Creating Creative Leaders

This article was first published on Youth Central, April 2015.

Regional Arts Victoria’s Creative Leadership Program is an initiative for young people from regional Victoria who are passionate about working in the arts. In early 2015 the program gave 12 participants an opportunity to travel to Melbourne and immerse themselves in the arts for nine days between 8 and 15 February.

Providing Opportunities

Young people from regional and rural Victoria don’t usually get many opportunities to pursue their artistic interests in their own home towns. The Creative Leadership Program gives participants a glimpse into the ins and outs of many areas within the arts, including the music, theatre, visual arts, media and technology industries.

Participants in the 2015 Program visited the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria, went on a behind-the-scenes production tour at the Australian Ballet and watched a Chinese film exploring cross-cultural issues at ACMI. They also attended panel discussions about leadership, cultural diversity and making money in the arts, presented by successful industry professionals.

18-year-old Thomas Patching comes from Ouyen, in northwestern Victoria. He has produced and directed a number of films over the last few years and was one of the 2015 Creative Leadership Program participants. Meeting experts from the arts was an extremely eye-opening experience for him.

“It was very, very interesting to see how people got to where they are and what the jobs are in the industry,” says Thomas. “I come from a very small town so I never had the opportunity to be able to see these sorts of jobs.”

Suzi Cordell, Education and Families Manager at Regional Arts Victoria, explains that many young people from regional and rural Victoria may not be familiar with what’s involved in working in the arts. “These young people don’t necessarily have a broad experience in the arts, but they certainly have a great interest,” Suzi says.

Suzi suggests that the program can be a stepping stone towards a career in the arts for participants. “They all feel that they are going to make a career and a life working in creative industries. So we bring them into Melbourne to get a taste of everything that is out there.”

Developing Skills In The Arts

Project management is a key focus of the program. Participants work in groups, pitching a “blue sky dreaming” project that could benefit others living in rural or regional areas. At the end of their nine days in Melbourne, one team is chosen to receive funding so that they can get their project up and running.

During this part of the program, participants are introduced to different aspects of managing large-scale projects and events in the arts, like planning, budgeting and sponsorship.

Suzi believes project management and teamwork are vital skills for being a creative leader because creative leadership frequently involves “working in projects often in a collaborative manner”.

“There are so many elements to project development, from getting the big idea and then working collaboratively in a team. Many of these people haven’t done that before, so it’s quite a challenge to work with two or three people that they don’t know,” Suzi says.

Thomas was part of the team of four who put together the winning pitch for 2015. Their project, “Connect the Box”, hopes to inspire and connect young artists from rural isolated areas by using social media and community places like libraries.

Working on their pitch in teams gives participants the courage to pursue their creative ambitions. For Thomas, being a part of the winning pitch was unexpected. It’s one thing to get accepted into the program, and another to have your creative ideas welcomed with open arms.

“My team was fortunate enough to have won the pitch, so that was extremely validating,” Thomas says. “I thought that it was beyond my ability to even get accepted into the program, let alone be a part of the winning team.”

“To actually see that I’m just as good as the best of my generation, that was really confidence building.”

Mentorship and the Future

As part of the program this year, participants also experienced a-day-in-the-life of creative personnel that gave them the change to chat with arts professionals. Suzi says that the connections participants make with these professionals usually end up becoming mentorships and “become part of their network for their whole careers”.

Apart from chatting with industry leaders, Thomas found networking with his fellow participants a highlight of the program. It helped him see the arts industry from different perspectives.

“For the first time I was able to take criticism, because nobody else has really cared that much to actually criticise (my work),” Thomas says. “I was in a position where I was with like-minded people who could give me feedback and help me better my understanding of things.”

Since the program’s conclusion, Thomas has been going places. He was a speaker at the recent Regional Cultural Forum in Lake Boga, near Swan Hill, sharing his experiences about getting involved in the arts with other regional and rural Victorians. He is also in the middle of setting up work experience placements in the arts.

Ultimately, Thomas is keen on branching out from filmmaking and looking at developing his project management skills within the arts. This comes as no surprise, since he went into the program to “not necessarily learn things about filmmaking”, but also to learn about how the arts industry works in general.

The Cultural Leaders Program is definitely something that Thomas encourages other creative young people living in regional Victoria to participate in.

“So many new opportunities have opened up to me. I’ve learnt a lot about myself as well – what actually inspires me, and what I can feel good doing. It’s honestly a fantastic opportunity and I absolutely recommend it to anyone who’s at all interested.”