21/12/2017 - 13:34

Creative collective driving change

21/12/2017 - 13:34


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The newly formed Perth Arts Leaders Collective has an ambitious goal to transform tourism in Western Australia while simultaneously lifting the profile of the state’s artists and creative community.

Siân Roberts (left), Bourby Webster, and Harriet O’Shannessy welcome other local arts leaders into the collective. Photo: Attila Csaszar

The newly formed Perth Arts Leaders Collective has an ambitious goal to transform tourism in Western Australia while simultaneously lifting the profile of the state’s artists and creative community.

Bourby Webster, founder and executive director of the Perth Symphony Orchestra, came up with the idea for the collective in October after she was approached for advice by Freeze Frame Opera founder Harriet O’Shannessy and then The Giovanni Consort artistic director, Hugh Lydon.

“I thought, actually, how valuable is this that we all sit down and share ideas and business models and what’s worked and what hasn’t worked,” Ms Webster told Business News.

The collective’s six members (soon to be eight), including The Last Great Hunt general manager Siân Roberts, and Rock Scholars co-owner Karen Simonds, meet every two months with the goal to collaborate and support one another by way of advice or an exchange of resources.

Ms Webster said each session would address a specific topic, such as a Plus1 funding application, for example.

“And then the last part is what’s keeping everyone awake at night, does anyone have a problem that needs solving, a show that needs selling, they’ve just lost the lead artist in this, they desperately need a light designer, how can they find ushers and volunteers,” she said.

Ms Webster said the group had become strategic and recognised it had the power to achieve far more as a body of arts companies than as individuals.

Among the collective’s current goals was the plan to build a business case and collectively pitch to Tourism WA the concept of investing in arts events across the state, leveraging WA’s unique destinations.

“The thing that Perth and WA is amazing for is its places and spaces,” Ms Webster said.

She said performing in eclectic spaces was something PSO had already been doing on its own.

“To listen to Beethoven in a shed in Fremantle harbour when the doors are open and the sun is setting and major tankers are slowly chugging their way out while you’ve got Bavarian beer in your hand made by a local brewing company, you’re not going to get that (experience) anywhere else in the world,” she said.

Ms Webster said collective members had brainstormed a number of potential events, including hosting an orchestra at the Bungle Bungles or El Questro, choral performances at the Esperance Stonehenge, Freeze Frame Opera at Wave Rock, or The Last Great Hunt’s production, Bali, at Scarborough Beach.

“We could invite artists from around the world to come and perform with us in an iconic space; that’s going to get attention for WA more than I think some other things,” she said.

“It’s also about showing people their own state, but giving people a reason to go for a unique, spine-tingling experience.”

Ms Webster said WA had a number of small, dynamic arts companies that could effectively achieve this.

“My thought is a couple of million (dollars) could go an insanely long way with what we’re trying to achieve as opposed to a $200 million budget, which is sometimes what the states can spend on their marketing,” she said.

Sharing a database of customers was another suggestion Ms Webster said the group was considering.

“Like with Ticketek, you (customers) can join the Ticketek database and you can choose what you get emailed about; if you only like ballet and opera, then Ticketek won’t email you about comedy and cooking,” she said.

Ms Webster said she believed funding could be used more efficiently by sharing mutual resources, such as human capital, across the sector.

She said arts organisations in WA didn’t need to be as protective and exclusive as they generally were.

“There’s actually a huge benefit in creating a scene of people who want to have really cool, interesting pop-up performances, and we’re all giving West Australians work, we can all collaborate together,” she said.

While Ms Webster is experienced in the corporate world, having gained an MBA and worked for a large engineering firm, she said arts leaders often lacked the business skills to advance their organisations.

It was crucial the arts think with a business mind and work to attract the best employees and look outside the arts, she said.

“I know that no-one is going to give up their day job working for a major bank or law firm or accounting firm to come and work in a tiny arts company,” Ms Webster said.

“If they were a part of a larger collective that was having a serious impact, maybe, just maybe we could all pull resources and have someone who is (incredible).”


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