This past weekend saw the official launch of the new Blue Mountains Cultural Centre in Katoomba, which opens to the public on the 17th of November. I am immensely proud to have been a part of this new Cultural Centre’s development for the last three months and during this time I have watched Paul Brinkman, the Cultural Centre’s Director patiently and masterfully navigate his way through the largest project I have been a part of to date. So it seemed fitting that for this week we should interview Paul about the way he works.

Interview by Eliza Muldoon

Why did you take on the job as the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre Director?

The challenge. There are few opportunities in the arts and cultural industry to be involved in a project from the ground up. Also, I had done all that could be done in my role as director of the Cairns Regional Gallery, I had reached my intended goals and it was beginning to become repetitive.

There is never really just one reason though, it was actually a build-up of a whole lot of little reasons, one contributing reason for my family was actually cyclone seasons in Cairns- there was one really scary moment during cyclone Yasi that made us take stock of our decision to live in a cyclone region with a child.

What are the key aspects of you current role?

This role is very unique to where we are now. At the moment I’m a problem solver, HR specialist and building manager- good financial control is also crucial. Once we settle there will be a day-to-day focus on simultaneously pursuing the centre’s short and long-term goals and projects, always ensuring that I’m looking at today as well as 1 month to 10 years ahead. In that regard I need to be an ‘ideas’ person as well as a realist. I also want to ensure that our staff are engaged, happy, motivated and enjoying what we do.

You mentioned that HR is a current key feature of your role, what has guided you when putting together your team of staff?

Regional galleries require people with multiple skill sets and broad specialisations, they also need people that are willing to step outside those existing skills to expand their abilities. I’ve looked for people that have a passion for work and that would be willing to put in extra effort to ensure a dynamic work environment. There are also high expectations of staff within this Cultural Centre and it was important to find staff that are good decision makers, can handle challenges and bring solutions rather than problems.

Admittedly, it also has a lot to do with personalities. All of the staff are highly skilled, but it was also really important to ensure a good team. In this kind of environment, good people are those that appreciate and respect the contribution of everyone else here as we are so reliant on each other to work effectively.

What have been some of the greatest achievements in the project?

Finally opening the doors. Reflecting on the last year, we’ve achieved a lot. When I arrived we had no staff, no policies, procedures or protocols and we needed to establish a clear logistical operations plan. Now we have ideas that have been shaped into a reality, through a lot of a hard work.

Seeing people engage with the space and seeing them go ‘wow’ also feels like an achievement. People know it’s here but they don’t yet know how spectacular the facilities and location are.

What is your vision for how the Cultural Centre will serve the Blue Mountains?

The Cultural Centre is able to offer the highest quality professional visual experiences to audiences that appreciate it. We’ll also have a role in further developing that audience. The Cultural Centre spaces will host innovative programs driven by the interests of the people of the region.

There tend to be two ends of the spectrum in public arts ventures. At one end there are institutions that operate like community centres or pseudo drop- in centres, where the representation of art is secondary. At the other end you have curatorially driven projects where the emphasis is in art rather than the people. This cultural centre will sit in the middle, providing artistically driven, challenging programs but supporting them with tools to encourage engagement, even by reticent audiences.