Interviews & articles

Kim Evans - 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, we caught up with Kim Evans - Chair at Clean Break - to hear her thoughts on the challenges and opportunities of ‘good governance’.

Kim Evans
Kim Evans

On the governance today and in the future

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

  • Supporting creative ambition and risk while dealing with the increasing level and complexity of the accountabilities that Trustees now face.
  • Recognising that there is no such thing as steady state anymore and learning to build on the rock of change.
  • Creating an environment in which we are kind to each other and tough on issues.

How has cultural governance changed in the last 10 years?

Over the past ten years there has been a more open and creative conversation about cultural governance. Trustees and Executives don’t feel so alone and there have been new forums for sharing problems and developing more responsive governance structures.

We are more open and transparent in the way we recruit Trustees and our Boards are more diverse. However, that progress has been slow and while there is more ethnic diversity and a better gender balance, diversity in terms of class and age remains a challenge. The unresolved question of payment for Trustees hasn’t helped things there. We have also been slow to involve ‘experts with lived experience’ (young people or audience members, for example) in the governance of our cultural organisations.

It has become harder to recruit Trustees, particularly to Chair roles. People are much more aware of the accountability, responsibilities and liabilities that come with these roles and the level of commitment they require.

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

Good governance is a means to end and not just about rules and regulations. Sector-wide good governance is likely to make those who govern more courageous and help us develop organisations which are robust enough to take artistic risk even in challenging times.

Sector-wide good governance will also encourage more creative conversations about how we lead. On a practical level it will provide more role models for Trustees and broaden our address books. This is likely to lead to Boards that are more comfortable with difference. A truly diverse board includes not only people from different backgrounds and with different expertise but people with different views about how the organisation might achieve its aims and ambitions.

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

Connecting the arts with other sectors is likely to strengthen artistic excellence. Taking arts organisations outside their buildings and into broader civic society will help us reach new audiences, develop cultural cohesion, and build partnerships with social and commercial sector partners and public authorities. It won’t be easy and it will require leadership that is both curious and brave and a government that is willing to work across sectors at both national and local level.

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


On your career

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

I had the opportunity to observe a number of Boards when I was an Arts Council Executive. I got really interested in what makes a Board work well and how a good Chair can give everyone a voice and then steer things to a conclusion, all while keeping the meeting to time.

My first governance role was as a Trustee of the Heritage Lottery Fund (now National Lottery Heritage Fund). That was an unusual Board in that it met every month, which meant you got to know your fellow Trustees and the Executive Team quite quickly. That can be hard if you are on a Board which only meets four or five times a year. They had a very good induction programme. There was a good relationship between the Chair and CEO which helped create a positive environment in Board meetings. It was obvious that they had spent time together preparing for the meeting. That didn’t mean that they didn’t challenge each other’s thinking. The Board made funding decisions every month but there were regular discussions on strategy. Most Trustees had a role on one of the sub-committees which created additional ‘glue’. Because of the broad heritage remit, the Board was made up of people with very different kinds of expertise. The big things I learned were, set aside time to read the papers; speak up when you have something to offer and listen carefully when you don’t; make sure you keep stepping away from the detail and put your strategic glasses on.

I went on to be a Trustee of the National Portrait Gallery, then its Deputy Chair until my term ended in 2018. I am currently Chair of Clean Break, the women’s theatre company that works with women in mainstream theatre, in prison and in the community. I am also a Trustee of Arts Catalyst and the Forward Arts Foundation. Being on the Board of large national organisations and also mid-scale and small ones has given me an insight to some very different organisations. That has really developed my understanding of governance and how similar the challenges are across the sector.

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

  • Creating time for discussion on strategy as well as the operational detail. We are committed to annual strategy days and we keep reviewing the format of our Board meeting agendas. Taking all papers as read is one way of creating more time for discussion.
  • Reminding ourselves regularly of why we are there. We try to create a space to discuss the work (ours and the broader sector’s) at the beginning of every meeting.
  • Finding time for reflection. We’ve adopted the practice of having a short reflective review at the end of each Board meeting: How did we work together? Did we embody the company’s values?
  • Involving the people we were set up to serve (in Clean Break’s case, women with experience of the criminal justice system) in the governance of the organisation. We do have Trustees who were former Members of Clean Break. We also have a Members Advisory Group and we want to create more interaction between that Group and the Board.

What are the qualities of a good trustee?

Commitment and good ears – active listening is as important as talking. We each need to bring some expertise but that can come in many forms and we don’t all have to be experts in everything.

The commitment thing is really important. It’s no good saying you are passionate about a company and want to be responsible for leading it and then not turn up to meetings or don’t read the papers. We also have to find other ways of hooking into the life of a company beyond the Board table – coming into the building; seeing the work; being on a sub-committee.

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

Go for it, the rewards are incredible. Choose an organisation you really care about because a governance role comes with responsibilities and require time and commitment. Make sure you get a proper induction, so you understand how the organisation works. Listen, but don’t be afraid to speak up – they chose you because you have something to offer. Find ways of connecting with other Trustees and the company outside of Board meetings.

We hope you’ll join Kim 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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