In January 2006 The Australian Institute of Music (AIM)  entered into discussions with Sydney Opera House (SOH) to re-launch its Master of Arts Management program as a co-production. AIM was looking for an inspiring venue that would immerse the program in a real performing arts environment, bring a community of industry professionals closer and involve SOH staff as participants and occasional guest presenters so that the program had an authentic connection with the venue. Sydney Opera House also saw itself as a place for learning and education and there was interest in integrating it into their staff professional development programs.

Paul Saintilan, a Program Director of Master of Arts Management at Sydney Opera House at Australian Institute of Music, visiting lecturer at The Glion Institute of Higher Education and adjunct professor at Webster University Switzerland has shared with us his insights on the importance of learning in the professional workplace.

Interview by Natalia Ilyukevich

How important is being involved in industry for the learning process?

It is very important on a number of levels. Firstly, we would not admit a student into the program who did not have at least two years industry experience, because otherwise they have no ‘real world’ frame of reference to which they can relate the concepts and seminar discussion. Eighty percent of students enroll part-time (the average age is 34 – very mature) and are often working in the industry, often in good jobs,  so they can relate the seminar content to their industry experience and introduce this into the seminar discussion. Secondly, the post-seminar assignments provide an opportunity to apply the theory to their working life, or a hobby project, and in doing so students personalise the content and develop a deeper understanding. The ‘Major Project’ that students must undertake (either a Research Project or Business Plan)  which can be sponsored by an arts organisation, provides a deeper opportunity for industry related learning (the Major Project serves the same function as internships do in other programs).

 What were your decisions based on when choosing the lecturers for the Master of Arts Management program?

Generally, we were after enthusiastic, passionate lecturers with deep arts industry knowledge, who could bring theory to life in a practical, relevant and motivating way. We have often asked ourselves who is the best person to present a module, the modularised structure means they could come from anywhere and have flown internationally to present (like Tim Walker from London). For example, we chose Shane Simpson for the entertainment law modules because he ticks all the boxes; he has deep music law but also multi artform experience. He has extensive experience with both non-profit and commercial organisations. He has previously worked as a University law lecturer but is also a celebrated practitioner, having established the Arts Law Centre and Simpsons Solicitors. He is also a very entertaining presenter and so can bring it all to life in an engaging way. For highly theoretical subjects we have gone for academics with a PhD to ensure the academic integrity of the modules, for others we have skewed them more towards a practitioner focus. It is a question of balance.

What contribution do you hope this course will make to the industry?

We would like to see the course promoting and encouraging best practice, the pursuit of excellence and greater professionalism and thoughtfulness in the way we approach the challenges of managing arts and entertainment businesses. We want to ensure students who graduate have what they need to make the best possible contribution to Australia’s cultural life. We also want to help bridge the gap between theory and practice, academics and practitioners, and generic business school thinking and what works in the idiosyncratic environment of arts and entertainment.

 What measures of success will you use?

One measure would clearly be graduate outcomes in terms of the contribution students eventually do make, but as we re-launched this program in 2007, it is early days. There are some tremendously impressive people who have gone through the program who I hope go onto bigger careers than I have had. I am working on a PhD with Prof Ruth Rentschler at Deakin, and so lecturers in the program are involved in research and we would like to see this bridging the academic/practitioner gap. We naturally employ other metrics in the program to ensure we are offering a high quality educational experience such as student evaluation form feedback, which have been excellent and assessment metrics. The quality of work is high and getting higher.

Recommended further information on the subject of  learning:

Image courtesy of

Art Monthly Australia (AMA) is a dynamic visual arts magazine containing lively commentary, news and reviews on the visual arts, which is distributed throughout Australia and internationally. It is committed to representing all Australian states and territories to a local, national and international audience.

Art Monthly is the only monthly visual arts magazine in Australia, and publishes ten issues each year between March and December, including the popular Artnotes section that features events, news and exhibitions from all states and territories across Australia, New Zealand and the Asia/Pacific region. Arts interview talks with Editor Maurice O’Riordan about how politics impacts the publication.

Interview by Grace Hughes

What are the political issues you have to navigate when publishing in the arts?

In any small publication within an industry such as the arts, there will be some conflicts of interest and small rivalries. Due to the magazines not for profit and government subsidised nature, however, we face less challenges in this area than some. Particularly given we rely only to a small extent on no blue chip advertising.

In your view, what role does your magazine play in the arts?

