Stage two – moving forward

Today is a big day.  Sometime in the next three hours large amounts of money will move through the interwebs and we will find ourselves with a) a huge mortgage (again) and b) keys to our new house.  This is pretty amazing.  Over the next 5-6 weeks I’m coordinating painting, wardrobe building, new heating, blinds and the construction of some custom furniture.  Then an actual move (which is about 1km from where we are living now.)  For someone who hasn’t lived in a house for 25 years this is majorly exciting and it’s the culmination of an 18 month plan that took as from our beloved Surry Hills to our new (forever) home in Fitzroy North.

I’ve also found out that my 6-month contract with Craft Victoria is unlikely to be extended due to financial constraints.  This is a mixed blessing.  I really love working for Craft, I respect what they do enormously. It’s been the best arts organisation to work for.  That said I really hate event management, so I wont miss that. And this will allow me the time to focus on my PhD in its entirety, as opposed to small bite sized chunks that has dominated my working plan for the past 4 months.

These two factors are combining to make concentrating on my thesis difficult.  While the regimen of work kept me very focussed until recently, knowing I’m returning to full-time PhD-writing has eased the pressure a bit. And it’s hard to focus when you’re also thinking about furniture placement and getting into your new, really spectacularly good kitchen.

Excuses galore.  That said, I’ve stuck pretty much to schedule. According to my plan I should be  about 30,000 words in by the end of this week and I’m easily there.  I have four draft chapters and half my introduction done (probably close to 50,000 words).  I really only have two chapters to write from scratch now, everything else is in some sort of draft.  But my poor, lost journal article has fallen to the wayside a bit.

Recently we managed to organise my stage two (the middle assessment phase of the PhD) work requirement by submission rather than presentation.  With my conference attendance and presentation at STPA in Adelaide in December and the submission of 2.5 draft chapters for review it looks like I will get the gold star from the university.  This means I’m really in the down hill phase.  As my scholarship ends in about 6 weeks this is damn important.  Without an extension (and no job + new house + rent for a bit) we are on fragile economic ground for a few months.  Nothing like a bit of financial pressure to hurry you along.

My sort-of-secondary supervisor read my content for the stage two review.  I think my capacity to handle feedback has improved significantly in this process and even though it was constructive, my initial reaction was this is GREAT, because it wasn’t a complete decimation of my work.  Apparently my writing has improved, which is good to know as it needed it, and my ideas are interesting, and progress great.  I’m making a contribution to the field.  All fantastic.

My weakness, and this is not at all surprising me as I know it is my weakness, is the theoretical framework and positioning my literature within the realm of epistemological and  ontological arguments.  I need a clearer argument about what constitutes leadership in my perspective, supported by theory.  I need to relate this to my data.

The good thing, I think I know where I’m headed.  This week I was thinking about the question “does the creative space need a new leadership model?” and my answer is a definitive “no”. I believe the creative industries is already using an existing, but largely unrecognised leadership approach.  My task is to weave this model, which is founded from social constructionist perspective, through my data chapters and position my argument in a cohesive way. At the moment the feedback is I’m just using supporting theory from a variety of schools (which I am) rather than positioning my work.

Am I worried? A little. This is the area in which I am not confident.  Can I do it? Yes. Because I can always see the next step in the process.  Everyday I just need to plug away at it.  (And not get too distracted by rugs on Pinterest.)

Weekly rant

Thanks to what has become known as Black Friday there are suddenly a lot of think pieces about the arts and arts funding circulating.  This is a good thing. I wish I could get online on any given day and read constructive articles about creative culture and government policy.  I wish it didn’t take the wholesale slaughter of our industry for it to happen. (By the way I’m organising an event that with feature a speech on the future of craft writing in the age of free content in July, so it’s on my mind.)

After 6 years of working, lecturing and researching in this space I have some opinions about these issues. Though sometimes I’m not confident enough to put them out there.  It’s generally only when I feel so authoritative on a subject that I know I can answer any critique that I’ll push a button and send.  I’m wary of opening up myself to criticism. (This is why I am never going to be an academic.)

