Creative Leadership, Part 1: The Festival Team
By Clark Corby
It’s 5 am, you are eagerly awaiting the first trucks, contractors and crew to start arriving on a major outdoor event site for an arts festival that you have been working on for the past 12 months. The first few hours’ tick by as the buzz of the morning sun starts enveloping the grounds where activity is thriving. Then the emails start again, the phone starts ringing, and you are fast reminded of the another 150 shows and 4 event sites to execute with everyone reporting to you. Creative leadership is a tough job.
An organism that evolves and changes every year, with somewhat of a skeleton structure that can be bent and moulded into different shapes, an art festival brings emotions, awareness and change to a city. Being a leader in a major arts festival is of the most daunting tasks.
Managing a team that grows from 2 to 300 in the space of a few months has its challenges, and managing the independent expectations of 150 productions has another set of responsibilities. An evolving mindset is important, and being able to transfer your ever depleting energy into positive, well thought out solutions gets harder and harder as the festival establishes.
Leading our family.
One person cannot run it all, and that is where the team comes into play. I like to call it a family because it really is, a family that is together in the thick of every turn. As the festival starts I promptly turn my energy from pre-production to being the person you can call, the person that helps steer the family through the corners, and keeps the family afloat.
The most important statement I share with everyone is: Do not think any problem or mishap is too small, too big or too embarrassing to share because when something goes wrong, or moments are a little hard to deal, the family is here to take the grunt with you. The production family and the way it runs is one of the most vital mechanics of the organisation. With extremely long hours, high-pressure situations and possibly fragile emotions, festival work is a rollercoaster of a journey, and everyone needs to hold each other up.
I attempt to construct a family that is an adaptable, complex organism, constantly moulding and learning to overwhelm any adversity that presents itself.
All this makes it important that I actually remove myself from the ground work. I almost sit outside the family and focus my energy on being there for every member when they need a mind that is clear, precise and fast at helping them back on the tracks.
Managing their family.
Another element is welcoming and assisting the extended family. The extended family are the teams of people that come with each production, with their own agenda’s and requirements to put on the production that they are invited to present within the festival. I like to believe that every other production that travels in locally, nationally or internationally is welcomed with open arms, excitement and energy that allows them to feel comfortable to also ask questions and seek help as required.
We are here to assist them to put on the best show they can and with the right environment so that each external organism can mould together with ours.
The challenge of this environment is that these relationships have to be established within days or even hours, and they can become disjointed extremely quickly. This is where delivering expectations and a development of trust is extremely important.
This trust begins with me, and my initial conversations that may have happened 6 months prior to them even setting foot on our soil. If that family is already holding a mentality with a lack of trust and expectation of delivery, then there can be a domino effect of personality and practical issues that occur.
It took me a few years to be less naive, but through experience, I educated myself to understand that taking care of me is actually one of the most important parts of my job. If I can’t function, then how am I supposed to help, how can I suggest clear solutions and present positive feedback? This can be extremely challenging. Fatigue sets in as 16 to 20 hour days stack up over a month. Energy can diminish as food can become a low priority yet needs to be one of my highest.
I sleep when I can, I always travel with fresh fruit and I focus my food intake on slow release energy meals. My nutritional health is one element, the other is my mental.
Mental health is regarded as one of the most shoved aside topics in many organizations but needs to be kept on top of.
It is extremely important to have that colleague or friend that understands and can listen. However ridiculous those conversations can be, that person might not even say one word in response, but just that ear, could be the difference between collapsing and moving forward.
Creating and leading a truly adaptable family requires me to establish and maintain a culture that is flexible, but also durable. Gone are the days of a “hands-on” leader whose personal competence will be the be all and end all of the family’s success. We need leaders who’s personal transparency leads and assists in the problem solving – that is one of the minds working together instead of individuals. Creatively leading creative minds requires a leadership approach that brings people together to form a new box, not just to think outside a box that is already created.
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