Arts Boards

September 8, 2021

I’ve recently contributed some comments about Arts Boards to an article in Arts Hub: https://www.artshub.com.au/2021/07/08/7-steps-to-build-the-perfect-arts-board/?utm_source=ActiveCampaign&utm_medium=email&utm_content=Future+of+touring%2C+vaxxing+the+nation+with+musicians+and+building+a+better+arts+board&utm_campaign=AHAU-+Midweek+Update+8+Sept+2021+-+newsletter&vgo_ee=0H2l6Ki2U%2FtlhrE3CV%2FROOaCfsgUqzaoUpyw0ud%2Fk%2FU%3D

When asked by the article’s author what my top criteria were for Arts Board members, this was the list I gave her:

The key attributes I’d look for:

  • Emotional intelligence – in order to work effectively with other board members and management
  • Time – the capacity and willingness to be available for more than just going to Board meetings
  • Skills – some form of skill or knowledge that’s going to be particularly useful for the company
  • Fiscal & strategic understanding – need to be able to read financial statements and to be able to judge whether an organisation is achieving its mission
  • Financial capacity – even if it’s just a modest donation, Board members should be willing to financially support their companies
  • Passion – in the form of a genuine interest in the art that’s being made
  • Communication skills – particularly the capacity to listen.

And in putting this mix together, the Board/company needs to consider:

  • Diversity – ensuring that there are a range of different types of people e.g. gender, ethnicity, age

While everyone is clear about the importance of Boards – to provide governance and leadership and financial support – the impact of dysfunctional boards and board members on the mental health of management and the effectiveness of companies is often not acknowledged.

Finding a good Board member is essential for the wellbeing of all concerned.

Sue Nattrass Award

May 6, 2021

On 5 May, I joined an amazing group of people in receiving the Sue Nattrass Award for exceptional service to the Australian live
performance industry. It’s an award which focuses on shining a spotlight on people in service roles that support and drive the live entertainment industry. My fellow winner this year was the renowned Jill Smith who has contributed so much to the arts in Victoria as General Manager of Malthouse Theatre and the Geelong Performing Arts Centre as well as an advisor and consultant and board member. For more detail about the awards: https://liveperformance.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/LPA-MR-A-high-note-to-2020-The-performing-arts-industry-celebrates-four-leading-lights-in-long-awaited-Helpmann-Industry-Awards-5May2021-FINAL-VERSION.pdf

I thought I’d share my thank you speech because it does acknowledge all the people who enabled me to do my job.

“These moments are all about thanks.

Thanks to Sue Nattrass for being such an amazing manager that she has an award named after her.

Thanks to Evelyn & Richard and the LPA team for making this award possible.

Thank to Robyn for her kind words.

Thanks to all the amazing artists I’ve worked with.

But most importantly, thanks to all the great managers I’ve worked with over the years.

I was having a conversation last week with some friends about the lack of good managers. They talked about the micromanagers and the bullies; the managers lacking people skills and financial skills; they talked about the power-hungry and self-obsessed. And locking back over my career I thought how lucky I’d been – and when I wasn’t lucky, I resigned. Live’s too short to put up with bad managers. So I would like to recognize and thank that small group of people who managed me well….including some of the great Chairs of Boards that I’ve worked with – John, Bobbie, Fiona. Ralph, Ian and Derek.

I also want to thank my peers – the CEOs and managers of radio stations and theatre companies, dance companies and venues, who shared their wisdom and their skills and helped me understand this wonderful industry in which we work and how to be a better manager.

When I give my introductory lecture to arts management students at the University of Melbourne, I say that management is about people, people, people, people, people, people, money, buildings. And so I’d also like to thank the people who have worked for me over the years. Without their skill and dedication, then I wouldn’t have been able to achieve anything.

And I’d like to thank the artistic directors that I’ve had the honour of sharing partnerships with – in particular, those great blokes at Melbourne Theatre Company – Roger, Simon and Brett….and how exciting is it that after 68 years, the new AD is going to be a woman, Anne-Louise Saks.

And I should mention 2 people who couldn’t be here today – one is providing drug and alcohol counselling to people in need and the other is having their first gig as a volunteer at Lort Smith Animal Hospital: my sister Susan and my nephew Sebastian. Their care and company at home made me a better manager out in the world.

And of course, I couldn’t finish without congratulating the other people who are winning an award today…..it’s a secret for another few minutes but they represent the very best of all the arts have to offer.

