Governance flagship launched

The arts are coming together to tackle the long-standing issue of board effectiveness with the creation of the Cultural Governance Alliance (CGA).

Following a series of failures at board level and a subsequent review, its mission is to create a peer network sharing and pooling resources, experiences and advice, and the CGA will be formally launched by its driving force, the Clore Leadership Programme (CLP), at next week’s Governance Now conference.

Governance – the policy direction of organisations’ management by boards of trustees or directors – has long been a difficult question in arts and culture management. In 2011 recent governance failures, which had seen trustees estranged from managements in some cases, led to Prue Skene, with a lifetime in arts management which included being CEO of both Ballet Rambert and the English Shakespeare Company at different times and chair of many boards, being asked by the CLP to run a new module for a board development programme that looked at the challenges of working together in the sector, perceptions of best practice, harnessing clarity of thought, and realising aspirations for board members’ organisations. It added a new edge to guidance on board construction.

The CGA’s operating mission will be to provide a primary reference point for good governance advice, information and practice; to coordinate and promote cross-sector opportunities including workshops, seminars, training and professional development; to create for the co-production of resources and events; and to spark and constructive engagement with the topic of good governance through dialogue, forums, events and activities.

Then in 2016 - before she became director of the CLP a year ago - Hilary Carty had been commissioned by the programme to review the state of governance in arts organisations and museums, and her report, Achieving Good Governance published in July 2017, found strong evidence of improved practice, despite a climate of diminishing resources and intense public scrutiny. “The cultural sector is homing in on what our leaders require and what we require from our leaders, a vast range of skills and competences” she told AI then.

But there were also key issues, said her report. “The current environment requires that the governance of arts organisations and museums becomes more adaptive and far-sighted…” it summarised.

In detail, those issues were:

  • Focusing on strategic priorities and constructively engaging boards with the longer-term agenda.
  • Effectively balancing creative and strategic dialogue so that discussions on artistic and creative vision and programming regularly took place.
  • Harnessing both people and strategies to meet the challenge of fundraising.
  • Ensuring that trustees were informed and equipped to champion the organisation, balancing risk management with reputation management and advocacy.

It was clear that partnership across the sector was lynchpin rather than detailed guidelines on appointing, and an alliance was formulated.

Arts Council England is pleased to be involved in bringing together and sharing best practice in governance through the cultural governance alliance and the Governance Now conference,” said ACE’s director of organisational resilience, Jane Tarr. ACE is one of a number of leading organisations supporting the initiative, which also includes the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, the Heritage Lottery Fund, Cause4 and the Independent Theatre Council. There are also two dozen membership organisations including the Association of British Orchestras, the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and the National Museums Directors Council.

Calouste Gulbenkian’s involvement follows its own inquiry report on the civic role of culture published earlier this year, Rethinking Relationships, which identified barriers preventing arts organisations form playing a civic role. They included leaders feeling overstretched and under-supported; co-production needing skills participants may need extra training for; participants and staff groups needing to reflect the communities in which they work. “All of these barriers can be addressed by better governance” the foundation’s CEO Andrew Barnett said.

Another supporter, the Association of Independent Museum, said simply: We believe that strong governance is central to the success of any independent museum or heritage organisation”, while the Independent Theatre Council’s CEO Charlotte Jones added that she hoped the initiative would “lead to a new era of knowledge and skills sharing enabling Boards in the cultural sector to raise their game”.

Keynote speeches at next week’s conference will come from Mags Patten, ACE executive director for public policy and communications, and Joanna Baker, managing director of the Edinburgh International Festival. Follow the Cultural Governance Alliance on Twitter at @GovernCulture.





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