Shelagh Magadza, PIAF
Artistic director of the Perth International Arts Festival
Appointed from the 2008 festival to the 2011 festival
WABN: Describe - in one sentence - a day at work.
SM: “There are two types of day. Normally, I try to get through emails as quick as I can at the beginning of the day, because we work often in communication with people from other timezones. And then there are a lot of meetings too.
“The other kind of days I have is when I am travelling. There’s no routine when I travel, it is basically getting up wherever you are and trying to meet as many people as you can in a short space of time.”
WABN: What is the best piece of advice you can give someone to motivate a team?
SM: “In this team, because we expect a lot from people, we give our staff clear responsibility on what their role is, and empower people to succeed in that role and those responsibilities.”
WABN: What was the most challenging event in your career?
SM: “There are two answers to that question.
“The first is the ongoing challenge of creating new work, because that’s something in which we believe at the festival; commissioning and creating new work. What’s always challenging about that is that you don’t know what the new work is going to be like, but you invest a lot up front by trusting the creatives through a five pages brief on what is goping to be staged. That’s quite a challenge to understand what people want to do and to trust them to deliver.
“Then along the way, of the creation of any new work, it’s really being able to judge which things are important elements to maintain, and what things you should keep aside and keep working on. Sometimes we also have to allow people the chance to not succeed and celebrate that as much as successes, because it’s good to see people to try new things as well.
“The second answer is that obviously festival are a huge cooperation, we’re chucking through a lot of information sharing, moving people from one place to another, communicating across language and cultural barriers.
I couldn’t really think which of those two aspects is the most challenging.
“With the festival each year you ‘re doing everything new, you are never doing the same event again, and every time you have to think how you’re going get from here to there.”
WABN: What's best measurement of your performance, and can you name a highlight in your career?
SM: “This [PIAF] is probably it, the chance of doing a festival on my own is pretty special.
Previous to this, I’ve been very lucky to travel with my work. I really love the fact that in my twenties I travelled and worked in different places. It’s just such a special way to get to know other countries.”
WABN: How do you deal with egos in your workplace?
SM: “Egos are vital in this sector, they are healthy egos sometimes. The incredible team of people that I’ve got around me is not egotistical but each person’s ego is very strong because there are a lot of responsibilities placed on them and their individual areas, they have to be pretty strong people.
“But I think self confidence is important when you deal with new artists every year as well as dealing with the public.”
WABN: Is there an organization/business model that you strive to achieve/reach? What is it?
SM: “I think that what we’ve always been interested in is just these values-based organisations or models. There are a set of values I made explicit in the workplace and they underlie the structure and the decisions as to how to go forward as a group of people. That goes beyond the fact that our vision is that we’re here do to a festival and do it as best as we can.
“There needs to be values sitting next to that statement on how we do that, how we behave to people, in terms of relationship and ethically, I really like that style of organizational development.
“The festival all depends on relationships internally and externally, we’re only as as good as our relationships with pour founding partners, our audiences they all have to be conducted considerately.”
WABN: What frustrates you the most about your sector and what would you do to change it?
SM: “I think I’m not sure that I can explain it well, but the lack of integration [in the arts sector] and the fact that we don’t have structures for sharing information and also providing pathways for development for people across the sector.
Many artists naturally tend to work in isolation but there should be some way of capturing all the potential that is here.
We know it’s there and c we need to create development pathways so that overall there is a greater kind of lift of what the potential is and what people can do in the arts sector; at the moment it seems to work too much in clusters.
Of course if you say the arts sector it’s such a huge breath of forms, from the visual to performing arts, there may not be a simplistic way to deal with that but I think the core of it is consistently create opportunities for the sectors across, to keep replenishing the stock of good ideas and well developed artists, rather than one person lifted and another person struggles up.
A lot of people go immediately to funding, ‘oh it’s because we don’t have enough funding’ but I think it has to be clever funding too. It’s not simply a case of more money, it’s how institutions can be more flexible and allow artists to use their resources and things like that. Just handing out dollars does not equals better.”
WABN: Who is someone that you dream to work with?
SM: “There is but I wouldn’t tell you! I have a little list at the bottom of my drawer and it’s the kind of things I go on wondering how will get closer to that person.
“You have to find the perfect project the perfect moment and the perfect person and match them, and then you have magic. That’s the good thing about knowing that I have four years to keep working at getting those artists.”