AMA’s major role in the arts is maintaining an independent critical voice. Despite being a commercial magazine, this is achievable because it is not for profit, therefore does not need to solicit blue chip organisations. The most recent blue chip advertiser resulted from a controversial AMA cover, but when the cover became less controversial; ironically, the blue chip advertiser actually withdrew their advertising.

Another important responsibility is to provide diverse national coverage with the assistance of solicited and unsolicited writers. AMA currently commands a central place in art journal publishing in this country, where it has a strong reputation as an intelligent, well informed and accessible visual art magazine with truly national coverage. Thankfully, its monthly currency is unique in Australia.

What sort of challenges do you face pulling together such publication?

One of the major challenges Art Monthly Australia faces is that the magazine is meagerly resourced. It is an incorporated public company, and exists as a non-profit organisation. Government funding allows for coverage of twenty-five percent of costs, over the twenty-two year life of AMA it has been vigorously supported by the Australia Council, initially with annual funding, now with triennial funding and another twenty-five from the Australian National University covering costs such as office and telecommunications. Sales and subscriptions, advertising and philanthropy account for the remainder of funding. Such modest funding permits one full time staff member, and two part-time employees, Managing Editor/Designer, and Publication Coordinator.

Another pertinent challenge is time management due to AMA’s monthly schedule. The writers must be treated extremely well as they write to a deadline and to keep the content as current as possible it may need to be juggled — their articles may be held for months before publication. And, there is always a concern of keeping the finger on the pulse.

How do you balance your editorial direction with the needs of advertisers?

We keep it quite distinct – editorial is not associated with sales/advertising. Gallery might find out that a story on one of their artists is running and request an advertisement placed on the same page, but usually that is as difficult as it gets. Most of the advertising comes from publically funded outlets as AMA is more affordable, and publically funded outlets tend to be less demanding. Finally, AMA has a cap of $15,000… once met call it quits. AMA does not cold call, chase advertising.

Like many of the arts organisations and practitioners we have spoken to over the past four months, Art Monthly Australia has to negotiate the tricky waters of keeping stakeholders happy, while producing a quality result with limited resources. What is clear, however, is the importance of reputation and maintaining a high standard of output. When this occurs the organisation can be a sustainable one.

There are many tales of internal politics in the arts. Most of us at arts interview have experienced, or have at least heard, of a person, project or organisation that has been derailed by internal, ongoing, unresolved political conflict. So, we have asked someone with a long-term commitment to the arts to share a little of their personal experience, the personal and professional impact of internal politics. To allow our interviewee to be really honest we are keeping their identity a secret.

Anonymous interviewed by Eliza Muldoon

What examples of overtly political workplace behaviour have you witnessed in the arts organisations?

One is management being funny or awkward about talented, hard-working colleagues. In some people they identify it and totally support it, in others they denigrate it, make that person’s life difficult and do not support or nurture that person’s career, they may even go so far as to virtually block their career. This may just be their subjective (‘objective’) opinion of that person’s talent in that workplace, but it may also be a reflection of the boss’ own personal and professional anxieties and fears.

In your experience what kinds of politics are Australian arts organisations particularly susceptible to?

If you consider money a political issue (it is hard not to), then I think Australian arts organisations in particular are susceptible to the idea of ‘not-for-profit’ salary mentalities, whether they are not-for-profit or not. Having come from a not-for-profit background I certainly seem to maintain the mentality that I should work hard, long hours for ‘free’. I now realise that senior management are probably not being paid that ‘arts salary’ – though I can never be sure, I do not really know. I actually do not know what a decent ‘art salary’ is in the not-for-profit sector, but I am aware that an arts administration salary is nonetheless greater than what many artists receive.

I am now challenging myself to ask for more money when previously I never would have, and figure that they can just say no if they cannot afford it. I hate finding out that other people – sometimes more junior than me, were being paid more simply because they demanded it. I find that very demoralising, but at the same time I get annoyed with them for being so demanding.

What is an example of an extreme issue that you have seen in an arts organisation?

In small arts organisations an all-too-common example is yelling and bullying. In some of the examples I have seen, it is because the organisation exists to fulfill the director’s vision and that same director calls all the shots, sometimes aggressively. There is no human resources coordinator or department to keep them in check. There are some people in such organisations that can stand up to these people, and I admire them for that. I wish I could do it, but it is not in my nature. Sometimes I challenge myself to speak up to defend myself or state that I feel wronged, in the same way I try to challenge myself to ask for a greater salary. But I think standing up for myself in the workplace is not something I will ever be able to do. It makes me really uncomfortable and I absolutely abhor confrontation. I guess that is a lot of the personality crossing over into the professional, I guess you do ‘take yourself’ with you to work!

