ideas. And I keep wanting to have those conversations. And of course, when you are in a big bureaucracy and do that it has a different effect than when you’re in a small organisation. So I have to be quite a bit more disciplined about that kind of stuff. But I think in the end, it’s about the intention – coming in with energy and optimism and purpose. And knowing that you can come in at a very junior level with that purpose and have impact. And that’s how you progress into leadership, I think, which requires leaders to let you do that.
Yeah, I was thinking about this because when I first started at the Studio… so the Studio for those that don’t know we have, we’re a not for profit, social enterprise.
Our primary purpose is education and training and we have a free school that provides certified trading, RMIT certified trading in clothing and textile production. So we have a school and then we have a manufacturing studio with makers and garment machinists, and we make clothes for ourselves, but also mostly for third parties, and we have a kind of retail creative admin as a sort of third part of the organisation. And really what I realised when I got there was that, in part because of the pandemic and all the dislocation that had happened in that first year of COVID, there wasn’t a lot of flow between or connection between school, manufacturing and retail.
And also because the jobs were so different. And I think that that’s something, you know, that you have to come to figure out how to meld together when, for example, our garment machinists, they run it, they work a shift, basically, they work from nine till five, they’ve got their set tea breaks, they are doing something very focused, quite manual a lot of the time, as opposed to creatives who are, we just have meetings, and we talk about stuff, we throw ideas around, and a lot of that is done walking around with a coffee or whatever.
And then you’ve got school, who are having to respond day to day to the changing nature of the classroom. And there are very different personality types, different kinds of tasks within the day, and really people often from different walks of life, as well. And so I thought: how do we bring in this group of people, whereas, in a newsroom environment that I’d been in, even though people’s personalities were wildly different, we were all engaging in the same work in effect, but this was a space that had multiple different kinds of work disciplines.
And so I feel, for me, one of the things that I’ve tried to do over the time is I’ve really tried to create pathways. So having opportunities for students from the school to work in manufacturing, having opportunities for manufacturing to get involved in creative projects. And then, I mean, it’s not rocket science, I would say, but we’ve just tried to do something very simple – to have lunch together. So we have, at the moment, fairly regular community lunches, where we all bring in food, and students as well, and I’m really surprised.
I mean, obviously, that can’t work in a huge organisation with huge teams, or maybe it can, but I’m really surprised how… and again, maybe it goes back to that idea, those ideas that I hold dear to myself, about human connection, and about taking the time to get to know each other, you know. Because the fact is, unless you’re working in the manufacturing team, or you’re working in the school, or you’re working in the shop downstairs, you’re not really getting a sense of who the people are, that you’re working alongside, even though you’re sharing the same space.
So I don’t know whether that’s something that you guys have thought about as well, not so much lunch, Katrina, but I imagine when you were coming up as a practitioner, you were working alongside people of varying different disciplines as well, even within the performing arts and how you figured out a way to create that sense of community.
Yeah, and it is so important. And again, obviously, if you’re working in a theatre company, where it’s just six of you that’s fostered very easily and, and again in a festival environment, it’s such a tight group that is heading towards this critical mass moment, and then it all finishes, and everyone feels the anticlimax together and then you start start again, and how you foster that in a larger organisation is much more challenging.
And equally important. What we used to do at the ABC was bake-offs. Highly competitive, highly competitive bake-offs, which were really fun. Just to try and bring people together, you know, from different departments, we’re all sharing a floor, but you know, you had Arts and then you had Media Watch and then you had, entertainment and Kitchen Cabinet and The Chaser down the hall. How do you get everyone to turn up, share a moment, I suppose every few months? So competitive baking, of course, is the way to do it.
But I think you’re right, that sort of human connection is really important. And then the thing that I’ve found in these kinds of larger organisations, and it was equally the case in certainly a festival environment, getting your systems right. It’s so jargonistic, but silos are real and lack of communication between teams is real. And different systems being deployed by different teams, which actually block and slow down and stifle efficiency and stifle collaboration. Those systems exist in every organisation and coming in and taking time and having the care as a leader to pay attention to that stuff and make it a priority and not just accept because ‘it’s always been done this way’ that it has to be done this way, actually really push people to go. ‘How are you actually doing your job? How are you actually communicating with these people?’
And, you know, we do these things, we’re just about to have one at Mapco, actually, where you get a whole lot of teams, and you just get Post-it notes, and you just talk about, ‘OK, if we put it on an event, how do you actually do that?’ We did that at ACMI around: what is the journey of a film in this organisation? And in doing that, we discovered that, at one point, there was one staff member who was entering data into eight different systems for a single film.
