Archives for category: Roles

emily sexton

Emily Sexton is in her first year as Artistic Director of Melbourne’s Next Wave, a biennial festival and artist development organisation that supports innovative work from young and emerging artists. Prior to this, Emily was the Creative Producer at the Melbourne Fringe Festival. She spoke to arts interview about how she juggles the realities of leading a small arts organisation that makes a massive impact.

Interview by Emiline Forster

Do you feel that regardless of the job title you often find yourself balancing multiple roles?

Yes and no. In the arts you certainly need to be responsive and flexible. We are switching between different kinds of ideas all the time. We go from very conceptual conversations to very financial and strategic ones, and I think that is the nature of our practice. However, the challenge and joy of growing as an artistic director is to know how you want to execute your goals.

Earlier in my career there was that sense of being led by the work as opposed to being led by how I wanted to work. These days I make a lot more choices about how I want to work and what I should focus on.

I guess it is also about achieving a balance between personal and professional roles. When your passion, life, work and friendships all roll together you have to be quite careful to make sure that you still love all of those things – it is not like we are doing it for the money. It is something that you have far more control over than you might think. Last year just before the 2010 Melbourne Fringe Festival opened I had dinner with my old housemates. It was a commitment to myself that in amongst all this dedication to a community that I adore, I would also prioritise me being a good person who still caught up with her old housemates. I think it is something that you need to be really cognisant of all of the time, because it can stop being fun very quickly if you are not directly aware of it.

Do you think the size of an organisation affects a person’s ability to find balance between all the required roles?

Probably not. I think it comes down to the individual. For me personally, I know that I will always throw myself into things, I will always love what I am doing and be passionate about it, and I will probably always be working on things that, if I let them, will take over everything. So regardless of what you are doing, if you are working in the arts you need to make sure you are still enjoying the ride. Certainly in a small organisation you are covering a lot more territory and there are so many factors that lead towards you needing to diversify your skills, but there is also a nimbleness that means you can be quicker to respond to new and exciting opportunities.

How do you manage the shifts between your professional roles? For instance going from a creative headspace to a financial or planning one?

I guess you tend to have your eye on the bigger prize and see them all as part of a larger whole. I cannot be artistic without thinking clearly about how I am going to resource that endeavour. I also have to consider what my audience might want or need as well as how I will support and nurture my artists to ensure their ideas are the most explosive and radical that they can be. You have to take the time to manage and plan all those factors yet still stake out time to just talk about ideas. To achieve this, I have put in place a range of structures that allow us to prioritise the art, but also ensure that we continue to talk about why we are doing it, who we are doing it for, how it is going to happen.

When moving from the Fringe Festival to Next Wave, did you feel equipped with the skills needed to fulfill your new role, or did you accept that you would be learning on the job?

Both. Certainly there are loads of experiences, people that I have worked with, and things that I learnt at Fringe that provided a fundamentally amazing foundation for my time at Next Wave. But at the same time, I would not start any job presuming that I have all the knowledge that I need. The wonderful thing about Next Wave is that we really are a development organisation at every level. For me and my co-CEO Paul Gurney, this is the first time that we have come to the organisation, and the board is really dedicated to nurturing us as arts leaders so we can in turn nurture artists and arts workers. It is a really positive and exciting environment where it is ok to fail – it is ok to make mistakes, because that is actually how we will learn. It would be pretty crazy for us to go so hard at inventing new things and really being innovative, and also expect that to succeed 100% of the time. I am learning things all the time in this job and that was one of the reasons I was so excited to step into a new role.

 For where people are working in the Australian arts industry:


Thang Ngo knows what it is like to change roles in and out of the workplace. Currently, he is the Strategy and Planning Manager of Audio and Language Content at SBS. Before that, Thang worked on the commercial side of SBS. Outside of work, Thang has gained recognition from his popular food blog Noodlies, which highlights local Sydney restaurants and eateries. As result, he also writes for SBS’s new food magazine, Feast (his story is featured in the second issue hitting shelves on September 5th). This week, arts interview talks to Thang about both his ever changing roles and the role SBS has played within the Australian community.

Interview by Rebecca Rossman

What roles does SBS play within the community?

SBS as a corporation started with SBS radio over 35 years ago. At the time the government had created universal healthcare but they did not know how to communicate that message across to people, especially those who speak little English. SBS radio was established to communicate important information from the government, like universal healthcare, to the general public. Five years later SBS expanded into TV.

The slogan back then was ‘bringing the world back home.’ During this time, many people migrated to Australia were still interested in news from their homeland.  There are needs for them to reconnect with what was happening in their home countries. That was kind of the inspiration for SBS 35 years ago, and it is interesting for SBS to see the role it has played within the community all these years.