What have been your own responses to workplace politics? How has it impacted you personally and professionally? 

Unfortunately my personal response to workplace politics is to get upset, feel oppressed, anxious and powerless. I put in a lot of effort and I am committed to my jobs/career and when I feel that I am being unfairly targeted and even bullied I take it very personally. Despite people saying ‘do not take it personally’, it is hard not to. I have also felt physical effects such as stomach in knots, fast heart rate, no appetite etc. Generally such experiences have left me feeling a bit ‘clouded’ unable to see or think clearly.

During the really difficult times I have found that it impacted my personal life to the point of shaping my character and the kind of person I am to be around. At those times my conversations were always on a ‘downer’, always recounting work scenarios where I felt bullied or powerless.

The professional impact is that it makes me doubt my ability and myself. I find that I become nervous or apprehensive about doing things that I have previously felt confident about, particularly when I know other people can see or hear me. One simple example is that during those times when I do most of my correspondence by email and if I do make a phone call, I will wait until the bosses and others are out as this way I am much more confident.

Now – with some hindsight and perspective – I basically see the management and interpersonal relationships of any workplace as an issue of personal preferences. People will, as much as possible, choose who they wish to work with, who they will be nice to and who they will tolerate.

Interested in managing personal politics, more information here:

Being a design lover and keen marketer I have watched the development of Art Series Hotels with much interest. A company that embodies the idea of collaboration and seems to whole heartedly embrace their artistic partnerships throughout all aspects of their business, I was keen to chat to CEO Will Deague about their collaborative process.

Interview by Krista Huebner

Your collaboration with contemporary artists is very much an intrinsic part of your hotels’ overall identity and brand experience, and in fact is at the core of your business model. What was your inspiration for collaborating with artists?

Our family business is property development and hotels, with most of our experience in more traditional hotel models. When we were looking to develop the sites that the Art Series Hotels sit on, we knew we had the chance to do something completely different. We set out with that goal in mind, and originally had the idea to incorporate more art into the hotels. We were inspired by the popularity of design-led, boutique hotels overseas, like those of Ian Schrager working with Julian Schnabel. From there, our idea of working with art evolved into working with artists to become a completely artist-led hotel.

What challenges did you face working with visual artists? How did you react to these (i.e. what did you do/change/adapt)?

As all artists are NSW based we suffered sometimes from the tyranny of distance, but it was mostly abated by good planning and ensuring clear communication.

Another thing to consider was the art itself. For example, Adam Cullen’s work is really exciting though at times can be controversial; so we had to think about that and if the artists were perhaps more contentious, where they would be placed and how they would be displayed.

Artists work to a different timeline to businesses, so that was something we needed to be considerate of when developing our timelines for each hotel. They also work very differently as a whole. We found that the most important thing for us in working with each artist was being very clear about what we were trying to achieve and how we wanted to work together.

From the outset we used an art consultant who knew both us and the artists very well. He helped facilitate conversations and kept everyone on the same path, whether representing the interests or concerns of the artist to the business, or those of the business back to the artist. Being upfront about the commercial side of things meant that everyone knew how it would work and what was expected.

The artists you have worked with (Adam Cullen, John Olsen, Charles Blackman) are all well-known artists in Australian contemporary art. How did you decide which artists to collaborate with?

Our family has been involved with artists and the art world for years as collectors and philanthropists through the Deague Family Art Foundation. About 10 years ago we travelled with 10 artists to William Creek at Lake Eyre to experience the saltpans and work in bush studios. It was an incredible experience, and started a relationship with many of the artists who we are working with today.

The actual location of each hotel also helped us decide which artists to approach. For example, the Chapel Street location is a great fit for John Olsen, the elegant older statesman, while Adam Cullen is an edgy artist who is better matched with the Prahran/Windsor location.

Have there been any unexpected benefits to the partnership/collaboration, either to you personally, professionally or to the wider business?

As a family, we’ve always been so passionate about the art. It’s a great thing to connect people to contemporary art in a new way. People might initially book with us because it’s a great boutique hotel and then walk away with not only a great hotel experience but also a cool art experience under their belt. So the art education aspect of this has been fantastic, and that also translates to staff. Staff is trained about the art and artists, and additionally knows a lot about what’s happening in Melbourne at a cultural level. People are responding to that and we’re noticing that potential staff is seeking us out as an employer of choice. That’s something to be proud of.

