Ireland's jobs and recruitment service for the arts, culture and creative industries.

Good governance is essential but visionary thinking, a collaborative work ethic and an ability to bring out the best in others, are also crucially important attributes for a truly impactful Chairperson.

Words that spring to mind when we think of the attributives of an effective Chair are leadership, experience, expertise, credibility and inspiration. These can sound a little daunting and there’s no question that great responsibility comes with the role when leading the way on matters of good governance and the smooth running of the organisation, to which you volunteer at this senior level.

However, there is also so much in the role that is rewarding, impactful, and satisfying on both a personal and professional level. There are many people who are well qualified and suitable for a volunteer leadership role, but have not yet considered it. For example, why do people of a younger age profile rarely consider Board positions; or why are there not more people from diverse social, economic, cultural and ethnic backgrounds putting themselves forward for these positions?

Most not-for-profit organisations that  Creative Careers and CCI Executive Search have worked with, embraced visionary thinking and innovative ways to provide services and develop income streams. There are plenty of people with these same skills, who could contribute as a Chair or initially as a member of a not-for-profit Board.

Good governance is essential but visionary thinking, a collaborative work ethic and an ability to bring out the best in others, are also crucially important attributes for a truly impactful Chair. Ireland has an abundance of people who would excel but have not yet considered taking this leap into what can be both a personally rewarding role and a transformative one, enhancing and contributing to the lives of the organisation’s beneficiaries.

If you have good emotional intelligence and can garner the trust and respect of your fellow Board peers by encouraging a culture of collaboration and finding the skills, strength and motivation in fellow Board members and your CEO, the role of Chair could be for you!

CCI Executive Search (CCI) and Creative Careers wants to connect great organisations with great Chairs and Board members. Mary O’ Kennedy, Director of CCI / CC and OKC, and an experienced fundraising and philanthropy consultant, says there 3 main ways to make a real impact as Chair.

Lead with Integrity

Build relationships with your fellow Board members, adopt a learning mindset, and set the tone for a collaborative board culture.

Build a Relationship with the CEO

A good and open relationship between you and the CEO is a fundamental synergy for success.  In a recent interview Nick Coleridge, Chairman of the Victoria and Albert Museum, said:

“The Chair is not meant to be making all the decisions, but can be a useful sounding board – especially if you understand the organisation as well as I think you should. The Director of the V&A and I have an informal/formal breakfast once a month. We each arrive with a list of about eight points, pose questions and share our perspectives on different issues raised. It works well because we’re incredibly open with each other. It’s a very fine balance that you have to get right.” 

Embrace Innovation, New Partnerships and Fundraising Development

A brilliant Chair will embrace innovation and fundraising with enthusiasm and vigour and strive to embed philanthropy as a fundamental part of the work of the Board. If an organisation has philanthropic and non-statutory income as a key budget line, the Chair should make it a priority on the Agenda of each Board meeting.

Examples of ways that a Board Chair might involve themselves in fundraising:

  • Expanding the organisation’s potential donor network by introducing staff members to business and personal contacts.
  • Making a personal donation at a level within your capacity and encourage others on the Board to do the same.
  • Keeping up to date on the organisation’s fundraising strategy and donor cultivation plans.
  • Spreading the word about the importance and impact of the organisation.

Find the Right Board Member or Join a Board

Becoming a Chair will require an in- depth understanding of the organisation. Your first step might be to join the Board as an ordinary member.  If you are an individual interested in joining a not-for-profit Board or your organisation wishes to recruit a new Board member or Chair, contact us at  recruitment@cciexecutivesearch.ie or call 01 542 2807

Surveys show that if you display the salary on your role, it can provide valuable momentum, sometimes doubling applications.

Across the charitable and not for profit sector, we strive for transparency as part of our normal practice for good governance. It’s mandatory for us to work efficiently every day and to achieve our objectives.

We also value our staff. Without them none of it happens! No one charity is better than the team that drives it every day. This is shown time and time again by people working in the charitable and not for profit sector who go above and beyond, to reach the organisation’s goals.

CCI Executive Search supports Show the Salary

At CCI, we see this in practice. We work with brilliant people and amazing charitable organisations to recruit and retain great people.

