• Dr Margi Brown Ash

Some interesting talks at CTA Conference, Sydney 2019


Walking to the museum, I pass an old tree full of memories and stories

As I reflect on the second day of the conference I am, at the same time, aware of the bush fires that continue to burn around us: the air is potent even in downtown Sydney. There was always a ritual of burning by our First Nations peoples, and yesterday in his keynote, cultural leader Wesley Enoch clarified that it was done in a way that prepared for new growth, seeds needing the heat of the fire to crack open and begin the new life cycle.

And today, catching up on some reading, I am struck by scientist Joelle Gergis’s article in The Guardian (10th September, 2019), jolted back into hard reality when I read that the extremes of weather are playing out far faster than the scientists even IMAGINED. Dozens and dozens and dozens of fires. Many burning out of control. What disturbs Gergis most is that “world heritage rainforest areas such as the Lamington National Park in the Gold Coast hinterland are now burning…just like the dying off of 50% of the Great Barrier Reef, the potential loss of these areas is something I never thought I would witness in my lifetime” (Gergis, 2019).

And our government leaders are “business as usual” thinking that if we continue to grow our economy it will ‘all work out’. The urgency therefore of impeccable leadership in the arts is paramount. We must step up because, as Ben Quilty stated on the night of the second day of the conference, when he was giving a public talk at the Art Gallery of NSW, ART is what will SAVE the world.

For leaders in the arts, the second day of the conference was rich with ideas: Charles Clapshaw demonstrated his take on augmented reality. Charles is an extraordinary visual artist and through his technology, accessibility for all regarding the arts and learning could become a reality. I won’t explain the process (its complicated and simple at the same time), but I will give you two links to articles about this brilliant artist: Charles Clapsaw and IR and Charles Clapsaw. Check him out. Extremely worthwhile.

In the afternoon I facilitated a panel with two very fine arts directors, Tatyana Franck, Director of Museum de l’Elysee and Alec Cole, Director of West Australian Museum.

My introduction went something like this:

When I think of you Tatyana, I think of exquisite photographs. Photographs have been your passion for decades, and you have honed your leadership skills and knowledge about contemporary art to the extent that you were only 30 years old when you were given the task of leading the Musee de L’Elysee. You also direct their book collection, sit on numerous arts boards and continue to develop innovative and ambitious projects such as ART FOR ALL: PHOTOGRAPHS TO BE TOUCHED. Your passion at the moment is embracing the vision of PLATFORME 10 Lausanne Art District Project, an ambitious and innovative hub, unique to Europe. But before we go on, Tatyanna has a very special skill. That of juggling. Tatyanna has developed this skill in her attempt to juggle all of her multiple roles: Her job, her vision, her board commitments, her passion and her family…

As an arts leader we have to learn to juggle so many elements at the same time (image by Gerd Altmann

I then proceeded to throw three oranges to Tatyanna and without a pause, she began to juggle successfully much to the delight of her audience. No wonder Tatyanna is one of the leading lights in her country! An exquisiste demonstration of risk taking! She is also an avid skier, and this skill must contribute to her ability to embrace balance and cope with obstacles through her day: The speed at which galleries have to transact, to cost, to deliver and wrap up has become “cancerous” (so Tim Schneider at Talking Galleries Symposium said last year)…a provocation for us to consider.

May I now introduce Alec Cole OBE.

Alec has worked for over 20 years in the cultural sector, and right now he is overseeing the new development of the Western Australian Museum in downtown Perth. At the same time, he directs the running of the regional museums in WA.

Alec, you are highly regarded in your community, you grow organisations, you have an uncanny ability to secure funding, you are a problem solver AND you are also a now-and-then blues singer (meet him at the bar…one never knows). You are a bush walker and a passionate lover of art and nature.

I then asked Alec questions such as “Completing the $410 million New Museum Project… What are the challenges?” And “How will you make the museum accessible to all?” Alec talked about the new museum becoming the heart and spirit of the people of WA “The heart of our state and the spirit of our people”. He shared with us Elaine Heuman Gurian’s quote “Museums are safe places for unsafe ideas”. But how unsafe are we prepared to be?

And I am reminded that we all want to create magic. We all want to grow transformative and generative memories within our audiences. We want to move people so that they feel, they think and they create better and more sustainable stories.

My provocation to our audience, as the day sessions ended was


Listening to everyone today I am realising that the leaders within the arts need to be g-d-like: you not only have to run the museum, but you also have to be aware of so many pressing issues including diversity, inclusivity, equity, safety, health and welfare… the list is unstoppable. You need to be at the top of your game to balance and thrive under these pressures. Sometimes we think of self-care as quiet times, going for strolls, eating well, sleeping long hours…but is there more to self-care? What about caring about what we read? Watch? Do?

Are we up for it? Do we look after ourselves enough?

Do we monitor and develop our own thinking, our own emotions and our own memories?

What steps are we taking in our efforts to turn up as the best version of ourselves?