What are the 3 key things you would advise other business managers looking to follow a similar collaborative model?

  1. Be open and honest from the start with the artists – what the end product is going to be and how you want to work with them.
  2. Treat artists with respect. Don’t try to capitalise on their work or reputation, and respect their craft and expertise.
  3. Stick to your guns. Stay true to your values and vision. We built a new hotel brand from scratch by staying true to our strategic vision.

Further reading on creative collaboration:

Katy B Plummer and Kuba Dorabialski are Sydney based artists who collaborate both professionally and personally. Currently they are curating Transcendental Freakout, a new online arts publication which works as an evolving exhibition platform for artists and curators (available online via Remote). Katy and Kuba describe Transcendental Freakout as “the crystallisation of a whole bunch of wishful longings and nervous twitches, willful misunderstandings, stubborn demarcations, and grudging acquiesces of a reasonably private part of our relationship”. It is also the first time they have collaborated as artists in their eleven-year relationship. Katy and Kuba took some time to share with us their learnings on creative collaborations.

Interview by Kim Goodwin

What inspired the two of you to collaborate in a more formal sense at this point in time?

An old friend of ours, Tsering Frykman-Glen, wanted to start a new online publication called Remote, and, out of the blue, she asked us to curate the first instalment. It was actually funny that she asked us both, not one or the other, because we’d never, strictly speaking, art-collaborated before. We’ve always helped each other and invested a lot in each other’s work, but never taken the collective plunge… in fact, though, most of our individual creative energies in recent years have gone towards keeping ourselves and our two little kids sort-of fed, kind-of clean and more-or-less entertained. This is, certainly, a kind of collaboration. We’d both been looking longingly in the direction of art making for a while, and this was the nudge we’d been waiting for.

You state on your website, “While they’ve never really collaborated on an art project before, they’ve never really not collaborated before.” How did your working relationship change when you took on a formal collaborative aspect?

The shocking thing to us is that it hasn’t really changed anything. We’ve always worked closely, being each other’s technicians, taskmasters, sounding boards, slave-labour etc., but each always maintained the final say on our own projects, because our aims and processes are actually pretty different. And even though we’ve always known precisely what the other wants and likes in an artwork, we’ve never actually shared our interests. For example, Katy likes High Melodrama and Theatrical Excess while Kuba likes acidic German modernist literature; so there’s little room for overlap. It seemed like actually collaborating would be this vast fraught and uncharted frontier, but… nope. Same-o, same-o. Seamless joy and snuggles. Maybe it’s just that this particular project is one that we’ve been working on for ages without even really knowing that we’ve been working on it. Maybe we’ll come apart on our next try, but this one did pretty much just spring forth, fully formed.

What challenges have you faced throughout the collaboration?

Irritatingly, even in the thick of it, we still have to keep our babies sort-of fed, kind-of clean and more-or-less entertained. And we have a bookshop to run. And we’re by nature quite untidy. You get the picture.

Also, I guess, we’ve been a bit sequestered for the past few years, so we’ve lost touch a bit with our art networks and forgotten how to make these sorts of connections with people. There were also some time-zone issues; the project has been organised from various parts of the world entirely over the internet, so things that should have been quick simple fixes sometimes took an agonizing number of days to settle, just because people would miss or misunderstand each other. But really, the main challenge has been to carve out the space and time to get it all done.

What benefits has the collaboration brought to you as individual artists?

We were both having trouble dragging our heads back into the art thing. The whole baby/bookshop combo is a very compelling reality, and there really is no telling how long it might have taken for us to gather the necessary creative impetus individually. We’re really grateful to Tsering on that particular count.

Katy and Kuba are in a unique, happy position, where art meets life and both gain for them. When asked what advice they could give to those who are contemplating collaboration, they ended with “This collaboration snuck up on us over eleven years, so maybe our advice could be: Only ever collaborate with a life partner.”

Interested in further reading on creative collaborations? Link below:

Russell Storer, alumni of COFA, UNSW, is a Curator of Contemporary Asian Art at Queensland Art Gallery (QAG). He has been working collaboratively to curate exhibitions such as the QAG’s Asia Pacific Triennial (APT) and the ongoing  Singapore Biennale 2011. He was also a visiting curator at Documenta 2, Kasel and Curatorial Comrade for the 2006 Biennale of Sydney. In his previous role with the Museum of Contemporary Art Sydney, Russell curated a number of exhibitions among which was the Situation: Collaborations, collectives and artist networks from Sydney.

