Culture corner

06/11/2007 - 22:00


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Marcus Canning - ARTRAGE Inc.

Marcus Canning          

ARTRAGE Inc. director for five years


WABN: Describe – in one sentence – a day at work.

MC: “At this time of year, in the lead up to both the Northbridge Festival and the Artrage Festival, a day at work inevitably ends in the wee hours, involves flipping on varied hats over the day and night and juggling a range of responsibilities: in a nutshell it is multiple-personality multi-tasking, on caffeine.”

WABN: What is the best piece of advice you can give someone to motivate a team?

MC: “Always expect more of yourself than you expect of any other and deliver on expectations every day. Your team will follow.”

WABN: What was the most challenging event in your career?

MC: “My organisation had seriously strained stakeholder relations when I commenced in the role. That presented a hurdle that had to be faced despite the fact it was an area I wasn’t comfortable with or experienced in.

“The largest challenges offer the greatest rewards, however, and I discovered that partnership building was an area of organisational activity that was surprisingly enriching and exciting. It always involves creative as well as strategic thinking applied to the needs of others, as well as creative collaboration and communication with a diverse range of people.

“Our partnership with Western Power is a classic example of this, and represents the positive benefits that are generated when vastly different organisations come together and explore their combined creative potential. 

“As we speak, a Western Power switch yard site on the rail-line near the Entertainment Centre is being transformed with assistance from Western Power workers into SoCo Cargo – ‘the most unique shipping container venue in the world’. This is one of so many interesting projects that this partnership has stimulated during the past five years.”

WABN: What is the main quality are you looking for in your team members?

MC: “More than anything else I look for inner determination, fortitude and strength. I have even been known to ask potential employees during an interview if they consider themselves to be ‘hard-core’.  Artrage moves at a really fast pace, and I am proud of my team’s ability to stay focused, on track, positive and collectively supportive in the midst of it all. Yes, they are hard core, but they are vivacious, have verve, and are fun to boot.”

WABN: What's best measurement of your performance, and can you name a highlight in your career?

MC: “I try and stay forward focused, and my career highlight is always going to be the success of the next event around the corner.  I am really proud of this year’s Northbridge Festival program and the Alphabet City concept for the Artrage Festival.

“My performance measurement is ultimately whether we are doing this in a proactive and dynamic way that is getting real results and reaching a wide range of people. 

“In combination, our year-round program at The Bakery, the Northbridge Festival, Artrage Festival, and NYE programs in Northbridge are being directly engaged with by more than 100,000 people each year.  This is one of many measureables, but a really important one.

“In terms of retrograde highlights, I was pretty chuffed to receive the City of Perth Award at last years WA Business News 40under40 awards for contribution to the cultural life of the city.”

WABN: How do you deal with egos in your workplace?

MC: “More often than not with humour.”

WABN: What frustrates you the most about your sector and what would you do to change it?

MC: “The arts are generally perceived as one unified sector. Like sport, it’s not the case, and I get enormously frustrated with the way that what we do is lumped with old behemoth art forms like ballet and opera. We are from different planets and contribute to the future of Australian society in radically different ways.

“This also relates to the way that culture is supported in Australia, where over 85 per cent of state and federal funding is chewed up by ‘flag-ship’ art forms and museum-like institutions. Where a flag-ship might have $35 of taxpayer subsidy on a seat before a ticket is bought, a lean contemporary organisation like Artrage will usually be under $3. 

“The difference is staggering and I believe that support to the arts from both the government and corporate sectors needs to be more equitably distributed across the entire cultural sector.  Only if the right organisations and producers are adequately supported will the kind of contemporary cultural life that most Australians long for be realised.”

WABN: What are the specific hurdles that you meet on a daily basis in your sector?

MC: “Organisations in the small to medium sector of the arts generally operate with inadequate levels of core funding, especially if they are proactive in getting out there and making it happen beyond their means.

“Complaining about levels of funding is boring, however, and my strategy has always been to accept that only revolutionary change in arts funding bureaucracies would lead to these issues being addressed, and that it is a better use of time and energy to stimulate alternate areas of income generation.

“When I started at Artrage, our turnover was 86 per cent state government funding. It is now down to 18 per cent, which is positive, but unbalanced the other way really, and doesn’t necessarily mean we are operating with sustainable levels across our staffing structure yet, or that the team isn’t doing the work of one four times its size. It’s an ongoing challenge

WABN: Have you read a good book on management/leadership that you can recommend?

MC: “I’m not a de Bono obsessive, but he is a really important business mentor to me was, and still is. There are aspects to his work that are very appropriate and align to how a relevant contemporary arts and creative industry business can operate.

“At core, his ideas are about the ability for everyone to be able to apply creative thinking to any given situation. It’s not only a very empowered and positive notion, it is also one that revels in the fact that humans by their nature create and are creative, but that we have come to be defined by systems that actively try to deny and suppress this.”

WABN: Who has influenced you personally?

MC: “I actually really dig my grandmother.  She is 93, sharp as a tack, fiercely independent, and can be awesomely sneaky and cheeky. Like many of her generation, she has lived a life that would make a great novel, and has seen some really traumatic times. Her strength has always been a real inspiration.”

WABN: Who has influenced you professionally?

MC: “I got my first professional development during the four years I worked at the AWESOME Festival in the late 90s. Gary Chard was the director back then and Ali Sumner the general manager. Gary’s creative process was brilliant; Ali had a management style that was powerful and caring, which was a good foil and complement to Gary. Having an opportunity to work with both these individuals very early in my career had a foundation influence.”




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