July 25, 2016

This week is the beginning of Semester 2 at the University of Melbourne were I teach arts management. This semester, I’m sharing the teaching with two esteemed colleagues and so the students should get a richer experience than usual.

My U’s in the book are Uncertainty, Unions and Upward Management. In someways, Uncertainty should be the topic for this week because with the recent outrages in Nice, Munich and Kabul and the forthcoming US Presidential election, the world seems very insecure. But I’m going to remain optimistic and provide some insights into of those challenging work tasks – managing your boss.


There’s no guarantee that you will always have a good manager or a good leader. Adirondack (2005) has a great approach to management in the non-profit sector. She talks about ‘good enough management’ and provides a range of advice on dealing with ‘not-yet-good enough management’. It may be incompetent management. But it can also be about lack of direction form the Board, or poor processes such as badly run meetings, or unclear objective or expectations, or lack of good financial management. You can help provide advice and ideas to improve these scenarios even when you’re not the boss.

One of the regular whinges from students is about bosses who micromanage them. I’m lucky enough to have avoided such a relationship (to date) so for their sake, I went looking for some advice. Gallo (2013b) provides some useful strategies. The starting point is that it’s more likely to be about your bosses insecurities than it is about your competence.  And some micromanagement might be good for you. You may simply have a manager with very high standards who pays a great deal of attention to detail. Whilst they are exerting a degree of control, you can probably learn from them.

However, what students are generally talking about are the bosses who give you little independence, are obsessive about what you’re doing every minute of the day, don’t let you make decisions and seem incapable of focusing on the bigger picture. Gallo’s (2013b) advice is not to fight it but rather to try and understand what’s behind it – is it fear of failure, pressure, company culture, the only way they know how to be a boss? Understanding will help sort out which strategy is best to use to deal with it including  trying to earn your boss’s trust, making up-front agreements about their level of involvement in your work and providing regular and detailed updates about your  progress.

The other boss that regularly gets a mention is the one that’s simply incompetent – whether it’s because they can’t make a decision or because they play politics (or World of Warcraft) instead of doing work, or because they are focussed on their career not on helping you. Gallo (2013a) also offers insight on how to deal with this problem. Once again, it’s about trying to understand what causes it, asking others for help, finding creative ways of collaborating with them and stepping up and taking on responsibilities and decisions if they can’t or won’t. Her final point is the most important – take care of yourself.  If you find yourself with a manager that isn’t good enough, you can and should take it up with someone higher up, formally or informally, if that’s possible. As Adirondack (2005) suggests, you can do it in the spirit of asking for advice and guidance rather than complain.

But what if you feel that the relationship is all one way? That the management is not just ‘not yet good enough’ but actually bad. You’re doing their work for them; they take all your ideas and don’t give you credit; you can’t trust them; they can’t made a decision – or make bad decisions. You may decide to stay on and put up with a poor relationship because you love the organisation and hope that they will leave soon. But it’s important to remember that you won’t be able to make significant differences in how they think or operate (Hill & Lineback 2013). So you may have to do what I’ve done in the past and decide that working for such people is ultimately so demeaning and disappointing that it’s not worth staying. It’s traumatic and scary to leave but it’s better than working for a bad manager even in a good company.



Adirondack, S 2005, Just About Managing? 4th edn, London Voluntary Service Council, London

Gallo, A 2013a, ‘Dealing with your incompetent boss’ in HBR Guide to Managing Up and Across, Harvard Business Review Press, Boston, 55-59

Gallo, A 2013b, ‘Stop Being Micromanaged’ in HBR Guide to Managing Up and Across,   Harvard Business Review Press, Boston, 47-59

Hill, LA & Lineback, K 2013, ‘Managing your boss’ in HBR Guide to Managing Up and Across, Harvard Business Review Press, Boston, 3-16



Book Launch

February 1, 2016

The A to Z of Arts Management was launched late last year in the eponymous Tonks Bar in the Southbank Theatre. Kind words were said on the day by Professor Glyn Davis, Vice Chancellor of the University of Melbourne, Derek Young, ex-Chairman of Melbourne Theatre Company and Professor Kate Macneill who runs the Arts Management program at the University of Melbourne. The audience consisted of friends and family, new colleagues and old ones, visitors from Perth and from Sydney.  One of the highlights was a present of freshly baked olive bread from the elderly mother of a friend.He carried it on a plane from Sydney and it was still smelly freshly baked when it arrived at the Theatre. It must have had the crew and customers salivating.