Interview by Shivangi Ambani

What was the experience of working across a geographically dispersed curatorial team for the Singapore Biennale 2011?

Working long-distance is a common situation for biennales today, with curators working from a home base as well as in the host city often in tandem with others. It offers the possibility for new connections and to draw in different networks of knowledge, experience and information. It does of course also present major challenges in terms of time and communication. Fortunately Matthew (Ngui), Trevor (Smith) and I all knew each other and had worked with each other before, so we had an established understanding of each other’s approaches, and we shared points of reference. We communicated regularly via Skype and email and every few months would come together in Singapore or Australia for intensive meetings. We also had a wonderful exhibition manager, Michelle Tan, who could co-ordinate with us and centralise information in Singapore, and we also had an online ‘cloud’ where we could share materials and documents.

For the APT you work with your curatorial team at the QAG as well as external curators. What were the challenges and benefits of working in this kind of collaborative environment?

The benefit of working collaboratively is that you expand your knowledge base and shift the dynamic into a more discursive mode rather than as a singular statement. There are benefits in that approach, but I love the dialogue that takes place and appreciate the multiple perspectives that collaborative curating offers. In some instances, as in APT, external curators are essential if you are working in areas that are unfamiliar or inaccessible to gallery staff, where you cannot proceed without specialised knowledge and on-the-ground contacts. As with any relationship there are negotiations and compromises to be made, which depending on the spirit in which this is done can be very productive or very difficult, but fortunately I’ve only really had positive experiences so far!

What do you look for in a collaborative curator when embarking on such a project?

I think as with any collaboration, you look for the experience and knowledge that people offer, but what is also important is that they are people you can relate to and there is some kind of shared goal in mind. There may be different views on how to get there, and the goal posts may shift, but there needs to be a desire to develop something together that you can both contribute to and learn from.

The upcoming Sydney Biennale for the first time will have a curatorial team rather than an individual. Do you see collaboration between artists, curators and institutions becoming increasingly important?

That is true, although the 2000 Biennale did use a ‘curatorium’ of advisors/curators from around the world to develop the project. Artists and curators have been collaborating for decades, from early 20th-century avant-garde groups to the activist collectives of the 1970s and 1980s to the participatory projects of the 1990s and 2000s. There has been increased attention and historicising of collaborative activity over the past decade, as well as expanding possibilities enabled by technology and new forms of organisation and production. With the enormous emphasis on the individual in society, and with the increased instrumentalisation of culture, the critical possibilities that collaborative work offers in setting up alternative structures and approaches will definitely continue to be significant into the future.

Any lessons learnt from your past collaborations—would you do anything differently the next time?

I see curatorial work as a constant process of learning, with each project teaching you so many new things. There are always aspects you might like to have done differently in hindsight, but that applies to everything in life I think! It’s important with collaborative projects to always be open and flexible while having a clear sense of what you are trying to do. You can bring your experience to each new project, but there are always situations you have never encountered before which makes it exciting and requires you to think in new ways. Collaboration – with other curators, with artists, with audiences – is a significant way of developing these new ways of thinking.

Sam Strong, former lawyer and current Artistic Director of the Griffin Theatre Company, understands the balance that is required to not only achieve artistic goals, but to build a sustainable arts organisation. Shifting in 2010 from what was a freelance role, albeit within structure of Company B, into the AD role at Griffin, Sam brings a unique personal perspective to the dialogue about the arts performing like a business.

Interview by Kim Goodwin

What’s changed for you in taking on the Artistic Director role at Griffin, now you are responsible for the commercial side of a company?

In a sense it’s adding new skills to the skills I required in the previous jobs. For example the task of managing a group of people expands from a project-to-project based task into an ongoing task. Instead of working towards the finite goal of a show, you’re working towards longer-term goals. That’s quite a shift in the rhythm of working.

There are also skills required of an AD, that you don’t possibly know until your do them, such as advocacy for the company with various sponsors and donors. As the director of a show you’re the spokesperson for the show, but now I’m the spokesperson for the company, and advocating the company’s interests.

How beneficial do you see as business skills to the arts, and is it something that you teach those you mentor?


