In 2016 Mary Cloake, Chief Executive of Bluecoat in Liverpool asked me to do some thinking practice about the current and future meaning of artistic leadership. This followed some work with Mary and her team on artistic policy and recruitment. It was a good chance to do some reading and thinking, and to test ideas with the Bluecoat team and some other very sharp minds, and we recently launched the paper at an event in Liverpool to mark Bluecoat’s 300th birthday. You can now read it here and it will inform roundtables Bluecoat are running across the country over the next few months as part of their Artistic leadership Initiative.
It’s not a long paper, and doesn't claim to dig much absolutely new ground. I hope it gives a simple and memorable framework for thinking about, and developing the skills necessary for, artistic leadership in what I call ‘contradictory times’. (Shitstorms and sunshine being just one discarded title…) I argue the most effective leaders operate inside their organisations, developing people, practice and business, outside in the sector, and beyond in the world – playing social, civic and political roles.
I also argue those contradictory times and the ‘culture of culture’ are placing unjustifiable burdens on leaders, and in fact many other people too, including artists. I must say, though, that when I suggest we need to stop implicitly or explicitly expecting regular 60 hour weeks from cultural workers, some people tend to nod and agree but in a way that suggest I’m being unrealistic, ‘given our passion for what we do’, and could we move on rapidly before we actually have to change anything?
I am undoubtedly shaped by my own experiences and personality, and I know I find long hours both compelling and consuming. I still work long hours a bit too often for comfort – but not all the time. I stopped that when I left a job that left me sleeping all weekend most weekends, when I wasn’t working them – my ‘big cheese job’ as a friend used to call it, taking the mick. I can’t quite envisage what might make me go back to that. (Never say never, though, of course.) That means giving up some things, of course, (proportions of pay, prestige and pension, just to mention the p’s) but that’s a choice I’m currently happy/able to make. We should not deceive ourselves that the present status quo in cultural work does not also force people to give up other things.
Anyway, as I dismount that particular hobby horse, I hope the Bluecoat paper is stimulating. I’d love to do some coaching with artistic leaders who want to work on the ‘inside/outside/beyond’ basis - you know where I am if that’s of interest to you.