But two nuggets of information that popped up in my social media feeds recently got me thinking/raised my hackles a little. And I guess I’m taking the chicken approach of not responding on the articles or posts instead I’m just expressing my thoughts here (which is not really public as no one reads it.)

The first was a comment about the Australia Council’s new suite of leadership programs being launched at a time 62 organisations were defunded. (Technically the leadership programs were launched about a month ago, but that’s not the point.)  Now I’m willing to say I have some self-interest in this area.  Not only is leadership my bag, but I have shared my research with the team at OzCo in the past. But I still also think it is worth looking at the perceived idea that it is somehow shameful that the federal body that has a significantly reduced grants budget is wasting resources by launching a (partly) user pays leadership development specifically for the sector.

Could money spent on this be spent in different ways? Absolutely.  Should all government funding that goes into the arts go directly to organisations and artists? In my opinion no.  I believe that part of the remit of organisations like the Australia Council is capacity building and that means helping skill those in the sector. We see that through their marketing forums and conferences on learning. What I see in my research is that there is some serious gaps in organisational leadership.  If participants in leadership programs become better managers, reduce role turnover, develop more productive staff by reducing stress, making the work environment better how beneficial will this be for organisations that has faced with tighter and tighter income streams?  I want to make the creative industries a better place to be employed and deliver more for the community, and I want that not just through adequate government funding but also through skilled leaders managing the companies in which we work.

What I’d love to see is this leadership development being offered free. Because I don’t know many arts organisations that have $600 or $900 to spend on leadership development, even though it is a) significantly better value than what you’d get in other sectors and b) badly needed. Importantly, I also want to ensure (and I hope I can play a part) that the leadership information that is provided in these sessions is relevant to the sector, particularly in the sense that it should come from within.  No wholesale importation of leadership theory as it applies to finance and the assumption that what works there works in the arts.

But I don’t criticise the Australia Council for offering the product in the first place.

OK, my second rant involves this piece on ArtsHub.  As a start I do not support the corporatisation of the arts.  I think creative product needs to be valued for more than economic value.  But at the same time I acknowledge that the creative industries (and I do not see this as a dirty word) is adding significant value to the economy and does employ more people than mining and agriculture.  Those in the sector have a tendency to latch on to these labour market and economic statistics to prove the sector’s value to the economy (legitimately) but then can’t cry foul when it is judged as an economic sector. Pledger says:

The ‘creative industries ideology’ talks to the arts as an object for monetisation. 

I don’t agree.  If you read Creative State, Victoria’s new creative industries policy, then you will see in the very first introductory paragraph:

The creative industries are significant to Victoria’s culture, economy and society and central to its future. Creative sectors and occupations account for $23 billion in gross value added, and make up about eight per cent of the Victorian economy. They influence our quality of life and the strength of our communities, and provide a source of inspiration and entertainment. They have wide-ranging impacts that resonate across our culture, society and economy. 

This clearly states that the industry add value to culture, economy and society.  The document goes on to recognise the linkages between creative work and social justice, quality of life, health, tourism along with economics.

To me it is not an either or discussion.   Attempting to isolate the arts as a ‘special’ case in society that deserves funding for its own sake is a) not going to fly in the modern world and b) not doing justice to the true value the arts provides.   This shouldn’t be an either/or argument. Government support in the arts should be both an investment and a grant.

We in the sector do need to get angry and fight for more funding. But we also need to critique the fact that funding seems to exist in a void of no policy at a national level.  There is no cultural/creative or arts industry policy in place and with no framework there is no strategy. In addition the methodology of funding delivery between the Australia Council for the Arts and Catalyst is a complete mess. No transparency, no consistency and no just process.  I highly recommend this article also on ArtsHub posted on these issues.

I’ve put out the call for arts leaders to step up in the past, and in particular we need some arts leadership at a national, policy level.  Think about this as you vote on July 2.