What challenges does this create?

At SBS we have the same challenges in terms of media fragmentation as anyone else. People are not watching TV as much and media is nonlinear. People want to consume on a platform, and at a time that is convenient for them. In terms of SBS radio, it is extra challenging because we are no longer the leader in ‘bringing the world back home’ for the community. You can access the news directly from your home country; information that is much more in depth and quicker than what we can provide. For example, everyone was watching the news on NZ earthquake online or on TV by NZ home broadcasters. They are on the ground; they know the place and can get the news much faster. It creates a challenge for us now after 35 years: How do we remain relevant? How do we do our jobs?

At SBS, we have been trying to figure out what ground we own and ironically for us we are now going back to the original charter of providing key information to the community about Australia such as the healthcare service, the carbon tax, and changes to family allowance. All of those things are important to the community here and all of those things would not be covered by the homeland broadcaster. It is a way of carving a niche for ourselves.

How has your journey (previous roles) impact what you do now?

I have always been within the ‘evil’ side of SBS which is the commercial side. To give you a quick background: approximately 80% of our income comes from the government and 20% from commercial activity. The issue we have is that the government does not increase liberal funding every year but content increases on the enterprise side. In real terms, the funding is actually decreasing. Because of this we are trying to get more commercial revenue to supplement it. What I try to tell people is that the money generated on the commercial side pumps back into the content side so that we can actually make shows. So I always see “commercial” as the greater good. Because people can access information freely online, you do need to do something that will compel them, keep them watching and that costs money.

An example of this is a program called Go back to where you came from. We put 6 ordinary Australians with diverse views around the asylum seekers on a boat and they go on the journey backwards from Australia to Afghanistan. You can imagine the logistical nightmare in doing that and how much that would cost. Not to mention the insurance waivers and getting approval of going back to the countries. All that cannot be made without funding.

As of my journey now that I am on the content side, I have actually been appreciating how important content is to SBS survival. In the past I was more focused on bringing in the money to make the content, and I think what we are heading for is distinct content.

So do you feel people should have a chance to work on both the content side as well as commercial side?

Yes, I think so. I feel that I have a more balanced view because of my experience in dealing with both sides. When I used to ask the question “oh why can’t we do this?” I now can see why. So it is a good balancing act. However, I think people in content should see how hard it is to generate funding to make the content. Any independent producer knows that. But I think this is the difference with SBS, we do not necessarily have to go get the funds ourselves.

Content is also important. The level of competition is so much broader than in the past. With newspapers, radio, internet, satellite TV, etc. people can go to many different places to get their news. This is why we need to focus on what we are about and what we do to provide that key service.

Interested in more reading on roles?

Stephen dupont

Australian photographer and documentary filmmaker Stephen Dupont boasts a career that has spanned over 20 years and earned him international awards. Stephen has balanced many roles from a photojournalist, documentary film-maker and educator to co-founder of the Sydney Reportage Festival. Stephen spoke to arts interview about his artistic practice and the projects he is currently involved in.

Interview by Vanessa Anthea Macris

What do you consider your role to be as a photographer?

I see several roles, but primarily I see myself as a visual storyteller through photographs. I see my work existing in two worlds, which tend to cross over; the documentary/photojournalism world and the ‘art world’. Essentially, I look to document real life, people and events so the background to my work is definitely documentary photography with a very personal agenda. This is what influences the subjects and the stories I present.

I focus on long term projects that I see as artist’s books, exhibitions or both. In a way my role is about preserving and presenting these important stories and subjects. There is also an educative role in my work in that I focus on projects, which are important enough culturally, politically and historically to present to audiences in both a journalistic and artistic way. For example the story of Afghanistan which I have committed most of my life to covering as well as Papua New Guinea and the changes to that society which are taking place due to influences from the West and globalisation.

What multiple roles do you have in your practice?

The end result of my photographs, films and artist’s books serve many roles. On the one hand, my photographs are there to be journalistic, educative forms of evidence. Whilst on the other hand, my photographs serve as objects of art. I am very conscious of the process of truth telling in my work, be it for journalism or for art. I believe that my photography is important enough to go and risk my life for because I feel it is essential that the subject matter and the stories they present will have a place in history. This links into the educational world whereby I teach workshops and seminars on photography and give lectures at universities where I promote the work and the stories that come from the work. I am not interested in self-promoting myself as a photographer but promoting the stories of the subjects I photograph.

How do you manage or balance the commercial, the artistic and the educational aspects of each?

