Welcome to our Cultural Leadership Page

This is a space for us to share current discussions and debates around themes and topics concerning arts and cultural leaders today.

Each year we hold an annual leadership seminar or convention where arts and cultural professionals address sector challenges and topics collectively whilst challenging and reflecting upon their own leadership styles and organisation ecosystems.

Leading in this moment with energy and fairness for a healthy cultural ecology: A Leadership Convention, held in March 2021

Colleagues from Arts Connect’s Cultural Leadership development course and professionals from across the region gathered to explore the relationship between cultural practice and leadership. This purpose is more prevalent as we navigate the transition into post-COVID-19 pandemic life and the impact on our sector, staff, partners, collaborators, and, more importantly, our communities.

In providing the cultural leadership programme and supporting the sector, we aim to empower people to make a difference. We know they will only be successful when they start to own and exercise their leadership and encourage and support senior leaders to open up the opportunities for distributed leadership, making the cultural sector more diverse and democratic.

This was the first Leadership Convention for which the Senior Leaders Master Degree Apprenticeship (Arts and Culture) students curated the themes and speakers as a source of inspiration and agency that would respond to the challenges faced by the cultural sector during this time.

Convention Curators

Oliver Scott – Founder Artistic Director & CEO, Mercurial Dance

Liam Smyth – Creative Producer & Cultural Researcher, Creative Black Country

Nikki Genner – Business Development Manager, Creative Academies Network

David Durant – Associate Director, The Courtyard Arts Centre

Chris Ansell – Head of Participation and Learning, National Memorial Arboretum


The cultural leadership programme and wider development opportunities are supported by the programme facilitators – Susan Goodwin Associate Director: Cultural Partnership, Arts Connect and Course Leader SLA (Arts and Culture) and Munira Thobani Leadership Consultant Equality, Justice and Transformation


An overview of the day can be read here

“The programme was a good demonstration of inclusion driving innovation. We weren’t addressing a funder need or specific agenda. The radical thinking and innovation came out of having more people in the room and more voices heard from a wide panel of speakers. I was struck that it came across as a coherent package considering it was curated from different perspectives.” – Liam Smyth

Themes and Speakers

Cultural Recovery: Erica Love, Culture Central, opened the convention with a reflection on how the cultural leadership of the West Midlands was networked and responsive during 2020.

“There are going to be significant challenges around public confidence, potential austerity and public cuts, unemployment health and well-being, but these are opportunities we can turn into positive action. We need to increase the inclusion, equity and quality of experiences of those from all walks of life who encounter our work and organisations and make them kind, safe and welcoming spaces for everyone.” – Erica Love


A keynote from Martin Green, Commonwealth Games 2022, explored leadership within the galvanising role of large scale programmes.

“Rely on networks that give you the audacity to think big! … How do we create small pockets of action? Who holds the picture to the jigsaw we’re making?” – Martin Green

Read more about what Erica and Martin said here 

Finding our Voice: Nikki Genner co-created the conversational panel between Gaylene Gould, The Space to Come, and Corey Bailey, The Belgrade Theatre. It centred on the personal experience of two Black creatives entering and working within the cultural sector.

Gaylene and Corey reflected upon the changes that could have improved those experiences and needed an environment to thrive. The conversation invited attendees to reflect upon their own personal and organisational practice in ensuring representation and diversity can flourish.


Read more about the Finding our Voice session here

To create a point of greater reflection, the session was closed with a new piece of spoken word by Birmingham’s Poet laureate, Casey Bailey.

Vital Signs in the Cultural Eco-System:

John Holden, who wrote The Ecology of Culture, a Report commissioned by the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Cultural Value Project in 2015, was invited to comment on What are the Vital Signs of a Healthy Arts and Cultural Ecology and how do leaders in the sector respond? His paper in response Is There Life on Mars? inspired and informed the session, led by Oliver Scott with support from David Durant. It invited attendees to explore the provocations of the paper in the context of their own goals, reality options and willingness to identify an action of small change to take.

Through identifying their realities and priorities, the attendees highlighted binding actions, but not always small. Having identified how the ecosystem has shifted, the need to bring lasting change and achieve these actions has been flagged as the biggest challenge.

“Encouraged me to consider pulling work together into a coherent strategy/narrative and build a team with ecology in mind. Also, consider how I can innovate.” – Attendee

Read here about what happened in the Vital Signs in the Cultural Eco-System session, and watch a clip below

Shifting Spaces for Arts and Culture: How we are using physical and digital spaces – new frontiers for space and audiences?

Liam Smyth curated this session with panellists Andre Reid, Founding Director of KIONDO, Foka Wolf, Subversive Birmingham Street Artist and Harmeet Chagger-Khan, Creative Director of Surfing Light Beams. Each panellist shared the values that define their practice before setting a leadership challenge related to changing spaces for attendees to explore:

How might we use new/emerging technology to enable mass participation and social change?

How might we work with local people to co-deign cultural spaces in a post-Covid world?

How might we create new spaces to exhibit public artworks that benefit the local area?

Shifting Spaces enabled shared collective problem solving for future exciting practice in hybrid programming environments and expansions into public spaces.

“We all have the ability to create, our ability to create is matched only by our intention to destroy” – Andre Reid

“There is power in public art, the impact of a piece of paper, it could be huge structures like a Martin Creed in NY or a Despo piece in Brooklyn or pallets in the street” – Foka Wolf

“Think big and work with people you admire. This world demands the qualities of youth – not time of life but a state of mind” – Harmeet Chagger-Khan


Read here about what took place in the Shifting Spaces for Arts and Culture session and view some clips below

Erica Love
Martin Green
Gaylene Gould Photo Credit Credit Nina Robinson
Corey Campbell
Oliver Scott
Harmeet Chagger-Khan
Foka Wolf
Andre Reid Photo Credit Reuvie Dianne Barbon


Orit Azaz – Independent Artistic Director

“It was cultural democracy in practice – a programme co-designed by a number of leaders to include the questions and themes that they feel most urgent and relevant to consider. Each in turn then invited others, including previously unheard and diverse voices, to share their thoughts and provocations in a variety of conversational formats – inviting all of us to participate in the intense, wide-ranging, challenging conversation – I have loved it!”

Jerrel Jackson – Creative Academies Network

“Overarching keywords from the day:

Respect            Remind            Responsibility            Reopen            Repair            Realise

Reclaim            React               Reconnect                 Reshaping        Resource

Regeneration                            Rebalance                 Reach”

Munira Thobani – Leadership Consultant

“It has showed that leadership comes from so many different places; when we had artists talking about their works, ley led it. It created a richer picture of leadership in the sector; we are so used to looking for that one leader in an organisation. So many came through and shared it through their practice. It showed how diverse the leadership is.”

100% of our post event respondents felt inspired by the possibilities to lead more innovatively, drawing upon shifts in thinking and practice.

“It has helped me acknowledge that I don’t need to have all the answers and that I need to use my privilege more strategically.”

“Reconnecting with peers at this time in lockdown was much needed. The day has reignited my confidence in what I do and enabled me to believe in myself and what I do. Lockdown has depleted this confidence and built a sense of self-doubt whilst not being able to engage personally with colleagues in the sector.”