What three words best describe the qualities that are needed in trustees?
Self-awareness (individually and organisationally). Challenging. Empathy (for those we serve).
What can we learn from other sectors - in the UK and internationally - about good governance?
Diversity, diversity and diversity. I am a huge supporter of public investment in the arts but there’s sometimes a whiff of entitlement: we can bumble on and the money will keep flowing. Clarity of purpose, and accountability for delivering against this, is a central tenant for charity governance and arts organisations are no exception to this.
How do you see the governance of culture evolving over the next 10 years, particularly with the civic role of the arts and the climate crisis in mind?
Well, I hope we can draw on a wider pool of people: people who bring with them deep connections in the communities we serve. I hope trustees will drive both greater connection and prioritise the challenges – climate change among them – that really matter. It’s possible to forge consensus among people with multiple perspectives. Talented conductors have always been able to harness the talents of people playing different instruments to create outstanding experiences for others.
How has cultural governance changed in the last 10 years?
There’s certainly been a greater emphasis on standards and some big investment. I wonder just how much real change has taken place. Some big blind spots remain: major cultural institutions who don’t advertise openly for trustees, for example. Some boards risk looking like self-perpetuating clubs of people who can be trusted not to rock the boat. The emphasis placed on fundraising in trustee recruitment risks preferencing people with deep pockets over others however well-intentioned or talented they may be.
What’s the greatest opportunity that sector-wide good governance might bring?
To help us answer the difficult questions; the ones to which there are no right or wrong answers. It’s only by embracing difference – both diversity around the board table and a willingness to explore alternatives – that we will fulfil our true potential. That lies in a strong and dynamic ecology of organisations in which the ‘whole’ is prioritised over the interests of any individual institution. That’s where trustees’ obligations lie: beyond organisational interest and with the wider public interest.
What are the biggest governance challenges and opportunities as the sector responds to Covid-19 and the #BlackLivesMatter Movement?
Relevance. Covid-19 has presented a huge challenge to our ways of working. The Black Lives Matter movement reminds us not just about parts of our community whom we have overlooked but provokes us to question who we serve, who we are for. The imperative is to re-think what it means to be relevant in today’s society and constantly challenge ourselves and embrace permanent evolution.
Tell us about your first governance role. How did you learn the ropes?
Blimey. I was a trustee of Space Studios in my early twenties. I became chair within a year or so and was hopeless. I was rightly restless about the change we needed to make but I was young and not a little bashful.
What governance challenges are you facing at the moment and what are you doing to overcome them?
I’d love to be trustee of an arts organisation again. I currently chair the Church Urban Fund. The vast array of stakeholders – and an institutional culture best described as defensive – make for a level of complexity. People constantly surprise me so there’s never a boring moment. I hope I’ve come on from the Space Studios days!
What advice would you give prospective trustees/(or chairs) in the cultural sector?
Be yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask the difficult – sometimes seemingly stupid – questions. The cultural sector is truly special – but beware the curse of exceptionalism - and remember your role as a steward requires you to take the long view and to put those we serve first.
We hope you’ll join Andrew and a host of other fantastic speakers at Governance Now 2020 — the flagship conference for culture sector trustees and professionals.
Governance Now takes place online from 5 November to 26 November 2020. Book tickets here.