Most directors imagine they could program better than other directors, it’s in our nature, what can be a shock when you’re actually fortunate enough to be in a programming position is just how unavoidable commercial realities are. There is a view that arts and business are in some sense binary opposites, and this is a legitimate view, but the reality of running a company is that while we are attempting to make great art, we can’t make great art apart from the business realities of what we do.

I’d love to do a play with a cast of 20, but we simply can’t and so we have to make it work within the parameters of what we have. You can choose to view those parameters as unduly constrictive or you can choose to view those parameters as opportunities to work within.

You’ve said that your first passion is the development of new Australian writing, how do you balance this with the commercial reality of building an audience?

We have to balance what is important to this company, which is to be discovering the best new talent and writing, and being willing to take artistic and commercial risks, with some things that are, as much as you can possibly tell, less risky. That’s not an artistic compromise; the trick is to do that without making an artistic compromise.

To take Speaking in Tongues as an example, I’ve wanted to direct it for a long time, while it’s also a Griffin classic. We get this sense of a classic coming home, but the other thing the programming of that play achieves is turning some of our unknowns into knowns, potentially less risky than a completely unknown work with a completely unknown writer. In a way, programming a season is like putting together a portfolio for anything, and that portfolio needs to balance relative risk with relative security.

You’ve been described as ‘lawyer turned director’, what skills have you brought with you from your professional career that has enhanced your performance in the arts industry? Conversely, where there any things you needed to unlearn?


I think there is more overlap than you would suspect between the two roles. Particularly between the role of dramaturge or script developer and what I used to do as a lawyer. The skill that my legal training equipped me with that is most useful is an attention to detail and rigour. Great works of art are always a product of extreme attention to detail and rigour. Also, the skills that legal training equips you with in relation to the drafting of any document – an ability to analyse its structure or micro edit for optimum effect – translate well into a theatrical context.

One thing I needed to learn anew was the importance of intuition or feeling in the making of work. In the earlier parts of my career I have a much more cerebral and intellectual approach to the making of work and I think my directing work got better when I got better at respecting the vital role of intuition in the creation of art.

Sam’s approach is not so much about whether the arts should act like a business, but the inherent commercial realities of the arts industry today. In his experience, these realities, and the cross pollination of skills, can actually enhance the creative process.

Should the arts act like a business? Reference material that may further interest you:


Installation view Slacking OFF 2002, Imperial Slacks. Image courtesy Angelica Mesiti and Imperial Slacks

Angelica Mesiti is a video and multimedia artist based mostly in Australia. Part of the performance-based group The Kingpins, Angelica was also one of 14 members of the influential artist-run space Imperial Slacks,  a collective that ran from 2000 to 2002. Exhibiting the work of its resident artists who lived in the space, Imperial Slacks also showed the work of friends from surrounding studios. The other members of Imperial Slacks were Jessie Cacchillo, Simon Cooper, Sean Cordeiro, Claire Healy, Alex Davies, Léa Donnan, Chris Fox, Shaun Gladwell, Wade Marynowsky, Angelica Mesiti, Técha Noble, Emma Price, Michael Schiavello, Monika Tichacek, Melody Willis, The Kingpins.

Interview by Krista Huebner

Did Imperial Slacks consider itself as a business?

Not really, no…to me, we were a group of artists doing our thing. We had the opportunity to take over a great space and experiment and we took it, rather than setting out to ‘start and run a gallery’, which is a different objective.

How different would Imperial Slacks have been if it had been business focused?

Imperial Slacks was never really set up to be long-term. Our leases were only ever for six months and Surry Hills was quickly being gentrified around us, so it was only ever just a matter of time really. As a result we were less interested in longevity and planning for the future as such, and more about making it count while we were there. I guess that allowed us to take risks and just go for it. You could call it a ‘hard and fast’ model!

The artist run initiative (ARI) found a natural end mainly because of rent rises, but also because it did start to become more business-y. The administration started to creep in more and more and we were all at a stage where we wanted to focus on our art making, travel, and exhibit. We didn’t really have any time to commit to actually running the space anymore…but the main reason was rent.

Do you think a business focus would have been restrictive?

We didn’t have any ‘grand plans for the gallery’ as such, or a business plan. It just wasn’t the model we were running with, and in fact we would have probably shied away from that to keep it a fluid, experimental space.

