Where’s the next generation of music leaders?

The music industry has neglected the next generation of leaders for too long, says Sir John Tusa.

Recently I was talking to an old friend, a leading figure in the world of artist management. We were both concerned about the next generation of arts managers. When he and his colleagues do retire – and it won’t be long – their profession, their calling, the cherished activity of nurturing musicians present and future will look very thin on the ground.

Yet when I mentioned the word leadership, the artist manager nodded noncommittally; it seemed as if the very notion of leadership was unfamiliar, strange and even irrelevant to what he does. I’m sure he’s wrong about that, because if the experience of chairing the Clore Leadership Programme has shown me anything, it’s that leadership in the arts can be nurtured. It cannot be taught, and no one should try.

Organisations which deliberately foster leadership and support their future leaders do better. They overcome business and artistic problems better than those who do not. Many organisations have plenty of budding leaders in their ranks; to ignore their drive and instincts is a hideous waste. These emerging leaders adopt ideas and behaviour that are the organisational lifeblood of innovation. How can any sector of arts activity ignore this?

But I wonder if the music business – from promoters to agents, from festivals to venues – is really aware of the opportunities that exist in leadership development.

In the Clore Leadership Programme’s decade of developing and fostering 259 arts leaders (the 11th cohort is now being selected), there have been some notable fellows from the music world. They include John Fulljames, associate director of opera for The Royal OperaSusanna Eastburn, chief executive of Sound and MusicAbigail Pogson, chief executive of Spitalfields Music; and Gavin Reid, director of BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.

Yet these professionals entered the programme through open fellowships, rather than as a reflection of the music sector’s understanding that it needed a policy towards boosting its leaders of the future.

‘In the arts as a whole, we’ve found a growing, hunger for leadership that is open, generous, forward-looking, un-selfish, self-aware, progressive and collaborative.’

In the case of theatre, especially regional theatre, the influence of Clore Fellows at the upper and highest ranks of creative and administrative leadership is striking – they include Erica Whyman as deputy director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and fellows in leadership roles at theatres in Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds and Sheffield.

During the last six weeks, the Clore management team interviewed no fewer than 75 candidates for the 18 available fellowships. The interviews were demanding for both sides of the table. Yet for us faced with difficult choices, it became a privilege to witness something of the inner minds and spirit of the rising stars facing us. They are the new generation.

For a start, they talked of ‘making work’, meaning forging something original out of their own experience rather than relying on work that already existed. They talked of collaboration with other artists, other skills, other disciplines from which greater originality might appear. They talked of using old buildings or unused parts of existing buildings to provide settings suited to their work.

They invariably talked of connecting with local communities as a result of a well-developed sense of civic responsibility and their place in society. They expected to create opportunities for the young or the disabled in their work, as they believe in learning and opportunity. They used social media instinctively, expecting to learn from such cooperation, not merely to teach.

Sir John Tusa
Sir John Tusa

They expected to mix roles so that a performer could be an originator, with no one restricted in the contribution they might make by any supposed hierarchy of artistic authority. They believed in being entrepreneurs, actual as well as cultural because they know that if they want to create work, they must find ways of paying for it. They always put the arts first.

They also understand the need for active, dynamic leadership whether in a specific project or in running an organisation. In the Clore Leadership Programme as a whole, my colleagues and I find a continuing, growing, hunger for leadership that is open, generous, forward-looking, un-selfish, self-aware, progressive and collaborative. Ten years of experience in developing such leaders show that they become a benefit to all concerned.

Read: Classical music isn’t dead, but we need to ensure its future

But is the music world indifferent to this proved experience or ignorant of it? It cannot be that the imperatives of change facing the profession are less acute, less intense, less challenging than those facing everyone else in the arts. It is impossible to believe that anything would be lost by finding out what might be involved in setting up new leadership schemes.

For instance a Fellowship Consortium of say, an orchestra, a festival and a publisher – or a consortium of a group of agents – each paying in a mere GBP5,000 per year for one Fellowship would give the members access to an opportunity for leadership development which is not available anywhere else.