Where’s the leadership?

Two weeks ago, thereabouts, Platform Papers published their 40th Issue. Entitled TAKE ME TO YOUR LEADER: The dilemma of cultural leadership it was a call out by Wesley Enoch, artistic director of the Queensland Theatre Company, to the supposed leaders of the Australian cultural industries.  “What the f..k are we doing? Where are our leaders?” it began.

The fact a paper such as this was written and published was unsurprising and needed. The fact there has been little to no response by the supposed cultural leaders? Disappointing. Where’s the rebuttal? Where’s the defence? Where’s the evidence that there is a thriving cultural leadership in our arts sector?

*hears crickets chirping*

When I started my PhD I went to a meeting of sessional teachers at the institution where I work.  “What are you writing on?” asked one colleague, a highly experienced and well regarded figure in the visual arts world. When I replied that I am researching on the development of cultural leaders she said “Oh there are any?”

Recently the program within which I teach has been renamed “Masters of Curating and Cultural Leadership.” Over the past semester there has been much discussion with staff and students. Most, including those current undertaking my course that is largely on cultural leadership, hate the name change.  It’s corporate speak, jargon, meaningless they say.

Wesley Enoch spoke to ABC Radio National just prior to the Platform Papers publication.  Presenter Michael Cathcart started the conversation by complaining about the title of the piece.  Cultural leadership, “it’s not an appealing term”  he says. As Enoch suggests in the interview, the term cultural leadership is associated with management. When googled it displays a plethora of articles about corporate culture.

But the problem with leadership in our creative context is broader than just one of vague nomenclature.

In my view there will not be a robust discussion ,or display, of leadership in our cultural industries until those within it start to embrace the term. Leadership is not the enemy of the arts.  And those working and studying within the industry need to start recognising the leadership role they are, and can, play.

Here’s a list of things leadership isn’t:

  1. Leadership isn’t hierarchical
  2. Leadership isn’t related to job title
  3. Leadership isn’t all about making money
  4. Leadership isn’t the domain of corporate consultants (or wankers)
  5. Leadership isn’t about characteristics or traits 

Leadership, to me, is about creating a place to which people want to belong. By establishing a potential future and encouraging others to work towards it.  Isn’t that sort of what artists do too?

This reluctance to embrace the role of leader has consequences. Not just the lack of debate or current stands on social issues that Enoch calls out, but it impacts of the development of those in the industry itself.

Leadership is about identity. Embracing the concept of leadership helps shape an individual’s identity through the stories they tell, to followers and potential followers, while also helping to shape self awareness and self efficacy. What happens when those who have the potential to be the great visionaries reject the concept of leadership? Well I guess we’re seeing that right now.

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