In 2015, CCI Executive Search was one of the first organisations to take a stand on Show The Salary, a movement to increase transparency in recruiting for the sector. Show the Salary was first championed by ethical recruiters, Bruce Tait Associates in Scotland and supported by CCI Executive Search in Ireland, Peridot in the UK, Crawford in Canada and the NNSC in the United States.

In 2020, it became a strong movement amongst UK Fundraisers, hundreds of charities and dozens of recruitment agencies signing a pledge to always Show the Salary.

By doing this, we not only make salary ranges in the sector visible but we also demonstrate our ongoing commitment to recruitment in a fair and inclusive way

Showing the Salary as part of your DEI Policy

Often when salaries are hidden, the salary offered is based on the successful applicant’s current salary. This means that groups that are currently underpaid, stay that way. It then feeds into the cycle of pay discrimination, especially for women and for people from minority and or ethnic backgrounds.

For example, when the discussion at interview begins with your current salary or matching it, it is unfair for people who are already underpaid to have to stay that way. When an appointment is made at a hidden salary level, it allows employers to pay people different rates for doing the same job and this has traditionally led to the gender pay gap.

Show the Salary strives towards better pay and more balanced pay.

In contrast, research has shown that pay levels for women are 8% higher when organisations operate a Show The Salary policy. Further research shows that salaries are also adversely affected for people of different races – white male and middle class being the strongest voice at the salary negotiating table. UK research showed that black male candidates had a 13% median salary increase when Show the Salary was applied.

Surveys show that if you display the salary on your role, it can provide valuable momentum, sometimes doubling applications. CCI has experienced this first hand.

Not showing the salary has lots of negative connotations. It can suggest that the job was not “benchmarked” correctly by the Board and that it doesn’t have a “considered” value. Equally, “Depending on Experience” is a term that is disingenuous; it usually has less to do with actual experience and more to do with salary legacy.

And who hasn’t had the awkward introduction of the “salary negotiation” at second round interview, when you have to wade through the question of what is the salary and is there room for negotiation. Negotiating through that quagmire can often leave you with a negative impression of the employer before you even start the role!

Written by Bruce Tait
Co Director, Executive Search

At CCI we work directly with the Irish not for profit sector as well as people in leadership positions. If you would like to discuss any recruitment queries or opportunities you might have, please contact us on 01-5242807.

For more information click here

Monthly career interview with professionals in the not-for-profit sector

What is your current role and how long have you been working in it?

I am Director of the Royal Irish Academy of Music, a role which I have had since late 2010. The RIAM is a national conservatoire of music, with tertiary programmes in music performance and composition, a large pre-college division and an all-island music examination system.

How did you get to where you are today and what influenced your decision to work in your chosen field?

I was a seriously committed young musician – piano performance was everything during my teenage years. So I never really considered any other career path than music in my life. I studied pure music at Trinity, then musicology at UCD. I didn’t feel 100% fulfilled in the traditional roles of music performer or academic, but something drew me to the idea of management. So I did an MBA. That last qualification combined everything for me – music, research, education, organisational skills, and creativity – and made me consider the idea of conservatoire leadership my path.

What do you love/enjoy most about your job?

New ideas. A fresh look at a traditional model. Doing something better and differently than others. I adore the moments at work, and they are pretty frequent, where someone in the team comes up with an idea that brings music education forward in some way. I believe that RIAM has the intellectual and creative heft in music education to stand beside the world’s best, when we are at our more creative.

And what are the most challenging parts of your job?

Like all organisations, we are coming out of a recession. Government embargoes on hiring meant that we have been under-resourced in administration in particular. I find it difficult to constantly drive my small and dedicated team to achieve more with less, and am humbled when they do so with grace. There is work to do here.

How do you relax?

My best relaxing activity is a nightly walk by the sea. I march around my part of the coast like a dressage horse, listening to romantic violin concerti. For an extra thrill, I might go for the cello repertoire. I adore vocal music but I couldn’t put that on and listen to my own thoughts, so I gave up on that.  I find the walk clears up a lot of mental clutter from the day.

What skills and personality traits do you think are essential for a job like yours?