That said, if we had wanted to be more commercially minded, I think there were enough creative heads in the collective that could have allowed it to be both experimental and commercially successful. Ultimately though our goal was at odds with that and it couldn’t have worked forever.

Do you think the creative integrity of arts can be affected by a business focus? How?

No, I don’t think so. I’ve seen really creative managers/thinkers in managerial roles within arts organisations doing really great things with commercially successful outcomes. In terms of developing creative business strategies and willingness to take risks in business, I think it’s possible but equally really hard. It’s hard to be both business-y and artistic, so I see that there is real value in working together.

As an artist, I’ve personally learnt a lot from working with people from different areas in business. They’ve opened me up to directions, ideas and possibilities that I wouldn’t have come to on my own.

There is also a difference between being commercial and having a business focus. Although they are similar ideas, a non-profit museum or gallery may employ a business focus for the purpose of longevity, accountability and having a unified direction. That doesn’t necessarily have to mean they’re suddenly “commercial”, nor that it will impact on the level of creativity exercised in the artistic programs it runs, or the creativity employed in running the organisation.

What were your measures of success?

The goal of Imperial Slacks was always to put on the best shows we possibly could and try new stuff. The goal wasn’t commercial as such and having funding from the Australia Council meant we could focus on other things.

While we didn’t set goals and objectives for each exhibition, we measured our success through feedback and the responses of our peers, whether we generated new ideas and conversation. Attendance levels at openings and throughout the shows were another good measure for us, as was any critical response. That meant a lot. Continued funding was also a kind of validation.

Would you do it again? What would you do differently?

Being part of Imperial Slacks I think taught me a lot of really important administrative skills that have carried over into my life as an artist today. Some people wouldn’t agree with this, but sometimes being an artist feels like running a small business; I’m a sole trader. It taught me about publicity, marketing, writing funding applications, interviews, and reviews…lots of things.

Given the chance I would do it again – and no, I wouldn’t change a thing. It was great. Who knows…if the stars align I might do it again one day.

Should the arts act like a business? Reference material that may further interest you:

This week’s interviewee is Jane Haley- the CEO of AbaF (the Australian Business Arts Foundation). As AbaF’s key purpose is to help the arts connect with business via professional development, advice and introductions, it seems like an obvious organisation for this month’s theme Should the arts act like a business? In addition to being AbaF’s CEO, Jane previously managed arts organisations in several states of Australia including Arts Access (Victoria), the Queensland Theatre Company, the Arts Council of Australia (ACT) and Sidetrack Theatre (Sydney). Jane’s extensive experience, diversity of roles and commitment to forging strong, sustainable relationships between arts organisations and businesses made her an ideal interviewee.

Interview by Eliza Muldoon

So Jane, Is it safe to assume that you believe the arts can benefit from business skills?

Yes. If you come from the premise that an artist needs to earn an income from what they do, what they love to do, then the more they understand about how they can benefit from the strategic offerings of business, the more they will be able to fulfil that need.

As an example, risk taking is a very important part of art making and it is actually something that we can learn from business, how to balance risks, take calculated risks, get the tension right between generating income and pursuing passions and artistic visions.

Do you think there is a difference between approaching the arts with a business mind and approaching it with an arts mind?

I think so. It is perhaps the difference between a commercial artist and a creative artist. Too often these terms have been overlaid with a lot of values, but essentially it is about the motivation. There are artists that pursue a career in the arts with the intention of making money or gaining renown and there are others, the majority, that don’t see the pursuit of material wealth as a great motivating force for them, their impulse may be to create work that expresses their perspective on their world or their message.

Do you think a close relationship between business and the arts could threaten the integrity of the arts?

We do still come across some arts organisations that maintain the belief that ‘I’m from the arts, ergo I’m good and you’re from business, ergo you’re bad’. There is also still some resistance to take what is seen as ‘filthy corporate dollars’ to fund ‘worthy’ works. That’s fairly naïve and simplistic though. I think, I hope, that the old notion that business is just buying credibility or using their community support as a way of disguising its actual evil intent has passed. Most major corporations in the world recognise that they are generating a profit out of the communities in which they work, and it makes good business sense, for political, social and economic reasons, to make contributions to their community. Arts are a part of that community. There are typically three key drivers for business support in the arts: brand alignment, employee engagement and community contribution. In a good arts and business relationship both the arts and business aims are supported.

How is the relationship between arts and business in Australia? Comparing 10 years ago to now.