I normally avoid photos but there wasn’t a chance this time so I do want to share some from that special night.

Ann Tonks Book Launch

Ann Tonks Book Launch

Ann Tonks Book Launch

Ann Tonks Book Launch

Ann Tonks Book Launch









Peter Brokensha

August 13, 2014

I did my post-graduate Arts Management studies at what was the South Australian Institute of Technology (now the University of South Australia). At that point in the early 1980s it was the only course of its type in Australia. The Director of the program, based in the Elton Mayor School of Management, was Peter Brokensha. Peter passed away on 24 June and I felt the need to acknowledge the importance of his work as the Director of that early arts management program and the impact on my life in opening a range of opportunities and challenges that enabled me to become an arts manager.

Peter was a fascinating person. He had an eclectic set of interests and life experiences that contributed richly to our learning process. He’d started his career as an engineer working for Caltex first in Adelaide and then working his way to the top as Managing Director of Operations at the Head Office in Sydney. Still only in his early 40s and one of Australia’s first sea changers, he resigned from the corporate world and conceived and developed the Argyle Arts Centre in the historic Rocks area in Sydney. Peter’s life-long passion for social justice and culture then led him back to University to complete a Masters in Anthropology which involved long periods in the central desert in the NW of South Australia living with and doing research on the art and craft of the Pitjantjara people. If you’re interested in this work from 1975, the book he published as a result, The Pitjanjatjara and their Crafts,  is still available via book sellers such as http://www.abebooks.com/ 

All these experiences informed his passion for art as an integral part of life as well as the desire to produce good managers who could help in the creation of art and culture.

That passion fed through into his family life with his children all involved in the arts when I knew them. Peter had by then  Randells Mill, a 19th century abandoned butter factory in the Adelaide Hills converted into a home and art gallery that he shared with his wife Elizabeth, a  house full of paintings, pottery, sculpture, hospitality and conversations.

Peter also bought a set of intellectual and analytical skills to the work of an arts management teacher and researcher and together we created a cultural statistics framework for the Australia Council and the Australian Bureau of Statistics as well as undertaking cultural economic studies on the Adelaide Festival and the arts industry in South Australia.

Peter was a great example to his students, combining care for art and culture with worldly experience as a manager and leader. His autobiography is called Getting to Wisdom Slowly and is still available: http://www.holisticpage.com.au/


August 11, 2014

If you haven’t already joined the Australian Arts Party then you should. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing that instead of having someone from the Motorists Enthusiast Party in the Senate we had an artist…or two or three?

As a founding member of the Arts Party, I’ve just received some good old fashioned car stickers through the mail and I’m going to proudly mount the one that says: “I support Art and Creativity and I vote www.artsparty.org”

Even if you’re a member of the Labor, Liberal or Greens parties, I don’t see why you also couldn’t join the Arts Party and spread your vote around. After all we have a preferential voting system so you get the chance to have and exercise a complex set of views about politics.

The vision of Australia’s newest political party is to help create a more unified, more creative and economically more prosperous Australia, built on vibrant and diverse communities, which will benefit us all. The aim is to get more support for Australia’s artistic and cultural practice and organisations so that all the reasons that we love and work in the arts can be experienced by more artists, arts workers, audiences and Australians.


November 27, 2013

I’m back from my travels full of wonderful memories of people, buildings, water, animals (up close and friendly with the odd elephant), food, wine and of course the thing that drives our desire to explore other worlds: culture. Sometimes it was actual art – the 18th century painted ceiling in my room in Umbria and the 21st century fresco in my hotel in Singapore. Sometimes it was seeing traditional dances recreated by energetic young people in Molyvos and Kandy. Sometimes it was exploring the extraordinary Bronze Age and Hellenic sites in Turkey and Greece. Sometimes it was seeing craftspeople at work – the old man making Kolombi beads in Nafplio and the young woman selling her brooches off an umbrella in Athens. Sometimes it was wading through the puddles to explore Corinth and climbing up the endless stairs to reach the Lion Rock Fortress in Sigiriya.

Admittedly, some of the explorations I chose to make had art and culture at their heart – the archaeological tour of the Aegean coast of Turkey; the photography tour of Sardinia; the watercolour tour of Greece. But in every town, every moment of every adventure was touched by the art and culture of that community. Yes, I lounged around the odd beach and did a lot of floating in the Mediterranean but each day contained a new vista on the world through the prism of art or design or music or architecture or storytelling.

