It feels like we have been explaining our case for decades, perhaps longer. It is exhausting! However, what can we do but to continue to advocate, to be a voice among many, giving form to the changing conditions of both Higher Education and the creative arts themselves?
What should leadership look like under these conditions?
Do we need to lead from the front? – carving out new fields for exploration and speculation – so much a model for avant-gardes, and imperial powers, not always so different, but oftentimes at odds with each other.
Or do we lead from within? – growing strength and capability of the individuals in the community and harnessing that energy to build on a confident highly motivated group.
This characterisation is too simplistic, I know. Leadership needs to be different things at different times for different outcomes. How well do we understand this in the creative arts?
I actually think we do know. Perhaps it might not be too much to say that art is itself a leadership trope.
The arts as we know it, in the post enlightenment European tradition at least, is about extending boundaries of knowledge, asking the ‘what if’ questions, testing new ideas to make better work, whatever the form. In so many cases, being ahead of the curve is what is judged as high achievement. Though leadership should translate to advancing disciplines, it should also translate in such a way that people can live it.
As we know advocacy is ongoing, as is the artistic impulse itself. The DDCA was born from and by the leaders of creative arts schools, colleges, faculties and divisions in the university sector, in all their structural complexity. There are no two members of the DDCA who are in the same governance relationship to another. But with all of these points of difference the leaders came together to try and strengthen the profession, the artistic cultural and intellectual capital of the nation, and our people.
It makes it doubly sad to see instances where, despite best efforts, leadership fails to protect and advance the interests of their constituents staff and students. We need to look at what are the factors that drive such different conditions and understand what a difference leadership can make.