Thank you.”

Online forever?

December 14, 2020

I’ve been so busy teaching and marking assignments during Melbourne’s COVID-19 lockdown that I haven’t had time to do any of my own writing. Last week I watched a session on Artshub Visions 2020 conference called ‘post-pivot digital access’ and I was reminded about how little art I’d consumed digitally in this strange year. And that’s a strange outcome because most arts organisations immediately pivoted to online product.

Before I go further, I do have to acknowledge that the digital world is a boon for people with disabilities; that it saves the environment as people travel less to get to work or meetings or conferences; that it usually means that arts experiences are more affordable.

Therefore, my comments come from a position of acknowledged privilege. I can access theatres and galleries. I can afford to buy (some) tickets. But I don’t like consuming the art experiences I normally enjoy live via the digital world.

My favourite art form is theatre and I did watch some recorded work. Yes, Hamilton worked – as a well edited experience based on a series of performances to make the digital work as good as it could be. Yes, One Man, Two Guvnors was funny  – but I’d seen it a couple of times before so I knew the play. Jane Eyre didn’t work for me. Neither did The Deep Blue Sea. I was thrilled to be able to see the Black Swan production of Summer of the Seventeenth Doll but it didn’t have the emotional impact of the live versions I’d seen. The challenge for filmed theatre is that it’s so close in form to other digital material such as films or series. Those works are made for the digital eye and live theatre is made for the human eye. And as a result, most of the time recorded theatre looks second best.

When it comes to the visual arts, most of my experiences occur when I’m travelling. I go into museums and galleries and craft shops to find out more about the towns and cities and regions in which I find myself. The physicality of the place I’m in is just as important as the art I experience. Therefore, the idea of doing an online gallery tour is of (almost) no interest. This year, one of my students explored a variety of art gallery tours and some of her insights are worth sharing.

As she said, immersive technology expands accessibility and creates a free, unrestricted environment and yet the vast and empty digital exhibition hall makes the spectator feel lonely, given that nobody else it there to accompany them. She also noted a common aspect of the digital experience – being easily distracted by online ads and notices as well as being able to multitask. She also found herself felling “dizzy, disoriented and irritable” trying to use the arrow icons to ‘walk’ through the 360-degree rooms. I confess that in the few times I did look at virtual exhibitions, I usually gave up after a few minutes of fiddling with the keyboard.

The wonder and joy of exploring a gallery or museum is not just what’s on the wall, the floor or the display box. It’s being in a physical space with its multisensory aspects including everything from chance encounters with others to tea and cake in the café as one reflects on the experience.

All the arts organisations that I know did some sort of pivot this year to digital presentation. Partly it was to retain connection with audiences. Partly it was to provide work for artists. Partly it was to try and generate some income. Partly it was to experiment with digital art making as a replacement for live art. All of these are great reasons for doing so. But I’m not the audience that was engaged. As an example, I thought I’d watch  the Melbourne International Film Festival online. The price was about the same that I’d cheerfully pay to see a film in a cinema. But I ummed and ahhhed and eventually didn’t. Why not? When I pay $15 to go to the movies, I buy the film but also the experience of catching up with friends or eating a choc top or having shopping/eating experiences before or after. For the same amount of money I can get a month of Netflix or Stan streaming rather than risking it on one film. So I found other international films to watch in other ways.

There are arts experiences that I have always enjoyed through non-live means. I’ve learnt to love reading books via my phone when I’m travelling. I consume music daily via digital platforms but I’ve listened to recorded music even before I received my first pale blue and white portable 45 record player in my childhood. Music has always been both live and recorded for me. But for the same length of time, I’ve experienced theatre live. Am I just too stuck in my ways to give up on this way of experiencing stories, learning empathy, exercising my emotional muscles?

I’m sure that part of my ambivalence about art in the digital world is that too much of my life is already online. Each day, when we couldn’t go out, I sat staring at a computer screen. Each night, when we couldn’t go out, I sat staring at a television screen. Each day, when the libraries were closed, I read on my screen. Each night, when I couldn’t visit friends, I talking to them via zoom. I want to save up for the potential pleasure of a great night in the theatre rather than trying to replace it with a less than satisfactory outcome. I want to save up for the potential pleasure of exploring traditional and contemporary Japanese art when I finally get to go on my cancelled trip rather than looking at examples on a flat screen.

Is it selfish of me to want to explore the world again? Both the emotional world and the real world but not much more of the digital world?