I think the priority is always the artistic non-commercial side of things, in that I am looking for the story before I am looking for the dollar. I am more concerned about the subjects I explore and the work that I am doing creatively. I believe that the commercial side tends to happen naturally because I am producing the best work that I can when I do my personal work and exploring the subjects that inspire me.

Initially, I prefer to tackle the work and present the best photographs I can and once I have completed a project the commercial seems to fall into place. It would be too confusing for me to consider the commercial side in the first instance.

What projects are you currently working on?

My main focus this year is working on a series about detribalisation and the changes affecting the society of Papua New Guinea as part of the Gardner Fellowship at Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology (Stephen was awarded this fellowship in 2010). I am also preparing for an upcoming photography workshop in Bali, in November with Jack Picone. It is an ongoing relationship, in which we produce workshops around the world a couple of times a year. We are currently campaigning for people to get involved in the upcoming workshop.

Interested in further reading on roles in the arts:

Richard Goodwin

Richard Goodwin is an internationally exhibiting artist, architect, and Professor of Porosity Studio at College of Fine Arts, UNSW, with work ranging from freeway infrastructure to the gallery to “parasitic” architecture/public artworks. In 1996, Goodwin established the Porosity Studio that enquires into a dynamic understanding of art, architecture and urban design that has been recognised and supported internationally by various universities and institutions. In 2002 and 2009, he has been awarded the prestigious Discovery Grant and Linkage Grant from the Australian Research Council (ARC) to further his research into Porosity. His body of research became widely published and exhibited in galleries across Sydney and begun to influence the way designers, architects, artists and even emergency services view the city fabric.

Richard Goodwin has shared with arts interview the nature of his multiple roles and their importance to his arts career.

Interview by Natalia Ilyukevich

With multiple roles that you have, what is your role as an artist, architect and professor?

My role as an artist is about adding meaning to language and all other forms via systems and devices that are so complex now, especially after the 20th Century. It is sort of a multi-faceted role. I cover a large part of what I call the art spectrum, which includes practice that goes into gallery. It is a hybrid form where I mix my architecture with my art, and make public art that adapts and transforms architecture as the site of public art – hybrid public art architecture. Then I do think about radically transformed architecture itself and urban infrastructure. The vast majority of the work is for the gallery and the academic side simply harnesses that. I run the multidisciplinary Porosity studio to bring together people from different disciplines like myself to test their projects at the scale of the city. Another side that made me an academic was my theories about public space existing inside private space for which I have received research funding from the government.

How do you balance the commercial, artistic, educative and other related aspects of what you do?

I balance my roles by never compromising them for each other. To me they are just facets of the same project. When I was a younger artist, the only way to make work possible was to have a studio somewhere separate. I went to my studio as part of the discipline of learning how to be an artist. Ultimately, as things got more complex I gathered the wagons in the circle and locked them all together. The only way that I am restricted commercially is the limitations that I can spend on materials and etc. I run my businesses and various things but I never think rationally about money, and it is usually when I am least rational about it, I make money. As a professor, I have to do a certain number of hours teaching and really offset against all the other things. I maintain my position at 0.5 – half the normal hours of work load. Where it is beneficial is that the more I talk about my theoretical project the more I learn about it too. The way I balance this aspect is by running studios the way I want to teach, adding into that the tutoring and supervision required from university, and changing my timetable around it. Overall, it is a totally integrated role to me.

How do these three roles inform each other for you?

There is no doubt that teaching reinforces the way you think to yourself. There is no better way to test what you are thinking then to have to explain it out loud to somebody else. Teaching makes you better at your own project, but it can also ware you out on your project too. Students usually scare you to the degree that they can immediately incorporate your project and go further. But you are learning from them and understanding that you have to keep moving. Being an artist also influences my family in several ways. In one way, we had to sacrifice where we live. We live above my studio because I need it and that is the only way we can afford this particular type of space. Although it may be a sacrifice in one way, but does not seem to destroy anything, it just makes things more particular.

What are some key aspects that you believe are crucial for managing multiple roles?

All of these extra things that must be done are the sanity makers, the structuring devices. They are the ‘in-between’ that can play out this exhausted process of trying to find poetic manifestations of your ideas. Multiple roles should be seen to help each other, but there would be a point where they get in the way, so you have to be clever enough to understand how to balance them. As soon as you know one thing is getting in the way, you have to knock it off regardless of the money. It is a constant balance of questioning: even now for me – will I go on with academia, what it is going to do for me, if I am on an edge what will I do, and what will it do for me in favour of the art that takes presence. You can balance a large amount of things, and the faster you go the more you comprehend, so there is no limit. The biggest thing I have learnt as an artist is that you have to be ruthless with your work and trust your own instinct. You get to the point when you give an idea a 24 hour test to understand if it does or does not work. There is also a point when there needs to be a part of you that is incredibly stubborn – if the art is good you cannot cut down the art, you have to cut down everything else.