I think the skills that I have that suit the job include a capacity to look externally and absorb trends and shifts in the music profession and wider world; I am extremely deadline driven; and I am pretty slow to anger. The skill that I need to work on for my job is having patience. That comes from a personality trait in which I want answers yesterday……..or the day before yesterday.

What’s your advice to anyone who wants to pursue a career in the same field?

The best advice I could give to students who might someday want to get into conservatoire leadership is to participate in activities of the Association of European Conservatoires, of which I am a Vice-President. This is an international body that is looking at the future of conservatoires and their significance in society and students participate in all working groups. For those emerging professionals who wish to get into music leadership, I can say that the MBA was a game changer for me. In general as advice, I remember deciding in my twenties not to turn a work opportunity down (as I hadn’t found my niche). I started in the RIAM teaching history for 1 hour 15 minutes on a Friday afternoon when I was already a busy musician, and it grew from there.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?

This is a tough one. I have been lucky to have had some great mentors over the years, but there is no one piece of advice that stands out. The best ongoing advice I get is from the Chair of the Board of Governors of the RIAM, Dr. Dennis Jennings. RIAM is fortunate at this time to have his expertise and support.

What has been the best moment of your career so far?

The best moment so far was probably the day I signed the agreement with Trinity College Dublin making RIAM an associate college (2014). The opportunity here is immense, and we are only beginning to explore it.

What are your career aspirations?

We recently presented John Wallace (former Principal of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland) with a Fellowship of the RIAM. In the citation, I noted that he had: improved the RCS’s annual funding; re-developed their building on Renfrew Street; and modernised their offer and curricula. After all of that, they were ranked the 3rd highest performing arts school in the world. That is similar to my roadmap at RIAM.

If you’re a professional who works in the not-for-profit sector and you’re interested in taking part in the ‘My Charity Career’ interview series, please get in touch by emailing to info@charitycareersireland.ie.  We’d love to hear from you!

What is your current role?

I’m the Executive Creative Director of Galway Community Circus – Ireland’s flagship organisation for youth and social circus. I’ve been in this role since 2009 and during this time have built the role from a volunteer position into a permanent full-time role.

 

How did you get to where you are today and what influenced your decision to work in your chosen field?

I started training in circus arts when I was seven years old and my parents set up a youth circus in my home town in Finland. Circus became very important to me growing up, but I never imagined that it could become my profession. I went on to study social sciences and came across Galway Community Circus back in 2007 when I first moved to Galway – this is when I feel in love with circus all over again.

 

What do you love/enjoy most about your job?

This is my dream job. I get to combine my passion for circus, youth arts and community development. For me youth and social circus is one of the most effective and exciting tools to engage young people in creative non-competitive physical activities.

I get to work in a fun, positive and visionary community with a fantastic team, do something that is vitally important and see first-hand the positive impact our work has on individuals, communities and society.

 

And what are the most challenging parts of your job?

I can’t say that it’s always easy to balance the ambition of our organisation, knowing the urgent need for what we do, and aiming to build a sustainable organisation with the resources we have in a sector with so much uncertainty.

 

How do you relax?

My role is quite sociable, we have a staff of 19 and 500 members coming through the doors each week. So, on my days off I tend to go somewhere quiet, meet friends and go on weekends away. Perhaps I’ll learn to be better at relaxing and switching off in 2019!

 

What skills and personality traits do you think are essential for a job like yours?

Perseverance, huge passion for what you do and not taking yourself too seriously. I think it’s important to realise that these kinds of jobs require a lot of competencies and no one has all the skills needed. We are learning all the time and need to be forgiving and gentle with ourselves.

Over the years I’ve become pretty good at adapting, thinking on my feet and creative problem-solving!

 

What’s your advice to anyone who wants to pursue a career in the same field?

Reach out to people and ask questions. People are happy to help and share their experiences. Visit organisations that inspire you, European funded programmes offer a brilliant opportunity for this. I’ve been really lucky to have mentors who have supported me along the way.

Be open to learning, sharing with other people and regularly check in that you’re headed to the direction you want to go.

 

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?

Be kind, write everything down and work towards long-term partnerships rather than short-term success.

 

What has been the best moment of your career so far?

There are so many. I think the stories of young people whom I’ve known for ten years, seeing them go into the world with confidence to pursue their interest and knowing that Galway Community Circus has been a very special place in their lives.

