Interviews & articles

Moira Sinclair - 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 Moira Sinclair - Chief Executive of Paul Hamlyn Foundation and Chair of Clore Leadership - to hear her thoughts on the challenges and opportunities of ‘good governance’.

Moira Sinclair
Moira Sinclair

On the governance today and in the future

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

The world is a complex place, and boards face challenges in supporting their chief executives and organisations to respond to that complexity. This demands a huge amount of everyone concerned, and the way we think about risk and our role as custodians of the future health of the organisation needs to shift as a result. The impact of digital innovation and AI on cultural consumption and production is still unknown. And the requirement to reach new and diverse audiences also requires different thinking and approaches.

The economic situation is also a real challenge – many cultural organisations are facing the double whammy of less grant support and more competition for the hard-earned income from audiences and participants. Boards need to focus on how to combine the best of entrepreneurial spirit with their charitable purpose.

How has cultural governance changed in the last 10 years?

The range of skills and expertise needed has definitely expanded, and I think our expectations of trustees is far greater than it used to be. We ask more of their time, they are more accountable than ever before, and it is now default that they will be part of the fundraising endeavour, even in the smallest of organisations.

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

A more resilient cultural sector, better equipped to deal with complexity and more adaptable in the face of change.

How do you see the governance of culture evolving over the next few years?

We will start to see more diversity on boards, with representation from those communities we work with as standard (including young people). I hope we will better see the value that people who are passionate about culture and work in other sectors can bring to good governance, and I would like to see much more space for Chairs and boards to learn from each other.

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

I think governance bodies in other sectors are starting to think more deeply about ethical practice, and the cultural sector is now in catch up mode – about investment policies, the response to climate change, best employment practices and many more such issues.

The cultural sector can sometimes see itself as distinct from the rest of the world, rather than part of a connected system. Good governance is starting to ask questions about who else is operating locally, or regionally; in the art form or with the client group; and help the organisation to ensure the right links and learning are in place.

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?

There was no induction or paperwork at all – I think you were expected to have somehow absorbed what you needed to know from the ether! I learnt by watching those around me, and I brought to bear my experience (good and bad) of reporting to boards as an executive. I have found that the worst of experiences have sometimes provided the best learning – if only to say, ‘when I’m in that position, I will behave better.’ Conversely, I have been lucky enough to have had some wonderful Chairs, who have been generous role models too.

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

I am feeling my way as a new Chair at Clore Leadership – I have to be careful not to step on the toes of the trustees who have been there longer than me and given so much to the organisation, and there is a balance between wanting to know all the detail, and creating the right space to support the Chief Executive to do her job well.

More widely, across all of my governance roles, the usual issues of balancing the artistic and programming ambition with the resources available, managing the risk appetite, and addressing the many and varied needs of stakeholders, funders, audiences and participants.

What are the qualities of a good trustee?

To be brave enough to ask good questions; to understand that your role is a strategic one and not an operational one; to prepare well; to stay in ‘helpful’ mode.

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

If you love your local area or feel committed to this particular target group or art form, I can think of nothing more rewarding. It is undoubtedly hard work, but when you experience the end result (the workshop, the performance, the artists’ development), and know that you have played a small part in that, it’s all worthwhile.

We hope you’ll join Moira 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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