Crazy, you know, and it just had built up over 18 years that all these different parts of the organisation were operating in a slightly different way. That meant that there was a huge amount of time spent doing these things. And I think you can’t underestimate how important that is. You’ve got to give your team the right tools. And you’ve got to be open and transparent about the work that each individual is doing towards the shared purpose. And you’ve got to make sure that that’s actually working for everybody, and that it’s conjoined. And it’s enabling easy collaboration, transparency, efficiency, in terms of – not about reducing staff headcount – about people not wasting their time, doing double entry of things, messing about trying to find information about something that’s really crucial that they need right now, but it’s been entered into different sectors. I know it sounds really tedious, but it’s so important. And the larger the organisation, the more amplified that is.
I’m just going to say, we should think about questions very soon. But you keep going.
I just was going to say something quickly because I feel like we talked about this, Katrina, I asked you once, whether you were a very structured leader, and we both agreed that both of us were maybe a little bit anti structure, or at least I am not super… I’m not one of those people that maps out my day, but something I have come to realise is that, especially within a small organisation, even sharing a single space, that just talking to each other all the time doesn’t mean that you’re always communicating, if that makes sense.
There’s a reason why WIPs exist and why you can have a daily or a weekly check-in, is to have those really structured conversations to try to get through stuff that isn’t all problem solving, brainstorming, blue sky thinking, it’s really just: what are our priorities? And how we’re going to get through them. And so, that’s definitely my learning journey, as somebody who loves a bit of a chat and loves to just check in on people and wander paths. It’s not that the message isn’t always getting across, or not everybody understands what is happening within the organisation, just because it’s all in my head. If that makes sense?
Totally. And I was just going say to, as part of that, having a board, reporting to a board, I find actually such a good discipline. I like working with boards where, as you have an idea, at its most nascent form, to explain it to a board so that they’re coming on the journey, and you got to be really succinct. They’re reading a lot of stuff. They’re busy people, you’ve got to kind of be punchy with it, taking the time to write it down. This idea that you’ve been happily chatting about in the office, but to actually distil it into something that makes sense for somebody who has no context for it, who’s got a busy day, doesn’t work in the field. You want them to read about it and get excited and go, ‘Yep, we should do this’ is such a good discipline.
And I just find, then you’ve got this thing written down that you then go back to, and you go back to as you’re developing it for a grant application or for your web copy and your marketing copy or whatever it is. It’s just really, really useful and to do that at an early stage. Also it really helps bring your team on the journey because they’re seeing it in writing, not just in my head. And I think I’m explaining it incredibly articulately…
It all makes sense in my head.
I think what we’ve just been talking about, the mixture of the structure of discipline and WIPs and boards, compared with the culture of openness, collaboration, ‘yes and’. And that you’ve both spoken about, we’ve had a question saying, how do you get past leaders not feeling threatened by both inexperienced, inspiring ideas offered by young and experienced, informed ideas offered by the more mature and how to balance them? Particularly given that some of those people may come from different cultures? So they’ve spoken of someone with experience obtained outside Australia. And how do you deal with the tall poppy syndrome that appears in a lot of organisations?
I think it reminds me, I suppose, of what we were talking about, that lean towards generosity, because actually, it doesn’t really exist a lot of the time. And I think that’s probably why Katrina and I both like to offer generosity in the kind of people that we are introducing into leadership or offering or pushing into new roles, because, in my experience, it’s not the case across the board, and I think that the issue around skills and knowledge acquired overseas is very, very difficult.
I mean, I’ve had the experience of interviewing many people whose professional careers were very different overseas, than what they’ve come to me in a job for. And I don’t know… I will give an example. A few years ago, I interviewed for a support role, an admin role. And somebody that came to me was a very, very experienced doctor from Afghanistan, who had done a little bit of work in community health since being in Australia, but was more or less out of work. And that is a very difficult thing, because what I was looking for is obviously a specific set of skills around social support for young people, and they didn’t quite fit that bill.
But I think that what I tried to do in that instance, was give them a few different options of people that I could connect them to or, or pathways that they could explore, to maybe get them to closer to the sort of role that they were looking for, which I know is different than having a more mature leader or leader from overseas within the organisation. But I would say that, if that’s you, or if that’s somebody that you know, is to always find the Katrina in your organisation that has that generous spirit that will take you under and give you the opportunity to explore the idea, because those people are within every organisation, it just may not be the defining culture of the organisation.
Yeah, and I think you know, as a leader, you need to listen, not just to the noisy people. You’ve got to make sure that you’re setting up situations where people who are quiet and shy, who don’t have English as their first language, who are, you know, not used to working in large, confident groups of people. You’ve got to find ways to make sure that those people get a chance to speak and be heard and get to connect with you, as well as the kind of confident, brash, noisy people, who are much, much more naturally comfortable, possibly, because they’ve always been invited to do it, to put themselves forward. And I think that’s hugely important.
