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Creativity in a Climate of Change

12 December 16 -- jsuess
Lucy Shaw, Programme Director, Oxford Cultural Leaders

“I firmly believe that the success of the sector is reliant on a new type of leader - one who embraces change; is entrepreneurial in outlook; who continually looks outwards to learn new things and yet is rooted in a strong sense of values, core purpose and public service.” Diane Lees, Director General, Imperial War Museums

In the current climate of constraint museums and cultural organisations are being called on to be more financially resilient. They face the significant challenge of having to look beyond the state for their income, and to demonstrate their commercial acumen and ability to build new business models successfully. For many cultural leaders, the need to reinvent their organisations as robustly managed, expertly led, hybrid organisations with entrepreneurial ways of thinking and behaving, grows ever more urgent. And with this there is a clear need for a cadre of cultural leaders who are prepared to do things differently and break from the past.

This throws up questions, challenges and issues for leaders to navigate and address: what do we mean exactly when we speak of entrepreneurial, not-for-profit cultural organisations; what traits (skills, behaviours and values) should entrepreneurial leaders display; and are there identifiable characteristics for financially resilient, entrepreneurial organisations, and how can both leaders and organisations that do not display these traits and characteristics develop them?

In the cultural context entrepreneurship is not simply about generating a profit, or profitably solving a problem. It is about how an organisation’s culture is developed, nurtured and led so that its people are empowered to overcome problems and stimulate change. It is about facilitating individual and organisational confidence to innovate that leads to greater financial resilience. One popular business school definition of entrepreneurship is that it is ‘the pursuit of opportunity beyond resources controlled.’ Having to find new ways of working, which stretch beyond available existing resources is arguably now the norm for cultural leaders, but how successful are they in actually doing it?

The Oxford University Museums Partnership has been developing a more nuanced understanding of what being entrepreneurial in cultural organisations means to leaders and has created initiatives designed to help leaders address the climate of constraint impacting the global cultural sector. We have been exploring whether cultural leaders are equipped with the skills, knowledge and behaviours required for creating new business models, or in making different complex operational decisions, and we have been asking very specific questions around the leadership of the sector and how it can facilitate, and speed up, the pace of transformation. Our flag-ship initiative is Oxford Cultural Leaders, an immersive residential leadership programme, which focuses directly on developing a cadre of adaptive leaders with a more entrepreneurial mind-set.

In partnership with colleagues from the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School, we have designed a programme for the cultural sector that draws on the academic theory of entrepreneurship and adaptive leadership, whilst weaving throughout strong and inspiring case studies of cultural leadership that embody innovation and change. The Saïd Business School works to transform individuals, organisations, business practice, and society and to create ideas that have global impact through its cutting edge programmes and research. It is highly creative in its approach to designing bespoke leadership development programmes tailored to specific needs, and being able to draw on its knowledge, experience and contacts, has helped us reframe our thinking for a new type of cultural leadership intervention.

"Future leaders in the cultural sector will need to develop the confidence to think about their organisations as sustainable entities. This will require new skills and approaches – some learned from different sectors and disciplines. The Oxford Cultural Leaders Programme in my view provides a powerful platform for the development of this shared future.’"Tracey Camilleri, Director, Oxford Strategic Leadership Programme, Saïd Business School

Having access to expertise from across the cultural and business sectors has enabled Oxford to develop a programme that is unique within the museum and cultural sectors internationally. The programme was held for the first time in March 2015 and then again in April 2016, successfully bringing together dynamic leaders from across the globe in an environment that encourages experimentation and innovation.

“[Oxford Cultural Leaders] was so carefully thought through and planned.  The Business School involvement gives perspectives you wouldn’t get elsewhere.” Lone Britt Christensen, Cultural Attaché, Embassy of Denmark, London

The programme is delivered within a coaching environment where theory is explored and tested through provocation, fast-moving motivational sessions, experiential learning and reflective opportunities. It creates a space that feels emergent and challenging, and stretches participants to step outside the learning space.

“The whole experience had an impact on me; it was intensive from first thing in the morning until the last thing at night. The diverse cohort facilitated learning from the experiences of others, which was affirmed by leading practitioners whose vigorous sessions got you to think differently.” Alistair Burtenshaw, Director, The Charleston Trust

“The programme gave me confidence and renewed energy, as well as a useful chance to step outside the immediate pressures of my organisation and consider the issues I face from a distance. [It] both supported and reinvigorated my approach.” Henrietta Boex, Director, Falmouth Art Gallery

Our OCL alumni are a group of dynamic and reflective directors, heads of department, and senior managers who have attended the programme with the intention of challenging and redefining their identity as a leader and their vision for their organisation. They have generously shared their challenges and have contributed to a melting pot of ideas and experimentation.