 

What are your career aspirations?

At the moment, I’m helping to realise one of my long-term dreams with our Wires Crossed project as part of Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture – a large-scale participatory project on mental health, risk taking and high-wire walking.

After surviving past 2020, I’d like to see Galway Community Circus find our permanent home and to see what else is out there for me.

What is your current role and how long have you been working in it?

I am Festival Director at Dublin Fringe Festival and I took on the role in January 2018. Dublin Fringe is a curated 16 day multi-disciplinary arts festival. We are a festival of firsts – all the work we present is brand new and happening in Dublin for the first time. Dublin Fringe is also a year-round artist support organisation, running a workshop programme, rehearsal studios and artist offices from FRINGE LAB in Temple Bar.

How did you get to where you are today and what influenced your decision to work in your chosen field?

I’ve worked as a dramaturg and a producer in New York and Dublin since 2008, supporting the development of hundreds of artists and ideas, from literary departments in big theatres, to making indie shows above pubs or in tents at festivals. I love my work and I find great joy in it. I was drawn to Dublin Fringe Festival because it’s the agenda setting festival of new work in Ireland. It’s an inclusive, future-facing organisation that holds up a big neon welcome sign for new artists and new audiences. Fringe has an innate sense of fun too, which is important to me. Festivals and art-making are about sharing experiences and bringing people together. Having a good time is central to that –going on an adventure in a new part of town, rowing about a show with your friends afterwards, or dancing til 3am. It’s all part of the Fringe alchemy.

What do you love/enjoy most about your job?

Risk and invention are championed at Fringe, so are voices that defy the mainstream – it’s a really energising place to work. I love working with artists and developing ideas, offering feedback and championing them as they grow from sketches and drafts in to fully realised art works. And I get a kick out of all the artistic matchmaking we do – introducing potential collaborators to each other, finding the right venue for a site-specific project, and connecting emerging artists with experienced mentors who I think might make an meaningful impact on their practice.

And what are the most challenging parts of your job?

The organisation has a fierce ambition. Tending to and cultivating that long-term vision and the resources required to match it, in tandem with meeting the day to day needs of our year round work in the FRINGE LAB building and the demands of an 80-show festival is a constant, thrilling, sometimes frustrating balancing act.

How do you relax?

This is where I am supposed to say something really virtuous like a dawn hike! Going out with friends, having a few drinks, getting out of the city to swim in the sea. I love to travel and to read. I’ll sometimes sneak off to the cinema by myself after a long day to just disappear for a bit.

What skills and personality traits do you think are essential for a job like yours?

A deep respect for artistry and the ability to have a laugh. You need to be a grafter – we work really hard at Fringe. You also have to be a good problem solver. From passports for performing birds to securing road closures, you need to be able to tackle each challenge with gusto and find a clever (cheap!) solution that works for everyone.

What’s your advice to anyone who wants to pursue a career in the same field?

Ask for things. In my experience, people are generous and open with their advice and if you want to learn, aim for an expert to teach you. But, the most essential thing is: be sound. A good attitude will open so many doors.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?

Assume best intentions. Begin all collaborations, negotiations and partnerships with the assumption that everyone is trying to do the right thing and wants a positive result for the project.

What has been the best moment of your career so far?

I’ll be greedy and say that it’s impossible to pick just one. I hope that after this September I’ll be saying Fringe 2018!

What are your career aspirations?

In the short term, I want to make a really special 25th birthday edition of Dublin Fringe Festival in 2019 – big plans are already afoot. Zooming out a bit, for the industry in general, I want to help to grow a wide, engaged audience with an appetite for new and experimental art works. And personally, I want to keep learning all the time, experimenting and picking up new skills.

Ruth McGowan is the new festival director of Dublin Fringe 2018, which takes over Dublin City from September 8 – 23, for 16 days and nights – find out more at www.fringefest.com

What is your current role and how long have you been working in it?

I am the National Director of Music Generation and commenced in the role in January 2010.

How did you get to where you are today and what influenced your decision to work in your chosen field?

My background spans the worlds of music performance, music education, arts/cultural management, strategic policy and research. I grew up with music and always wanted to pursue it as a career, and from an early age was very drawn to the world of music education.

