Steve Pozel is the director of Object, Australia’s leading centre for design. His career in the arts spans some 30 years beginning in small artist run and regional galleries before moving on to become director of Canada’s most significant contemporary arts centre The Power Plant. Following a business trip to Australia he was offered a position at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art where he worked for 2 years before being appointed as director of Object in 2000. Now in his 12th year as director at Object, Steve kindly sat down for a chat with arts interview about learning and its role in the workplace.
Interview by Vanessa Anthea Macris
Could you describe Object in its current form and where you envision it in 3 years?
The year 2015 marks the 50th anniversary of Object as an organisation. One of the key motivations for me moving forward over the last few years has been the creation and implementation of our brave, bold vision for the positioning of Object in the future. Our vision is not just a 3-4 year business plan but rather a strategy for Object to be the most relevant of its kind for 2015. This has given me the scope to work with my management team and to talk to over 150 people around Australia in finding out what elements would really make for a dynamic centre of design. Out of this process we have created the 2015 vision which we have been using as a basis to develop all exhibition, creative program, educational, digital, community and touring content. Every decision from here on in is being tailored to get us towards the 2015 vision and the kind of centre we want to become.
Learning is a characteristic of an adaptive organisation. With this in mind what does Object do to support the continued learning of its staff?
I’d say that we run Object like a design laboratory. Every single staff member at Object whether you’re an administrator right through to a producer of creative programs has an almost equal opportunity to experiment, take risks and prototype various projects in the organisation. I’d consider Object one of the most fertile and innovative learning spaces because we think that if we are going to be a place about innovative ideas and concepts that will have an impact on the future of peoples lives, then that’s the territory that we as a group have to be living and breathing. For me this is one of the most amazing jobs I’ve ever had. During my 12 years at Object I’ve been on one of the greatest single learning curves I’ve ever been on and that’s the kind of job I want.
How important is continued learning in the workplace and why?
I think it’s absolutely essential. If there is any organisation that wants to move forward in a progressive and innovative way it has to be the absolute core of what you do. I also think that it’s about holding retention of really good staff, as it’s important to keep teaching and training staff members so that they feel that they’re growing and developing their skills. Continued learning in the workplace is about making staff members feel comfortable that they’re learning things that can be adapted to a whole range of circumstances post their life within the organisation. At the same time its important to have the staff members recognise how very special it is to be gaining new skills and having them wanting to stay with the organisation.
Do you feel that the development of staff is a high priority in the arts sector?
I think that we are very privileged sector because we attract incredibly passionate, dynamic and hugely creative people. A lot of other sectors, including the business sector are looking at the arts and see a sector that with very little makes huge leaps and bounds. Fundamentally, this comes down to the people behind the organisation. Overall, I think that the arts sector does a very good job but I think that it could be doing an even more brilliant job in creating even greater benchmarks for other industries to look to. Innately, we do some very good things but I think that there needs to be a greater level of training within the arts of how to leverage off what we already do so well.
What are the priorities for public programs at Object in terms of education?
We have huge plans and priorities! In fact we just spent 3 hours this morning on that very topic and we probably spend a good 3 – 5 hours every week as a team looking at that as part of our project called Design Emergency, which has been in pilot phase for the last 12-18 months. Design Emergency in a nutshell has seen us work with various stakeholders from universities and schools to the NSW Department of Education in taking design thinking as a process and applying it in an innovative way to look at problem solving. The whole basis of the program is about raising the capacity of kids in schools to be able to deal with issues around them in a much more direct and hands on manner. We’re basically giving them the skills of a designer and telling students that you don’t need to use these skills to design an object or building but that you can use these skills to re-design something that’s not working in your school, home or community.