MTC Memories

May 15, 2020

In this mad world of COVID-19, the companies and people that are amongst the most impacted are those working in the performing arts. Their art form requires contact and their workplaces are theatres were people gather to be close and exercise their emotions. And none of that is currently allowed.

For the first time since its started in the 1950s, Melbourne Theatre Company is presenting a play to an audience. And it probably won’t be able to for months to come. While well funded organisations like the Royal National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company can afford to record their productions, that hasn’t been possible for most Australian theatre companies. But like many companies, they are staying in contact with their audiences and sharing theatre stories. MTC has just asked if would be happy for them to share some of my favourite MTC moments and here they are: https://www.mtc.com.au/discover-more/mtc-now-2020/ann-tonks-top-10-mtc-experiences/

I do miss the joy of going to the theatre. The intimacy, the craft, the emotion.

I encourage you to support your favourite local arts company or organisations such as the Victorian Actors Benevolent Trust ( https://vabt.com.au/ ) or its equivalent in your state/country because we want the skills of these artists and storytellers to help us rebuild our communities once the fear is over.

New Edition

April 9, 2020

A new edition of The A to Z of Arts Management has been published by Routledge and is now available in ebook, paperback and hardback form. It was a fascinating process to revisit the first version and update it based on new research, new insights and new experiences. Routledge were wonderful to work with and I’m very broad of the result with a beautiful photo by Benajmin Heally of the interior of the Sumner Theatre on the cover.

For more information about how to buy the book: https://www.routledge.com/The-A-to-Z-of-Arts-Management-Reflections-on-Theory-and-Reality-2nd-Edition/Tonks/p/book/9780367351397

For those of you who are new to the book, its subtitle is “Reflections on Theory and Reality” and although designed as a textbook for arts management students, it has turned out to be of interest to arts practitioners as well as board members and so I’m thrilled that the new edition is available.

The A to Z format enabled me to talk about any topic that I thought might be of interest including the obvious ones such as Leadership and Strategic Planning but also ones that don’t usually appear in Management text books such as Coffee and Passion. I’ve added some extracts from the book on the website so feel free to browse. If there’s a particular topic that you’d like me to upload, feel free to drop me a line.

I did an a talk back on the book and management generally on ABC Local Radio in January 2016 and the podcast is available at: http://www.abc.net.au/overnights/stories/s4395499.htm?site=melbourne

A TO Z COVER

March 8, 2020

Here’s the cover of the new edition of The A to Z of Arts Management. It’s the inside of the John Sumner Theatre at Melbourne Theatre Company’s Southbank Theatre in Melbourne.

New Edition of “The A to Z of Arts Management” now available

March 5, 2020

Exciting news from Routledge publishers – the edition of The A to Z of Arts Management will be published this month. You can buy it a copy in hardback, soft back or an e-copy. https://www.routledge.com/The-A-to-Z-of-Arts-Management-Reflections-on-Theory-and-Reality-2nd-Edition/Tonks/p/book/9780367351397

Cultural Leadership

February 26, 2020

ARTS CENTRE MELBOURNE

LUNCH ADDRESS

26 February 2020

I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which Arts Centre Melbourne stands, the People of the Kulin Nations, and pay my respects to their elders, past, present and to come.

To start our conversation today, I’ve been asked to reflect on what sort of arts leadership we need going forward? And my first thought was is it any different from when I got my first leadership role, running a public broadcasting station in the 1980s?

Although you might expect me to say that there’s a big difference, I don’t think there is. Sure, in those days my portable computer was the size of a sewing machine but the challenge that I faced as a leader was the same as I faced as the locum CEO of Australian Dance Theatre at the end of last year  – the tension between art and money. How to find enough money to enable you to keep creating great art and tell important cultural stories as well as ensuring that the people who work for you can live a decent and healthy life.

There’s never been a lack of creativity in this country. What we lack is the financial resources to facilitate its creation. In under 2 months’ time, for example, 60 small to medium sized arts companies across Australia are going to lose their ongoing Australia Council funding.

So I think the real challenge in 2020 is to stand up and be cultural leaders, not just leaders of arts organisations.

What do I mean? I mean that we have to get out and argue the case for the value of what we do. Cultural leadership is about advocacy for as well as facilitation of cultural activity.