After completing my music degree in UCC, I initially trained and taught as a secondary school teacher for a while but was always more drawn to the world of music performance in education and in particular the realm of conducting. Thereafter, I worked as a freelance performing musician and music educator, directing various ensembles, conducting youth orchestras, adult/youth/children’s choirs and generally developing my portfolio of practice. I also began to study with the Choral Music Experience Institute for Choral Teacher Education in the States, because I really wanted to specialise in that area. During that time I was also appointed Project Director of a pioneering arts-in-education research initiative and from there I initiated a countywide choral music education programme in County Wexford which was very innovative for its time.

Following that I was appointed Arts Officer to Wexford County Council in 2002 and subsequently took up my current position in 2010.

What do you love/enjoy most about your job?

I love what Music Generation stands for and believe in the values that it is built upon. As a movement of change it has a very clear purpose – to transform the lives of children and young people by giving them access to high quality music tuition in their local area. Every dimension of the organisation’s work is concerned with achieving that outcome.

What are the most challenging parts of your job?

Every element of it can be challenging as it’s a multi-faceted senior leadership role. Aspects include strategic planning, policy development, the nurturing of strategic partnerships with multiple stakeholders, cultivating and leading learning networks, research, building and empowering teams, financial management and advocacy.

Each component has its own challenges but that, along with its diversity, is what keeps me motivated and interested in the role.

How do you relax?

I enjoy cooking, cycling, gardening, spending time with family and friends and playing music when time allows. I also love going to concerts and engaging with live music. I especially like going to performances by children and young people involved in Music Generation as I find them truly inspiring.

What skills and personality traits do you think are essential to a job like yours?

Passion, resilience, motivation, determination, ambition, entrepreneurial ability and openness to learning. You also need to be able to translate vision into realisation and action and be adaptable.

What’s your advice to anyone who wants to pursue a career in the same field?

Because the needs in music education in Ireland are so great, and what Music Generation is trying to do is so significant, I think that you absolutely need to love and believe in the purpose of music in the lives of children and young people and how it changes lives.

You need to believe in the vision that roots the organisation. You’ve got to be resilient, determined, hard-working, have the capacity to envision what’s possible for children and young people in music and be really willing and open to learning.

There was no route map or clear career path to arriving at the role that I have now. The pathway evolved and that’s probably reflective of how the arts and cultural landscape has evolved in Ireland over the past 25 years. For me it was a combination of creating opportunities in response to my own ambitions and what I wanted to achieve in a strategic way, as well as responding to exciting opportunities as they arose.

I think it’s important to be versatile and to be equally adept in the ‘business’ and ‘practice’ dimensions of the organisation.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?

Down through the years, I’ve been given really inspirational nuggets of advice from lots of people who have had a significant influence on me at different stages of my life. One of the most influential mentors that I ever worked with is Dr. Doreen Rao who’s globally renowned for her work in choral music education leadership. She said to me one time, “you never know who the teacher is and in music education children and young people are our best teachers”.  How right she is!

Another great educational leader also once said to me that so much of leadership is about listening – that’s been a key piece of advice that has stood me in good stead.

What has been the best moment of your career so far?

I think the moments that continue to sustain and excite me in the various roles I’ve had are simply those where I’ve been so inspired by live music-making, particularly that interaction between children/young people and musicians. When you experience that, either in live performance or in a moment of teaching and learning, that for me has always been the best moment which continues to excite and energise me about the work that I do and that I believe in.

What are your career aspirations?

As I’ve been working professionally for about 25 years now, in looking ahead to the next 25 years my aspiration would be to continue working with fantastic teams and pursuing movements of change which ultimately impact positively people’s lives.

What is your current role and how long have you been working in it?

I’m the current Artistic Director of Clonmel Junction Arts Festival. I’ve been in this role since last June, although I did work with the Festival for many years as Festival Manager before leaving in 2014.

How did you get to where you are today and what influenced your decision to work in your chosen field?

I did an Arts degree in UCD followed a post-grad in Public Relations. I moved down to Clonmel in my early 20’s and was working in a great company called VisionID marketing barcode scanning software. I was really terrible at it! I just couldn’t get excited or enthusiastic about it. I read a book called What Colour is Your Rainbow and I decided I would go after something that I really loved. So I approached the then Festival Director and asked him if he wanted a hand with the Marketing. I pretty much talked my way into the job and then went on every arts marketing course going so I could get up to speed.