Why don’t we invest more in Australian arts and culture in order to ensure that our community is rich in colour and movement and sound?



August 25, 2013

From 28 August 2013, I won’t be available for anything serious for the next couple of months. I’m taking what I call my Melbourne Theatre Company Long Service Leave. After an unexpectedly long time at MTC, I decided to have a break before I went searching for the next challenge. For the last 7 months that break has including some personal time but a surprising amount of work. The University of Melbourne has kindly offered me a part time research fellowship; I’ve done some consulting and teaching about arts philanthropy; I’ve taught a post-graduate arts management course; I’ve co-presented a paper on arts leadership; I’ve been on an Arts Victoria advisory panel; and I’ve had lots of mentoring-type conversations with arts managers. Which has all been rewarding but not quite what I had planned for this year! So now I am departing Australia’s shores and heading towards the Mediterranean. I will be checking emails…but not regularly and not over-eagerly. The next couple of months are about exploring the history and culture, the art and food, the people and landscape of Turkey, Italy, Malta and Greece.

I don’t have a specific return date at this point. It depends on the impact of the ongoing slump of the Australian dollar on budget; it depends on how long I’m prepared to live out of a 20 kilo suitcase and wear the same five t-shirts; it depends how much I miss family and friends and the comfort of my own bed.

So if you have a fabulous opportunity to offer me, by all means send me a message…but you might have to wait. I can’t imagine that I’ll sacrifice the white limestone of Malta or the blue grottos of Capri for just another job.

Life-post MTC

July 24, 2013

If one more person asks me how retirement is going….

I haven’t retired. I don’t want to retire. I can’t afford to retire. All I did was leave MTC. Perhaps its the grey hair. Perhaps it’s the fact that people offer me a seat on the tram. But the truth is that I’m trying to have some of the holidays that I didn’t have for all those years at MTC before I look for the next job. And as my holiday plan was Europe, I wanted to wait until the summer was over but before the snow set in. I leave on 28 August 2013 and will be back sometime before the end of the year.

In the meantime, I have been busy. Honest. The University of Melbourne has very generously offered me a part time Research Fellow position which is giving me the chance to see if I have a book on arts management in me. I taught an Advanced Arts Management course in tthe University’s school of Culture and Communication in first semester. The RE Ross Trust, a generous Melbourne-based philanthropic trust, asked me to review their Scriptwriting Awad. I’ve been on three Helpmann Award committees as well as an advisory panel for Arts Victoria. I have lots of informally mentoring conversations with people about arts management. And as you know from other posts, I have taught in Vietnam and presented in Colombia.

There isn’t nearly enough time to relax, read a book, get fit, go to the movies, catch up with friends. But I’m doing my best to squeeze some of those activities in as well.




July 15, 2013

In June, I had the pleasure of visiting Colombia for AMAIC 2003, the International Conference on Arts and Cultural Management. I confess that Colombia has never been on my “must see” list partly because it’s so far away (32 hours travel time from Melbourne to Bogota) and partly because of its history of political and drug-related violence. But I’m glad I made the effort. To recover from the long flight I had a weekend in the warm, colourful, historic town of Cartagena on the Caribbean Sea.


It’s both the classic tourist town, full of churches and museums, forts and restaurants, but also a town that felt as if it still belonged to the people who lived there rather than peripatetic visitors like me.

Whilst Bogota shared some of the historic buildings and colour, in La Candelaria, the old town, it’s a large (8 million people) sprawling metropolis and not a wildly attractive one. It’s full of graffiti and men with guns. Not a combination that appeals to me. But the hospitality of the staff and students at the Universidad de los Andes and the local people who attended the conference was warm, even towards incompetents like me with not a word of Spanish. The conference traditionally provides a strong cultural programme and this year as well as some great galleries, the highlight was music. You’d be surprised at how many meek cultural academics have a salsa soul.


I co-presented a paper on Co-Leadership in the Performing Arts (email me if you’d like a copy) with my partners-in-crime from previous years, Kate Macneill from the University of Melbourne and Sarah Reynolds who is now the Performing Arts Co-ordinator at the Burnie Arts Centre. Kate and Sarah had done most of the hard work in terms of the academic content of the paper so I just provided the colour and movement. Whilst I enjoy the AIMAC conferences, I always feel that they look back rather than forward, analysing what companies and artists have been doing. I’d love to find a way of bring practitioners and cultural researchers together to choose topics of exploration that could inform the future.


