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Wrestling the Walrus - 154 Collective

Having made it to the six month mark in keeping up my blog, I’m conscious that I’ve missed two weeks…so here’s a quick catch up on things I’ve been doing:

I’ve travelled to London, Manchester, Sunderland, Leeds, Newcastle and London (again), for activities as varied as a roundtable discussion with the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport; a sharing of 154 Collective’s new show about Nellie Bligh, one of the world’s first investigative journalists; a Sunderland Culture Finance Committee meeting to discuss pension liabilities; a Venues North meeting to hear about all the fabulous work made in the North heading to the Edinburgh Fringe; speaking at the AMA conference about ARC’s approach to audiences; and a Future Arts Centres meeting about working with older people.

Back at ARC, I watched 154 Collective’s Hodgkiss Award-winning show Wrestling the Walrus, and a fantastically varied night of queer work curated by Curious Arts, including an excerpt of Melody Sproates’ ingenious show, *gender not included.

We’ve also launched the Venues North Edinburgh Festival Guide, featuring work supported by Venues North members, and announced the first ever Venues North Edinburgh Fringe Award shortlist. The winning show (created in the North) will receive support to tour it widely, and £3,500 cash.

In between, I managed five days’ annual leave in Iceland, exploring Reykjavik and the amazing Icelandic landscape. There’s nothing like standing in the middle of natural environment, with no people or man-made structures in sight, to give you some perspective on the world.

The purpose of my blog was to help me reflect and learn, so what am I noticing about the last couple of weeks?

One of the challenges of being a CEO is balancing the ‘Inside, Outside, Beyond’ roles, as described by Mark Robinson of Thinking Practice here. It is essential for me to spend time outside the building as well as inside, and to spend time meeting people as well as behind my desk. When that balance tips, as it has done in the last fortnight, then it can feel like things are slipping out of control – and that burning guilt of neglecting your Inbox starts to build up.

My learning is then about working harder to maintain that balance, because what I won’t do is ignore emails. Last year, I blogged on five commitments about working with artists that we share with the Albany in Deptford, one of our regular partner venues. One of those was about dialogue with artists:

“I believe that a programmer’s job is to talk to artists, and don’t accept the ‘I’m too busy to respond’ argument. Quite simply, it’s our job. At ARC we respond to all direct enquiries we receive, even if it is just to say no.”

I stand by this, and it was brilliant to see Tarek Iskander, CEO and Artistic Director of BAC, publicly pledge to respond to every artist’s email he receives at the Departure Lounge Festival in Derby this week. I know how hard that is, but it is possible, and I believe it makes such a huge difference to how people view you as a person and as an organisation. It would be great if other CEOs and programmers could make a similar commitment…

If I owe you an email, I promise a reply is coming your way soon.