FINDING WAYS TO LEAD IN A CRISIS : THE ARTS SECTOR

What an extraordinary few weeks we’ve had!

Sally. Pic by Bill Crew

As individuals, organisations and as a society, how do we best move forward in world where so much has stopped or slowed almost to a standstill? I am particularly concerned for the arts community, its practitioners, technical experts and other professionals who have suddenly lost their livelihoods and reason for being. I am also concerned for our audiences, those who find nourishment, entertainment and enlightenment through the arts. My thoughts below are formulated not as some kind of universal panacea, but as principles to guide our everyday lives in the months to come.

Unprecedented times

Elysian Fields (Photo – Philip Pogson)

The times really are almost unprecedented. I suspect we have to go back to World War II (WWII) to find a parallel to the kind of national and international disruption, pain and suffering we are facing at the moment. Both my parents were born in 1931. Their early childhood years were thus at the tail end of the Great Depression. They entered their teens in the midst of a global war of awful violence and human misery. It was hard. There was rationing and the possibility of invasion. Brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers went off to war or were seconded to work in war industries. My dad is the youngest in his family and one of his brothers, my uncle, fought in the Pacific and survived. The point is, they came through as did the greater majority of Australians of that generation. We are their heirs. We will also come through and rebuild on the other side. Some reflections follow that I hope are encouraging.

Lead when and as we are able

Whatever our role and status, now is the time for us to exercise leadership in any way we are able. I don’t necessarily mean “Big L” Leadership: few of us will be called to be a Premier, Prime Minister or a CEO. I am referring to the leadership opportunities that come our way in everyday life. Over the next weeks and months we will need people right across our community who can acknowledge uncertainty but think clearly, respond with compassion and remain task focused. As a business advisor, company director and school Chair, I see teachers, business people, University staff, health experts, friends, artists and family acting this way already. On the flip side, these are stressful times. Our way of life has changed with a violent lurch and we are not sure where we are lurching to. For myself, I am working on being aware of, and not ignoring, my own anxiety and tiredness. I am also keeping up and expanding while I am able my exercise routines and making sure I have a list of things to do that I enjoy.

Avoid blame and finger pointing

Beyond a certain point, spending our energies pointing out what others are doing wrong, where they are acting inconsistently or not meeting our expectations is not productive. Leaving aside those in the health sector whose working lives have by their very nature changed in a moment, we should keep in mind that our Premier, senior ministers, business and community leaders and Prime Minister will be working extraordinarily long hours under exceptional pressure. These people are human and thus imperfect – just like us. They also have families and loved ones they will be hardly seeing and no doubt worrying about – just like us. Now is not the time to fight arguments on social media and relentlessly criticise others, particularly those with “Big L” leadership roles. Now is the time for our community to seek unity and goodwill and ensure that the majority of our citizens, including the poor and needy, come through this as best they can.

Look to and plan for the future

All Auras Touch

As I noted, WWII came to an end as did WWI and the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1919. Humankind is resilient and creative. We can choose to be our best in a crisis or choose the opposite.

The arts have a crucial role to play in our society, even when governments and others in authority do not recognise, or seek to minimise, our contribution. We must plan now to come through this, and out the other side, stronger and more resilient if and as we are able. Some will struggle. Some are struggling now. It should not be a matter of survival of the fittest, but of seeking to bring as many people and organisations through as possible. That should be our pledge to each other and to society at large.

Philip Pogson FAICD, Director, The Leading Partnership

Joint Managing Director The Marais Project, Elysian Fields and Da Vinci’s Apprentice

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