In addition to the wonderful people that I met and the conference itself, my favourite moments in Colombia were:

  • Wandering the history laden streets of Cartagena
  • Swimming in the warm Caribbean waters
  • Museums such as Museo del Ora, Museo del Santa Rosa and the Museo Nacional
  • Art graffiti (as opposed to the endless depressing tagging and paint balling)
  • Looking out over Bogota during day and night from Montserrat peak
  • The Salt Cathedral in Zipaquira.

A short stay but a rewarding one.


April 30, 2013


In March I had the privilege of working with Jo Caust, Jane Haley and Thuy Do to co-present workshops on Income Generation in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. The workshops, jointly funded by the Vietnam Institute for Cultural and Arts Studies and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs, were designed to give practical tools as well as inspirational stories on all sorts of ways of raising income including audience development, business partnerships, philanthropy and fundraising activities.


The audience was made up of cultural managers, artists, academics and government officials. They were amazing in their concentration and their interest. As you can imagine, it wasn’t easy  – giving up 3 days’ work to spend hours in a room listening to presentations in translation. Their responsibilities and interests included theatre and circus, public and private museums, cultural centres and arts management programs. One of the most wonderful parts of the seminars in both cities was when the participants would perform – sometimes it was to provide some inspiration on the day, sometimes to illustrate a case study, sometimes to thank us and sometimes just for fun. I haven’t been to any other training programs where art was such an integral part of the process.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Presenters, translators and Ho Chi Minh

The challenge for Vietnamese Arts Managers is that in difficult economic times, the government is pushing them to become more self-sufficient but the policy and taxation framework isn’t yet there. One thinks of Australia 20 years ago, before Abaf, before the Cultural Register, before Prescribed Private Funds, where the culture of giving to arts and cultural organisations existed but wasn’t wide spread. And of course each country will have its own traditions when it comes to donations. In Vietnam, people clearly donate to temples and churches but they also have to provide financial support for the health and education of family members. So one suspects that cultural giving will be low on the list in the current economic climate.

We met some inspirational people during our time in Vietnam but I just want to mention two in case you are going to Vietnam and have a chance to visit their museums. The first was the director of the War Remnants Musuem in HCMC, Huỳnh Ngọc Vân, and the second, Vu Duc Hieu, established the first private cultural museum in Vietnam, focusing on the art of the Muong people.



And if you happen to be in Hanoi and don’t think that the Water Puppets are quite your thing, try the Tuong Theatre in the Old Quarter. It combines live music, dance, story telling and comedy and is a great way to spend an hour before dinner.


Other cultural experiences that are worth exploring include:

Women’s Museum, Hanoi: http://www.womenmuseum.org.vn/en.html

Temple of Literature (and antique shop), Hanoi

Cultural Village Tour, Hanoi e.g. through Intrepid’s Urban Adventures

Fine Art Museum plus all the small art galleries that are on the same site, HCMC

Mekong Delta for village life, homestays, markets, food manufacturing e.g. Asia Trip Advisor: http://www.asiatouradvisor.com/



March 14, 2013

The last week has had two momentous moments for me and they have only come about due to the generosity and thoughtfulness of others. And both have been acknowledging my work which again, has only been successful because of others.

The neon sign over the 1st floor bar in the Southbank Theatre has been turned on. It’s a beautiful turquoise sign and I love it. I’m slightly embarrassed by it but I’m also amazed at the number of people who are jealous and would trade their AOs and AMs for one. So thank you to Derek Young and Brett Sheehy who made it happen.

Another honour came because of Pam Kleemann’s kindness of spirit. Pam’s an art photographer and friend who, amongst other things, has taken MTC rehearsal photos for years. If you want to know more about her work, see:


She nominated me for the Victorian Honour Roll of Women and I was inducted into that list last night (12 March 2013). I had a university lecture to give that night so Pam represented me at Parliament House. I presume that the website will be updated with the 2103 list of inspirational women from all works of live but here’s where to find previous lists:


It’s a great idea and if you have any Victorian women who you think should be nominated, go for it. Whilst there is a great collection of scientists and health workers and people working in the social sciences, there seem to be few if any artists/arts workers.