But I think you know, and I notice, for example, in environments that if we’re just down to the straight binary, male/female dynamic that women will tend to sit back and say less, and put themselves forward less for roles and for opportunities and to pitch ideas.
So making sure that you’ve got an environment that is aware of that reluctance. That’s one example. And I think the other thing is if you are a junior person, you can worry about: do I know enough? Am I experienced enough to have this idea to express this thing? Well, you know, maybe you are inexperienced, but it’s still a good idea. So what is the best way to do that, and I suppose it is really to think about what the concept is, take the time to write it down and be clear. So you’re not just pitching it in this casual conversation, but you’ve actually got it clearly stated, and talk to your manager, or if the manager is not interested, go around them, somebody else, not in a way that’s overtly undermining.
But, you know, take the time to, if you think it’s a great idea, work out who wants to listen and see if it gets purchase. You know, that’s all you need, you need a hook in somewhere. So, you know, be lateral about who you’re talking to, and don’t sit back and wait. Don’t not apply for the job because you think you don’t have the experience.
Fantastic. We’ve got three minutes left in our official time, so I’m going to ask a snappy question. But if you are both able to stick around for a little bit for a little further conversation, then anyone who wishes to remain with us is welcome to do so. I’ll tie us off at about five to 12, if that’s all right with you two? Sure. Great. So the snappy question: is leadership a title we claim or a gift from those around us, from your perspective, and that’s from Virginia Aldred.
I’ll go first, I think that it’s got to be from people around you. Otherwise, you don’t get the gigs.
What about you Dewi?
Yeah, I think that definitely anybody, well not anybody, but you can go for a job that calls you a leader. But unless you’re successfully leading a team, and you’ve got buy-in from the team and are able to inspire that team, then you’re probably not really fulfilling the role as a leader. So in that sense, I think it’s definitely a gift.
Which does lead us quite neatly into: can you speak to the nebulous notion of inclusivity and leadership? How do you integrate it into your practices and make inclusion, which includes leadership, more than a token gesture?
Yeah, I can go with that. So that’s something we think about a lot at the Studio. And I think something Katrina and I also – we’ve spoken about before – that the job of leading, you never really get, it never ends. You’re always having to work and improve. And, you know, for us, obviously, we look to have a very diverse workforce. So 70% of our employees are from cultural and linguistically diverse backgrounds, and 40% percent are from refugee and asylum seeking backgrounds. And so there is inclusivity, in a literal sense, stats and numbers, but then, also really looking at, in my view, I think language is really important.
And that’s probably a job that… the biggest piece of work that we’re considering is how do we describe the work we do in a way that speaks to the people we work with, for, alongside? Because I think it’s very easy to just be rigid around definitions of people, so ‘refugee’, ‘asylum seeker’, whatever, but actually, in terms of the identity of many of our staff and participants and community members, they would identify more closely with being a person of Somali heritage, and they would say, a ‘person of refugee heritage’. So for us, I think that that’s an ongoing conversation. It’s one that we’re having currently. And that is played out through a lot of consultation and a lot of conversation to try to maintain currency, I suppose. Because I think language in particular has changed and changes so much at the moment, to try to keep up-to-date with those terms. So in terms of inclusivity, from a kind of cultural, multicultural, whatever you want to call it perspective, that’s what we are really looking at.
And is there anything you’d like to add around inclusivity?
I suppose just the frame for the kinds of, certainly at ACMI and again now at Mapco, where we’re looking at, obviously, a kind of capital project. We’re operating Fed Square, and then we’re thinking about how we glue together the arts precinct more broadly. There are so many different layers, if you’re talking about inclusivity. And equality of engagement and access, and we know that they relate to content, what you’re presenting, the diversity of program design. It comes down to everything within the built form and the sort of design process.
There’s also staff cohort, and then there’s also audience: who is coming, who is engaging, who feels ownership of these places and spaces? And when we talk about programming, we talk about programming and interpretation, which is whose stories are being heard? How are we acknowledging this place, this space, this land? There are so many kinds of layers to it, it’s not one thing. And, you know, it’s really important that an organisation understands that, and is continually committing resource and time to address all of those multiple dimensions of that. They all require attention, which is staff time, they all require resource, that is time and money. And they all are (all about) longevity, that it’s continuous, exactly as Dewi says, continuous improvement, you’re never going to get there.
I think that it probably requires an acceptance of a few uncomfortable conversations or an ability to have an uncomfortable conversation and then move forward and not just get stuck in what you’ve done wrong, or how you haven’t met certain needs. [Instead] think about what your solutions can be or what your strategies can be for the future.