Rant over.



Organisational leadership in cultural institutions

Last week I had a really bad day at work.  I came home after running an event until 8pm and told (yelled at) my husband about it (he’s used to it.)  Then, as is not unusual for me, I awoke at 3am with an awful migraine.  After taking some tablets I lay awake in pain for an hour with two words going through my head: organisational leadership.

I’ll start personally.  I’ve worked in four arts organisations over the past 6 years, sometimes short-term contracts and one permanent job.  They are often amazing places to work.  But there’s generally one weakness that sometimes can undercut the good they do – organisational leadership.

Arts organisations are great at the vision thing.  They get crafting a narrative, storytelling, inspiring audiences and marketing and communication.  They are very good at communicating outward.

But a large part of running a successful organisation is internal operations.  I’m not questioning financial and operational capability here, but more organisational culture and internal HR processes.  While this could be seen as a criticism, it is driven by lack of understanding, capability and awareness of the importance of these functions. What arts organisation has a HR person? (Unless you’re a government body.)

My pet hate is the “This is the way we do things” culture that dominates many older arts organisations.  Given what I do I’m often tasked by the CEO to come in a explore new ideas.  But I’ve often found a level of almost belligerence from the staff around exploring new internal processes.  “It’s just not how we do things” is a statement I hear a LOT.

What could help? Understanding of the need for change management processes and establishing an agile internal culture.  Coupled with this is there is the lack of any formal, or informal,  feedback or performance management process so you are left with a sense of frustration and no way to communicate it.  I’ve watched staff pack and leave because they just can’t deal with the way things operate. And I’ve left myself.

This got me thinking about my research.

I have a mix of employment types in my data pool; employees, contractors, consultants and sole traders.  About 50% work in organisations and 25% of the total interview pool are managers. I’ve noted in my first chapter on reluctant leadership how there was a lack of focus on staff/peer/collaborator development from the leaders I interviewed.  I’ve written how they shied away from transformational leadership toward charismatic or great man theories.  There narratives constructed on leadership were all externally focussed – contributing ideas, inspiring the community, crafting narrative.  But nothing about creating sustainable, well run organisations nurturing future arts talent.

What I got thinking about last night was the lack of emphasis on managing organisational culture and staff.  I can easily name two interviews where this came up. Out of over 40.  This is a gap in our creative industries’ knowledge that should be addressed.  Sure this is an issue you can most likely attribute to many small businesses but the hiring, retention and development of arts staff is one that we’ve tended to neglect as a sector – why, because there’s always someone out there willing to take on a $40k job in the arts.

Imaging how good our, already amazing, cultural organisations could be if they got this bit right? As for my research this is something I’m going to explore more closely as I continue writing the data chapters.




A black day

Friday the 13th is truly a terrible day for the Australian arts community.  This morning the full results were announced for the federal Australia Council for the Arts 4-year organisational funding.  And the results were decimating.

The idea that the arts is propped up by government funding is ludicrous in this day and age.  I’m yet to see or work in an organisation that doesn’t drive revenue from multiple sources; government, philanthropy, sponsorship and generated revenue through members, tickets or retail.  That said, the government support is crucial to the survival of many.

Before we get all “but other industries don’t get hand outs” it’s worth mentioning that a) they do in a whole variety of ways, and b) the creative capital that begins in the arts flows through to all other sectors. The creative industries (to use my broader, thesis driven economic term) brings economic, social AND cultural good.  Where would Melbourne tourism be without our laneways, galleries and street art? To name just one.

When a car manufacturer  closes in Adelaide we get front page news, opinion pieces and government debate.  The impact to individuals is considered along with the broader supply chain issues and the ramifications to the life of a city.

But 62 arts organisations across Australia lost federal funding this week.  What’s the impact of this to the people working in them? The artists they support? The community they work within? The customers who see/hear/watch/experience or buy their works?  This impact is incalculable.

My current part time/contact employer was one of the lucky ones.  My former employer was not.  My heart is heavy today.