Interviews & articles

Andrew Barnett - Governance Now 2019 Speaker Interview

By Cultural Governance Alliance

This year’s Governance Now conference is all about practical solutions to common problems: how to anticipate and plan for the worst whilst delivering the best for your organisation.

In the run up, Andrew Barnett - Director of Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (UK Branch) and Chair of Church Urban Fund- shares his thoughts on the challenges and opportunities of ‘good governance’.

Andrew Barnett
Andrew Barnett

On governance today and in the future

What are the most pressing governance challenges facing the culture sector today?

  • New business models: holding creative and commercial drivers in tension
  • Clarity of purpose: who and what are cultural organisations for?
  • Relevance: inclusivity and relevance of organisational activity

Style and agility of leadership and need to equip people to work across ‘boundaries’.

  • How has cultural governance changed in the last 10 years?
  • Americanisation of philanthropy: boards increasingly becoming ‘development/fundraising boards’ with potential to crowd out authentic voices from the community
  • Greater external scrutiny

What’s the greatest opportunity that sector-wide good governance might bring?

  • Seeing the cultural sector as part of wider civil society
  • Greater diversity will lead to greater connectedness and better decision-making which in turn leads to greater resilience
  • Need to see organisations as part of an eco-system that can evolve (and in which existing individual organisations have no right to perpetuity crowds out the new)

How do you see the governance of culture evolving over the next few years, particularly with the civic role of the arts in mind?

  • More diverse and connected to communities they serve

What can we learn from other sectors - in the UK and internationally - about good governance?

  • Emphasis placed on leadership in education and the NHS
  • Need for continuous improvement
  • Looking out of the silo

What’s the future of cultural governance in one word?

  • Shared

On your career

Tell us about your first governance role. How did you learn the ropes?

Apart from university (where I held several governance roles in the student union), I first became a trustee of the St Christopher’s Fellowship, a housing association for vulnerable young people (1995) before joining the board of Space Studios becoming its chair in 2000. I learned as I went.

What governance challenges are you facing at the moment and what are you doing to overcome them?

Unpicking executive and non-executive roles and responsibilities in a complex group of institutions. Recruiting a refreshed board with greater diversity. Developing a new strategy. Looking at roles and responsibilities.

What are the qualities of a good trustee?

  • Curious: willing to ask and keen to hear the answer.
  • Committed to the cause with a strong sense of mission.

What advice would you give prospective trustees/(or chairs) in the cultural sector?

  • Focus on getting the right people in the conversation and on paperwork/agenda that enables the right questions to be asked.
  • Agree on what you want to achieve and how to do it, not be funder driven.

Anything else on your mind at the moment?

  • How we address ’founder syndrome’?

We hope you’ll join Andrew and a host of other fantastic speakers at Governance Now 2019 — the flagship conference for culture sector trustees and professionals.

Governance Now takes place at the Friend’s Meeting House, London on 8th November 2019. Book tickets here.

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