“I think what surprised me most was the programme's ability to suspend the participants status issues and positioning and create a trusting, open, generous and sharing environment between us. It allowed us to work really well together, and this did generate some awesome moments of co-creation.” Anette Østerby, Head of Visual Arts, Danish Arts Council

From the outset we wanted OCL to attract high-level international participants who would bring their own diverse views, experiences, skills and knowledge to the programme, adding to the depth of our faculty’s offer, providing peer support and networking extending beyond the week in Oxford. To date, we have brought together 37 highly creative and inspiring cultural leaders from the UK, Europe, America, Canada, the USA, New Zealand and Australia in an environment designed to be disruptive, yet supportive - where they’ve been able to take risks, break old habits, reflect on how they think and behave, and develop mechanisms for dealing with demanding situations.

“It was an incredibly empowering week… It made me realise that leadership doesn’t just happen. It’s a conscious practice.” Jane Severs, Director, Association of Heritage Industries Newfoundland and Labrador

“I have brought back a real sense of having attended a brilliant course. It was amazing. [The] session on Inspirational Leadership was one of the best things I’ve done in my life. It was the light bulb moment for me.” David Wright, Director, Navy Museums, Auckland, New Zealand

A significant contribution to the programme’s strength is its faculty, which blends business thinking, and social entrepreneurship with cultural leadership.  It includes leaders and academics such as Silke Ackermann) Director, Museum of the History of Science), Laura Van Broekhoven (Director, Pitt Rivers Museum), Tracey Camilleri (Director, Oxford Strategic Leadership Programme, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford), Richard Evans (Director, Beamish, the Living Museum of the North), Pegram Harrison (Fellow in Entrepreneurship, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford), Diane Lees (Director General, Imperial War Museums), Catherine Mallyon (Executive Director, Royal Shakespeare Company), Michael Smets (Associate Professor, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford), Carole Souter (Master, St Cross, University of Oxford, and former Chief Executive, National Heritage Memorial Fund and Heritage Lottery Fund), Paul Smith (Director, Oxford University Museum of Natural History), Xa Sturgis (Director, Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology) and Yolanda Vasquez (Actor and Tutor, Olivier Mythodrama).

We evaluated the first cohort in considerable detail and from the start of their leadership journey with us we made it clear to them that we wanted their help in shaping the programme. The evaluation proved so insightful that we have continued this approach with our recent alumni. Their feedback is enabling a highly iterative process of design and experimentation which will ensure we anticipate, as well as meet, the needs of future cohorts.  And it’s been encouraging to hear how the programme has had an impact over time; we want to offer a programme that enables tangible change to happen.

“The challenges I brought with me to look at in the week are now being addressed and by the end of the year measures will be in place. The inspirational sessions from the week have been turned into something real.” Rachel Davies, Deputy Director, Compton Verney

“OCL helped me think more innovatively and across sectors, developing new strands of work with different partners …. The programme showed me where I need to devote my attention and I learnt things about myself that I have taken on board.” Graham Henderson, Chief Executive of the Rimbaud & Verlaine Foundation

“I came away with amazing positive feelings and it changed my thinking in the long term. [OCL] was the most perfectly timed moment. It gave me time to draw breath and repurpose. It re-energised me, got me thinking in different ways, broadened my horizons, made me realise that I’m not on my own and gave me permission to keep going.” Alistair Burtenshaw, Director, Charleston Trust

We are looking forward to welcoming future participants to the programme and in 2017 OCL will run from Sunday 26 to Friday 31 March. Our application portal opens in the autumn and closes on Wednesday 4th January 2017. The delegate fee for successful applicants will be £2,500 (including tax) which includes 5 nights’ accommodation in Pembroke College.

For further information please visit the Oxford Cultural Leaders pages on this website.

Or contact Lucy Shaw the programme’s director: 01865 613783 /  / @LVShaw 

The Oxford University Museums Partnership (OUMP) is a consortium of the four departmental museums of the University of Oxford: Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, Museum of the History of Science, Museum of Natural History and Pitt Rivers Museum of Anthropology and World Archaeology. The Partnership receives funding from Arts Council England as one of their portfolio of Major Partner Museums.  

OUMP has been taking a national lead in addressing the development of a more resilient museum sector as part of its funding from ACE as a Major Partner Museum. OUMP and the Oxford Saïd Business School, led by Pegram Harrison and Lucy Shaw, run entrepreneurship programmes as part of Oxford Cultural Leaders.