Several years ago relationships were probably more straightforward and simple. There was a more direct relationship with, for example, the chairman whose influence was greater. We often hear from arts organisations that they have to work much harder for less. Now there are high expectations of arts. Corporate partnerships are based on very strategic decisions and there is a thorough analysis of whether the business objectives are being met.

Also, there are many more players in the field (from both arts and other community sectors) so securing and keeping corporate support is more complex and demanding. Although corporate support for key institutions is relatively strong and we are seeing greater support at a local level, the day has gone when the bigger arts companies and institutions had the private support field for themselves. Now you have a whole range of organisations which are much smarter about securing funding from business and donors.

It’s a very dynamic environment that is likely to become even more challenging as needs around environmental, health and other community issues become more urgent and the capacity of organisations in those sectors to make their case to business increases. The arts will need to constantly refresh its case for private support.

Should the arts act like a business? Reference material that may further interest you:

Act like a business? Why aim so low?

• Why Business Leaders Should Act More like Artists

The Nullarbor Team at the Sydney International Film Festival: Katrina Mathers (Producer), Alister Lockhart (Director), Patrick Sarell (Writer/Co-Director)

Patrick Sarell is a film maker, who this year completed a 10-minute computer generated film, Nullarbor. Currently travelling the international film festival circuit Nullarbor, has already won the Yoram Gross Award for best Short Animation at the Sydney Film Festival, Best Animation Short Film at the Melbourne Film Festival and is nominated for Best Short Animation at the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards in January 2012. This is Patrick’s first venture as a co-director/writer and animator after working in the industry for a number of years. He spoke to arts interview about the decision-making process when working on such a labour intensive, collaborative endeavour.

Interview by Kim Goodwin

How does functioning as a co-director work? 

Well to be honest, our roles evolved organically on the production and I guess if you want to get brutal about it, Al and I have a fairly complementary skill set with different strengths. I have a natural aptitude for character and performance end of animation, whereas Al is much stronger visually in terms of colours, cameras and mood. While we both have strong instincts across all areas of animated film-making there is something about our partnership that brings out the best in each of us.

At times this can be a fairly volatile process but we always had the best interests of the film at heart and I think we do better work in partnership then we do as individuals.

What process do you use to make decisions?  How do you ensure this is efficient?

Story is king. Story is the tool that guides you in this process. Animation is an art of economy and you can clearly see on the screen where the money goes. In order to makes sure that you get the best possible end result you want to make sure that production value is being put into the elements that matter the most. The only yardstick you have for making a call on what goes in and what gets left out is the story. So every time I had to make a decision I would ask myself “Does this help move the story forward?” If it did not we dropped it, if it did it went in.

Do you divide up areas of responsibility? E.g. allocating resources, time or money.

Yes we do. We had a reasonably large team for a short film (around 15 people) each of whom was responsible for certain areas. Those areas can be loosely broken down into the following departments:

  • Production (Management)
  • Story
  • Art, Design, Modelling and Look Development
  • Rigging and Character technical development
  • Animation
  • Lighting, Rendering and Visual Effects
  • Compositing, Editing and Output
  • Sound and Post Production

People are often misleading when you tell them that you used a computer to animate. They think that the computer does the work for you. It does not. Everything in our film is hand made and animated on a computer right down to the eye darts, blinks and pupil dilation.

Have you had situations where a decision made has caused disharmony? How did you resolve it?

Yes, many times and they were all resolved in different ways. I think that in general we were able to solve them through open discussion using the story as a yard stick for measuring the value of an idea. The major issues came after we had finished the film and it started to do well. For some reason, we all got a bit protective of the importance of our own contribution to the project. I know at one point I caught myself thinking “they could not have made this film without me” and I think that a lot of other people on the crew were feeling that way too.

Ultimately this is true, but I could not have done it without them and we all came to the conclusion that we wanted to do another project together, and the only way that was going to happen was if we believed in each other and supported and valued the work everyone had contributed to equally.

 What advice would you give to other artists working in a collaborative partnership?

Be honest, trust your instincts, surround yourself with people you trust and who you want to work with, and do not be afraid to take your time to get the important stuff right. Always be open to being wrong and learning something new, nobody knows everything. Have a clear vision of what you are trying to achieve, that way when someone else comes up with a better idea you will not miss an opportunity.

Always know that nobody knows your project as well as you do. Finally and most importantly: share the love and share the knowledge. To get the best work people need to feel like they are learning and being appreciated.

Interested in more information on decision-making?


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