October 25, 2022

Finally, my relationship with the University of Melbourne is at an end. It started in 1994 when I was interviewed for the position of General Manager of Melbourne Theatre Company. I remember the room with the long Board table and oil paintings of dead white males (previous Vice Chancellors) on the wall. I had no sense of optimism about the interview – after all, I had never worked for a theatre company – but that might have the very reason I was offered the job. A fresh set of eyes on an arts organisation that was in trouble.

You may be wondering what MTC has to do with the University. The answer is from its very creation as the Union Theatre Repertory Company in 1953, MTC was a “department” of the University of Melbourne with a Board of Management reporting to the University Senate. So, for those 18 years that I managed MTC, I was a University employee.

In addition, to this formal role, I also taught arts management at the University, initially as a guest lecturer and then as a part-time course coordinator. Over the last 15 years, I have taught a variety of courses in Arts Management as well as a curious course on the secret life of organisations.

Combining work with teaching also lead to some interesting research on arts leadership with Kate MacNeill and Sarah Reynolds. I’d been off at a course in non-profit leadership at Stanford University and had a battle to get some of their academics to appreciate the strength of the co-leadership model you see in many arts organisations – with an artistic director and a managing director working side by side. Kate and I interviewed such leaders in Australia, the USA and the UK and published our results in a number of international journals. I’m still convinced that this is the best leadership approach for performing arts companies although such leaders need to share a vision, trust each and be respectful of their differences.

At various stages, I’ve been an Honorary Fellow and an Enterprise Fellow – all of which means that the University has valued my life experience even if I don’t have a PhD. And much as I admire those who can concentrate on one topic for years and years, that pure academic route never appealed to me.

As a thank you for my 18 years of work at MTC, the University offered me a year’s paid fellowship in 2013 which enabled me to research and write the first edition of my textbook The A to Z of Arts Management. The book, subtitled Reflections on Theory and Reality enabled me to combine those years of management practice, teaching and research in a way that I hope would offer useful insight to both students and arts managers.  Just today, I received an email from a past student who said that they still pull the book off the shelf and use it from to time. And just last month, an Artistic Director told me that it helped them make the transition from artist to leader.

The last couple of years have been demanding for academics and students alike as we reverted to online learning. I deeply admire my students, particularly those for whom English is a second language, who persevered  in the face of lockdowns and internet dropouts. It was such a joy to get back on campus and into the classroom earlier this year and see the palpable difference that face-to-face communication made to the learning process.

I have enjoyed working with some impressive senior managers and Senate members of the University as well the dedicated academics and administrative workers who make up the School of Culture and Communications. I have treasured the learning that teaching forces me to do as well as the smart, enthusiastic students I’ve had the privilege to teach. But much as I’m going to miss them, it’s time for me to step aside. Although teaching in recent times has provided me with both stimulus and income, I’ve had my turn. It’s been a struggle for bright young academics to get work and build a career and share their wisdom with the next generation of arts managers and I need to let them step up on take offer my role.

But, as I said to the Arts Management Department Head, I’m always available for a guest lecture (or two). It’s hard to let go completely after 28 years….

Update: 6 December 2022

…..and it turns out that it’s not quite over yet. The University hasn’t finished their recruitment process for a new arts management academic, so I have one more semester of teaching. Hurrah.