Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Some thoughts from the Banff Opera Colloquium





As I mentioned last week I spent some time last month in Bannf, in Canada, at the Bannf Opera Colloquium, co-presented by Opera.ca and the Banff Centre, and pulled together in great style by Christina Loewen of Opera.ca. The theme of the colloquium was 'leadership in a changed world' and the programme was in part built around ideas in my paper Making Adaptive Resilience Real. I did a keynote on adaptive resilience and then led a workshop, but was active throughout the colloquium and closed with a bit of rapportage.  (Isn't colloquium a good word, by the way, to describe people getting together to talk about their situation and possible solutions - better than symposium or seminar or even conference, despite, or is it because of, its plummy Latinate quality.) As those who've met me in the last couple of weeks and been foolish enough to ask 'How was Canada?' I could blether on about this for a while, but there's are a few things I took away it may be worth sharing. (Leaving out the mountains, obviously.)


Firstly, and happily, the frameworks of the adaptive cycle and the 8 characteristics I set out, were useful tools for the 40 people attending to use to grapple with what's facing the opera sector in Canada, giving context but also allowing focus on key areas. Rereading the paper I realised how rooted in the English context it is, for all it was informed by thinking elsewhere, but the framework did seem to travel well. (Maybe, as Patrick Kavanagh wrote, 'parochialism is universal'.)

The participants were a mix of senior executives - mainly CEOs and artistic directors as you might expect - but also board members and chairs. This gave a richness to the conversation, with different perspectives, and is not something I've seen too often in the UK. A number of opera companies had also brought more people from their management teams, allowing them to work on the issues together, rather than 'hold' the challenge at the top. This openness increasingly feels like a positive way forward - both for organisations and for the titular leaders who can share the burdens of change.

As I expected, the role of board members and executives in raising funds was both taken as read and informed much of the discussion, in a way it rarely is in the UK. It may just have been my 'tourist' perception, but the conversations between execs and board members seemed closer and more comfortable than I have often observed at home, perhaps because created by that ongoing, joint-project of cultivating donors. (I have seen it between CEO and chair, but most often in the context (or wake) of a capital project, or when fundraising.)

Three themes related to the characteristics of adaptive resilience which emerged from the colloquium were the importance of developing a shared narrative based on core purpose for Canadian opera - to influence government, funders and the public alike, strengthening networks and collaborations and leadership. Marc Scorca of Opera America gave a great keynote about leadership which I'll return to (i.e when I find my notes...) Leadership which creates the richest possible culture of shared purpose increasingly feels like the vital driver of resilience, and the sectoral challenges of developing a genuinely diverse leaders at all levels increasingly urgent.

I also learnt you should never surprise a bear when it's eating: if you see one, make sure it knows you're coming. There's a moral in there somewhere...



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