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:

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 ( ) 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:

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:


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.

Cultural Leadership

February 26, 2020



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


November 29, 2017

In 2017, I was given an Order of Australia Membership (AM) for my contribution to the arts through management, teaching and writing. I received this award because my sister, members of Live Performance Australia and generous referees nominated me. On the day of the award presentation at Government House in Melbourne , the number of women made up about 25% of the group. I actively encourage you to nominate people working in the arts, particularly women, for an Award.

At Government House Melbourne on 20 October 2017 with my sister Susan and my nephew Sebastian.

Voiceless Journeys

October 30, 2016

On my return from nearly 3 months of travel, one of my first tasks was to contribute to the launch of a book called Voiceless Journeys published by Ondru, a great small arts organisation committed to provoking thought and evoking change through art: The book consists of strong black and white photos ad the words of refugees who have come to Australia.

My address, which followed a great opening by activist Tasneem Chopra and moving words by some of the participants in the project, follows:

“Whilst I’m extremely honoured to be part of this launch tonight, I’m feeling slightly guilty about playing such an important role. Firstly, I’m someone who avoids having photos taken. Cameras are kind to my face and so I spend my life behind a camera taking pictures of other people. Secondly, I’m a pink Anglo Australian – born and bred in this country and given every opportunity to achieve a good life. The only challenge I’ve had to face is being female in a world where it’s still hard to have our skills and talents acknowledged. But nothing I’ve experienced comes close to the lives of dislocation and difficulty of the people in this book.

Evan Marginson, the Chair of the Ondru, says in his opening to the book that the organisation exists to “create art that seeks to give voice to one or many of the varied experiences of what it means to be human.” What I can offer tonight (I hope) is some reflection on how the arts – whether it’s words or images, movement or music – help us learn about each other.  The “other” might be my ancestor or yours; or someone from a different country or ethnicity or gender or sexual orientation or religion. Understanding them helps us find our common humanity, helps us connect, helps us understand each other – and that, in turn, should lead to a better world.

I’ve been travelling for the last 3 months and just got back to Melbourne yesterday. I have great memories of the wonderful people that I’ve met but I’ve also been moved and gained insights about other places and other people through arts and cultural experiences. For example:

  • In the Aapravasi Ghat museum in Port Louis I saw photos of the faces of the indentured labourers who settled Mauritius and saw the hardness of their lives etched in their skin
  • An exhibition in Paris about Oscar Wilde, showing just what we lose when we punish and imprison people who don’t fit traditional definitions of sexuality
  • I listened to old recordings of the story telling and music from the people of the Great Blaskit who used to live on this tiny windswept Atlantic island off the coast of Ireland
  • On the same day in Sardinia, I engaged with the artist who painted small tiles with images of Sardinia’s old way of life and with a jeweller who made a beautiful necklace that contains an image of day to day live for all of us, now and before – clothes hanging out to dry on a line
  • Stepping down into the Roman arcades under Coimbra’s art museum and walking in the footsteps of past generations and then stepping back into the light to see the statues of saints made by Portuguese limestone carvers 1,500 years later
  • Listening to the Fado music of Portugal and the Folk music of Ireland and the Sega music of Mauritius and the Pop music of Italy – sometimes in words I could understand and sometimes in words I couldn’t – but all invoking emotions of pleasure and connectedness.

Whether its photos or sculpture, music or stories, paintings or jewellery, art tells us about ourselves and about others.

One of my favourite arts managers John Tusa captures with grace and passion the contradictions and strengths, the paradoxes and weaknesses, of why the arts are important:

“The arts matter because they are universal…..because they deal with daily experience in a transforming way; because they question the way we look at the world; because they offer different explanations of that world; because they link us to our past and open the door to the future; because they work beyond and outside routine categories; because they take us out of ourselves; because they make order out of disorder and stir up the stagnant; because they offer a shared experience rather than an isolated one….The arts matter because they embrace, express and define the soul of a civilisation. A nation without arts would be a nation that had stopped talking to itself, stopped dreaming, and had lost interest in the past and lacked curiosity about the future.”

Philosopher Alain De Botton makes the beautiful point that “many important truths will impress themselves upon our consciousness only if they have been moulded from sensory, emotive material.” And that’s what the arts do so well – touch our senses, touch our emotions. He goes on to say that “We may, for example, need a song to alert us in a visceral way to the importance of forgiving others…just as it may be only in front of a successful portrayal of an oak tree that we are in a position to feel, as opposed dutifully to accept, the significance of the natural world.” And in the same way, looking at the beautiful photos in Voiceless Journeys, responding to the warm smiles, the demonstrative hands and the often challenging words, we learn the importance of looking deeper into what it means to be human.



By creating something of beauty such as this book; by taking such wonderful photographs; by enabling the hearing of so many disparate voices; the photographers and designers, project managers and other Ondru staff, have done us all an immense favour. And to the people who have bravely changed their lives and shared their stories – of hurt and loss, of struggle and success – I am honoured to meet you and our shared country is richer for your presence.

To end I’d like to share a poem from the Nigerian writer Niyi Osundare from another great book From the Republic of Conscience: 

I sing

Of the beauty of Athens

Without its slaves

Of a world free of kings and queens

And other remnants of an arbitrary past


Of earth

With no

Sharp north

Or deep south

Without blind curtains

Or iron walls


Of the end

Of warlords and armouries

And prisons of hate and fear


Of deserts treeing

And fruiting

And the quickening of rains


Of the sun

Radiating ignorance

And the stars informing

Nights of unknowing


I sing of a world reshaped.



Brokensha, P & Tonks, A 1986, Culture and Community: Economics and Expectations of the Arts in South Australia, Social Science Press, Sydney

De Botton, A 2009, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, Hamish Hamilton, London

Stover, CF 1984, ‘A Public Interest in Art – Its Recognition and Stewardship’, Journal of Arts Management and Law, 14 (3)

Tusa, J.2007a, Engaged with the Arts,  I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd, London


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