Fantastic. I think we have time for one more, if we both answer very quickly. A couple of people have asked about challenges to your leadership. So it would be great to hear from you if there have been times in your journey where you’ve found yourself up against significant roadblocks. And how did you manage that? Were there people you turned to for advice or support in those moments? Would you have preferred to have a master’s degree in arts management to get you through your challenges – ways through them? In a minute each.
I will just briefly say that I feel like the biggest challenge that I experience on a daily basis is resourcing and funding. And so that is definitely something for anybody considering entering the world of arts management, especially at the small scale, you know, where funding isn’t guaranteed. It is figuring out a way to wear that weight, because I feel like there’s a lot of weight on a leader, especially if you’ve got employees and you’re responsible for their livelihoods.
So [finding] a way to process that, and not just hold on to the stress, because you need to be able to be proactive. And yes, definitely having a sounding board, a brains trust that you can talk to, whether that’s a mentor or a group of people. I’m very lucky that I’ve also got a few fellow CEOs of small organisations who have helped me out in recent times, thinking about things to do with strategy, because strategy is always tied with money. So drawing on your peer group, I think is really great. And having a peer group in general, who aren’t your board, who aren’t the people that you are having to report to, but people that you can be really honest with, is something that’s essential.
Brilliant, thank you. And Katrina?
I totally agree 100%. I mean, peers, the kind of friends and colleagues in the arts are my rock, and I turn to people a lot to ask for advice. And, to be able to download and so on. I had a friend who sent me – a few years ago – one of those management e-books, about having the courage to be disliked. And I read about 10 pages because I don’t love management e-books, but I think the point that she was making is true. I think you do, as a leader, have to accept that the responsibility of leadership is that you are sometimes making decisions that are tough, that aren’t going to please everybody. And it’s not appropriate for you to go and complain about people complaining about that to other people in the organisation. You have got to suck it up, you know, and you’ve got to do what’s right for whatever elements. You’ve made that decision for whatever outcome you’ve made that decision for, and you can’t please everybody all the time. And that’s hard.
And, you know, there will be people you work with who don’t like the way you work. You know, I’m – Dewi is the same – I’m not big on processes and systems, I’m not a big processing system person, I’m a much more organic person. And that can… I’ve had times where I’ve worked with colleagues who it just drove them crazy, absolutely crazy. And ultimately, they left, but quite a lot of pain ensued before they did and you just have to stick to your guns and be courageous and accept that. Not everyone is going like what you think and you have got to be consultative. And you’ve got to listen, and you’ve got to take people on the journey. But sometimes you have just got to make a decision. And that’s hard.
It can be a bit lonely, which is why having those people to call on… I think one of the elements of that question was about an arts administration degree or something like that. And I don’t come from that background at all. But, you know, Katrina might have a view, but I think that [getting] as much practical experience as you can get to see the different levels of what an arts organisation can be, because what I do is wildly different. The scale that I work on is so different from the scale that Katrina works on, do you know what I mean?
But then there are common issues and themes which crop up. And I think understanding the funding landscape of arts of all kinds is really important. And the intersections between what is achieved, what can be achieved, versus ambition, versus how you get money. And what that cycle looks like… because most arts organisations do rely on funding of some kind. And then I would say that whether it’s a full degree or other trading, you can do, but on a very basic level project management skills, reading a profit and loss statement, understanding kind of fiduciary obligations, that sort of thing is super important, and you can learn that on the job. But it’s probably good to have those skills before you start the job. If you’re taking on a bigger role.
Thank you both. I really, really enjoyed this conversation, pulling out from what you both just said, I find you’re both courageous, consultative and clear eyed. And I really appreciate the time you’ve given us today. So yeah, huge, huge thanks from me, from Creative Victoria from ArtsHub. And from everybody who’s watching, I’m now going to pass over to Madeleine Swain from ArtsHub for the last couple of words. But from the bottom my heart, I’ve learned a lot today. Thank you very much.
Hi, everybody, as Ruth said, Thank you, Ruth. I’m Madeleine Swain. I’m the managing editor at ArtsHub. And we are co producing these webinars with Creative Vic under the Creative Exchange umbrella. I’d also like to add my thanks to Katrina and Dewi for their insights today and sharing their expertise and their experiences with us. I’ve learned a lot as well. And I’d like to remind everybody listening and watching that this webinar has been videoed and will be available on the ArtsHub website shortly.
There will also be a couple of follow-up podcasts or both this webinar and our previous one launched shortly. So look out for those. And also please keep an eye out for our next webinar in this series, which will be in late July, and will delve into the hot topic of AI and its implications for the arts and cultural sector, which everybody’s talking about at the moment. And look out for those hashtags. Use those hashtags. Creative Vic, hashtag creative Vic and hashtag creative exchange capital X. I’ve put that in the chat. And we hope to see you all next time. Thanks for joining us today.