Further reading on artists with multiple roles:

Barry Hessenius

This week arts interview talks to someone who has a unique perspective on the arts industry – another blogger. Barry Hessenius, of Barry’s blog, has a readership of around 10,000 arts administrators from the United States and across the globe. Barry discusses what he feels are critical issues facing those in the industry and each week he shares common concerns and discusses ideas, all with an element of humour. In January, Barry posted a piece on job advertisements in the arts that we felt was worth further discussion, so we asked Barry for a moment of his time.

Interview by Kim Goodwin

You say in your post that job advertisements are firstly generic, but secondly unrealistic – in what way are these advertisements unrealistic? Is it not fair to look for well rounded, experienced arts professionals?

It was, of course, meant as tongue-in-cheek satire, so looking for well-rounded and experienced arts professionals is not only fair, but the only rational option. But the advertisements themselves are all the same and on the surface it would appear that the employers are looking for some “perfect” candidate that likely does not exist. Let’s be real – the “ideal” candidate that meets that kind of job description probably already has a job – one paying far more than the one being offered. I think in order to better match qualified candidates to jobs that they would be a good fit for, the descriptions should be a little more honest in what the job is and what the challenges are, and those doing the hiring should be a little more open to the qualifications of candidates in trying to determine who could, in practice, do the job well. I also think that those doing the hiring might at least consider taking a little more risk in terms of whom they ultimately hire and not rely so much on past experience as the only determinant of consideration.

How often would you say that arts organisations “settle” for the best they can get? 

If their expectations are unrealistic and ill thought out – then 95% of the time. What choice is there? There are few really fully developed, spectacular, gifted, visionary, experienced, dynamic, charismatic leaders in any field. That does not mean that the rest of the candidate pool is not qualified, is not competent and is not capable of growing and learning, and developing into true leaders. The point is that what arts organisations should probably be looking for are diamonds in the rough as it were – potentially gifted leaders and managers. And take a little risk on them. I think personal chemistry is not an unimportant criterion to consider. On the other hand, organisations that look for candidates that are a good match in terms of the skill sets the candidates have, as related to the challenges that the organisation faces. Understand that for the most part employment at their organisation is part of a longer and larger career trajectory for the candidates and appreciate that they offer an ecosystem in which rising stars in the field can cut their teeth, gain experience and become outstanding administrators and managers – then those organisations very likely find new hires very close to what they want – and in that sense do not “settle” at all.

Realistically, how many arts organisation recruit primarily through networks and relationships, making the advertisement more an act of compliance rather than a real tool to uncover emerging talent? 

I think that is probably correct. I have no idea about the statistics, but I would suspect that most organisations that hire a search firm, or that advertise widely and prefer national searches, do not get that much larger or better a final candidate pool than they otherwise would have.

Do you think there is value for arts organisations to invest in better human resources or talent management techniques?

Value? Absolutely. The problem is one of cost. The current economic constraints all but prohibit that kind of investment. While it is always challenging to find the right person for a given position, at least in America, it is a buyer’s market at the moment. Supply exceeds demand, with more qualified candidates than positions available.

Retention is a harder challenge for a number of reasons, chief among them that most small to medium sized organisations have limited advancement opportunities for their employees. They have relatively small teams, people in the higher or supervisorial positions do not tend to retire or move on all that frequently, baby boomers are finding that it is more difficult financially for them to retire (and many do not want to anyway), and thus, the openings for the younger cohort of arts administrators are fewer and farther between. That results in lateral advancement, which is not often available either, to other organisations as the only viable option to move up the ladder, or move out of the field altogether – which is a problem for all of us. In several studies, including one I authored on Youth Involvement in the Arts for the Hewlett Foundation, we found that while the inability of arts organisations to pay even a living wage to younger employees was an issue in retention, it was not as important to that cohort as their career trajectory, mentoring opportunities, meaningful work, the chance for early decision making responsibility and to learn on the job, and a convivial working environment.

As to better talent management techniques, I think we have a long way to go. In terms of providing professional development opportunities for our people to enhance their skills and become better administrators or managers, we are woefully inadequate. To the extent we offer any training opportunities, they are extremely limited (e.g. we offer fundraising training, but not such things as “how to be a better listener”). And while there are university degree programs in arts administration, there are too few easily accessible, affordable, on demand training options to the average arts worker.

Interested in further reading on roles and jobs in the arts?