I’ll give you an example from those days of my first leadership role. The radio station was owned by two universities and one decided that the station’s existence wasn’t a priority so the Vice Chancellor decided to withdraw funding. This probably would have meant the closure of the station. But before he could do this, he needed approval from the University Senate and there was a window of 10 days between finding out about his decision and the Senate meeting. 10 days (prior to social media) of talking to the community and getting their support: signatures on petitions; postcards and letters to the Chancellor; phone calls to Senate members; editorials in other media forms. I spent 10 days telling the world how valuable we were and why we deserved to continue. And we won. The Senate refused to defund us. I tuned into that radio station when I was in Perth last week and it’s still providing entertainment and information to the Perth community.

The reason for telling this story is that as arts leaders we need to spend more time advocating to politicians, to public servants, to corporations, to philanthropist, to community groups, to get more money for artistic creation and distribution. We’ve got great artists who can create innovative art and great staff who can do all the operational work but as CEOs and Board members of arts organisations we need to look outwards and put the case for just how important the arts are for Australia.

Our voices can be lost in the media that’s more interested in entertainment or sport; in politics where the arguments can be about the instrumental rather than the intrinsic value of the arts; in the broader community where arts practice can be seen as an indulgence and arts attendance as a middle class or elite pursuit.

‘Leading’ in the arts is not only providing direction and inspiration for the people in our organisations but actually being out in the public domain expressing a belief in the value and benefits of culture. John Tusa, a great UK arts manager, makes the lovely point that being a leader in the arts and cultural world is all about caring without moderation or qualification. Whether its public speeches or private meetings, facebook posts or a compelling twitter feed, each public action we take is a demonstration of that care.

Of course the voice of artists will be heard more loudly than that of managers which is as it should be. Wesley Enoch, the first indigenous artistic director of a major Australian Festival argues that cultural leadership is about (and I quote)  “creating space for the opposing voices, about imagining a future, exploring the repercussions of our values and promulgating public debate through the work we make and the relationships we create.”

I’ve just come back from Perth where a non-indigenous Festival Director, Iain Grandage, gave voice to the local Noongar people and other First Nations artists by dedicating the first week of his Festival to their creativity. At the same time the WA Returned Services League released a statement saying that they were banning the flying of the Aboriginal flag, the use of indigenous languages and Welcome to Country ceremonies at ANZAC and Remembrance Day services. The community response was outrage and within days, they withdrew their decision. I’m sure that the part of that response was because people in Perth had been hearing about or immersing themselves in indigenous culture – hearing Shakespeare in an  indigenous language for the first time and/or having uproariously good times at Bran Nue Dae and Black Ties. And because artists and direstors and managers were talking about the importance of indigienous culture. Maybe, for the first time, people made a connection with an indigenous storyand recognised its value.

So we have to produce great art and show it in our theatres and galleries and arts centres but we also have to tell stories about why doing what we do is important in the media and the meeting rooms. And to be believed by our community, we have to reflect our community. The leaders of our arts organisations have to be black and white, gay and straight, male and female, artist and manager, and all have to be Cultural Leaders and advocate for increased investment in the arts in Australia.

Chunky Move

October 14, 2018

For a brief period of time, I’m back working in an arts company. I’m acting CEO/Executive Director for Chunky Move, a contemporary dance company based in Melbourne. I was invited to take on this role for a short time to help the company find new artistic leadership and to make sure that it’s in good working order for a new team. This immersion involves all sorts of emotions and outcomes:

  • the pleasure of being surrounded by hard working, creative, passionate people
  • the challenge of helping the company find its way to a new future
  • the interest in finding out more about practice in a different art form
  • the need to tread lightly given that the company already has many good staff
  • the tedium of documenting endless policies
  • the irony of suddenly reporting to people who used to be peers
  • the fear of getting any of it wrong.

The last point is the most worrying one. After all, I’ve written a book on Arts Management. I’ve run companies for years. I should be able to do this with my eyes closed. But every company is different and at a different part of its life cycle and thus needs different skills from its leadership team. It will be interesting to reflect after I’ve finished at Chunky Move to see what I’ve learnt about managing a small to medium sized company in the 21st century.

If you’d like to know more about the company: Chunky Move

Philanthropy – Arts and Universities

I’ve recently written an article about philanthropy for the online magazine NiTRO, a magazine which (in their words) provides a platform for creative artists practicing in academia to contribute to informed discussion about issues and activities relating to practice, research and teaching taking place within the university sector. In the article I explore the challenge of philanthropy, particularly for small to medium sized art companies compared to large non-profit institutions:

Competition, passion and need for diversity in arts funding