09/07/2021 - 08:00

McMullan brings FORM to new era

09/07/2021 - 08:00

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After two decades at the helm of FORM, Lynda Dorrington is passing the baton to Tabitha McMullan.

Tabitha McMullan previously worked at the City of Perth. Photo: David Henry

Lynda Dorrington is stepping aside as executive director at FORM, having led the arts organisation for the past 20 years with an appetite for risk and a talent for securing funding.

An example of Ms Dorrington’s courage was the establishment of FORM’s PUBLIC Silo Trail project.

In 2015, FORM wanted to paint murals onto grain silos in the regions but was having trouble selling the idea to corporates. Ms Dorrington forged ahead regardless.

“[We needed to] find a corporate partner who believed in the magic, then they would put in about 25 per cent and you would raise the balance,” Ms Dorrington told Business News.

“Once it was visible, I knew people would understand what we were talking about.”

There are now murals painted on grain silos in Merredin, Katanning, Pingrup, Newdegate, Ravensthorpe, and Albany, following the first in Northam in 2015, with the support of CBH Group, Lotterywest and the federal government.

The idea has been recreated in other states, with Victoria, South Australia, and NSW launching their own silo public art trails.

Aspects of Kings Park Gallery Shop was the product of a collaboration with FORM, driven by Ms Dorrington.

At the time, FORM was running a shop on Murray Street selling the work of local artists, but visitor numbers were low.

“I thought, if they have a visitation of six million, and I have a visitation of a couple thousand a year and no money to actually drive it, better to work with a partner to give them the asset and drive the visitation,” Ms Dorrington said.

“It’s been a huge success for Kings Park and a great success for the practitioners.

“That underpins the way we have gone about everything: find the partner where it makes sense and build a shared outcome.”

Ms Dorrington acknowledged that her propensity to overcommit had sometimes led to doubts.

“I’m not one to say, ‘Bring me your full budget, when it’s funded, we will do a project’,” she said.

“I’m the one who would say, ‘That’s got potential, let’s run with it’.”

Ms Dorrington said securing funding for adventurous projects was about seeing them in a multi-dimensional way and understanding the public and private sectors.

A long-running partnership with BHP has underpinned a lot of FORM’s work, including its expansion into the Pilbara.

“It’s been that rare beast where you have shared objectives that end in outcomes either party could possibly deliver by themselves,” Ms Dorrington said.

The partnerships Ms Dorrington has forged have helped the organisation grow into the 10th largest arts and cultural organisation in the state, according to Business News’s Data & Insights, with revenue of $6 million in 2019.

Ms Dorrington said that, during the pandemic, the pressure of COVID-19 made her rethink her priorities.

“While I was passionate about what I was doing, I was willing to stay, but COVID was a crisis point for a lot of us, I’m sure, and I think I just thought, ‘I think I have had enough, I’ve hit the wall’,” she said.

“I really do believe I need to step away and refresh myself.”

Taking over Ms Dorrington’s role at FORM is Tabitha McMullan.

Ms McMullan moved to Perth from Canada 10 years ago after starting her career in the arts as Walter Phillips Gallery program assistant at The Banff Centre.

In Perth, Ms McMullan was a consultant at Artsource before working as manager arts, culture and heritage, and alliance manager activation and cultural experience at the City of Perth.

Her time at the city was challenging, due to the inquiry into the council at the time, she said.

“[It was an] opportunity for me to learn about leadership and strategy and resilience,” Ms McMullan told Business News.

“Shepherding the creative and cultural teams through that time was an immense privilege and learning opportunity for me.”

Ms McMullan said her career was at a crossroads before she saw the job at FORM, unsure whether to go back into the arts or pursue a different field.

“When the job at FORM came up, they are just such a dynamic and innovative company, where they have such amazing cross-industry partnerships,” she said.

“There’s just such an opportunity to flex those muscles that I achieved or learned at the City of Perth.”

Ms McMullan will inherit responsibility for several projects in her new role at FORM, including building a multi-purpose space at Spinifex Hill Studio, which is due to open July 1.

Ms McMullan sees maintaining FORM’s trajectory as her most pressing priority.

“Overall, we are building on a very solid foundation and my number one job over the next little while is to see FORM restabilise after having the same director for twenty years and very solid partnerships for so long,” she said.

She saw rebuilding the culture of the city after COVID-19 as an area of opportunity.

“I suspect there will be a refocusing on cities in a post-COVID world as we start to reimagine what cities are as retail is changing,” Ms McMullan said.

“Certainly, the City of Perth has a major residential growth target, and arts and creativity and community building are going to be pivotal in all of that.

“I’m keen to understand with our partners what role FORM could possibly play in that development.”

The regions will also be top of mind for Ms McMullan.

“Perth and the metropolitan area are the gateways to the regions; how do we make sure the health of our city centre is really supporting that gateway to tourism across Western Australia?”

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