What do you love/enjoy most about your job?

I really love my job! You can to meet so many amazingly creative people, who I am genuinely in awe of their talent.  It is such a buzz being about to programme some of your favourite artists in Clonmel. I get so passionate about some of the artists, I insist friends go to experience the festival and they always thank me afterwards.  I love the way art can completely change the way you look at things.

And what are the most challenging parts of your job?

Budgets. You’re always working in the unknown with funders and sponsors and ticket sales. That can be very difficult. And stressful.

How do you relax?

I try to run or go to the gym in the morning, especially when I’m busy. The endorphins keep me going until at least 3pm! This whole keep fit thing is a revelation to me. I was the most unsporty child ever. Although I did practically live on top of a horse when I was a child but after I had children I gave it up completely. I’m now back in the saddle and it really does keep me sane. There is something about the smell of the earth, and the power of the horse that just grounds you.

What skills and personality traits do you think are essential for a job like yours?

The ability to multi-task and hold your nerve! There are constantly so many balls in the air, and you have to remember what you can slot where. Also being able to make decisions quickly. And grit. During festival time, you work really long days and don’t get a day off for weeks, you just have to suck it up and get on with it. But it’s all worth it when you look back at the fantastic work getting seen by new audiences who are in awe of it as I was when I first saw the work.

What’s your advice to anyone who wants to pursue a career in the same field?

You really have to work hard. And network. Go to many events and volunteer. So often, good volunteers end up getting paid work and great jobs. We as a Festival always try to do this. The good volunteers always stand out.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?

My father always said to me If you want something, go for it. It’s so true, if you want something bad enough, you’ll find a way to get it.

What has been the best moment of your career so far?

Getting the giant pair of Red Shoes installed over the foyer of The Gate Theatre! I jest, no it was definitely getting the position here as Festival Director in Clonmel Junction Arts Festival. I literally put blood, sweat and tears into the Festival over the years so it was just lovely to come back as Festival Director.

What are your career aspirations?

I want to run a really large-scale event or Festival, something massive, with no budgetary constraints! That’s the dream.

Clonmel Junction Arts Festival 2018 runs from 2–8 July. Check out the full festival programme (from Thu 24 May) at Junctionfestival.com

What is your current role and how long have you been working in it?

I am the Executive Director of Irish National Opera. The company was launched last January with an inaugural concert that featured some of Ireland’s best opera singers. INO is the first truly national company that will present opera in larger theatres in Dublin and elsewhere, and also maintain and develop touring throughout Ireland. I have held this position since the inception of the company – which means, just four months.

How did you get to where you are today and what influenced your decision to work in your chosen field?

I’ve always worked in the arts & culture sector and cannot imagine, for the moment anyway, of working in any other sphere. My academic background is literature and I was fortunate to have the opportunity to study in Boston, Zurich and Dublin. I am from Italian-speaking Switzerland and discovered opera at an early age, though I did not fully appreciate it until I was in my 20s. I landed my first proper job after university with Boston Lyric Opera. There I worked in various capacities with some extraordinary individuals. I didn’t realise it at the time, but it was really a training ground for and an apprenticeship in arts administration.

After a short stint with Opera Theatre Company in Dublin, I joined the executive of the Arts Council (of Ireland). This experience gave me an insight into arts and public funding policy. I was Executive Producer with Rough Magic Theatre Company for a number of happy and thrilling years. That experience gave me a firm grasp of the performing arts sector in Ireland. I am excited to be back in the opera business now, as opera is my first love.

What do you love/enjoy most about your job?

I get to meet and work with some remarkable people – colleagues at the office, singers, musicians, creative and technical teams and opera supporters and fans. It really is a privilege. Also, we are a brand-new company, a start-up, so we are building everything from scratch, which is exciting.

And what are the most challenging parts of your job?

At the moment we are working on establishing the company and the brand. This is a challenge as everything is happening at the same time (productions, the need to set up systems and procedures, devising and implementing policies and planning for 2019 and beyond). Once the company is fully staffed and established, the challenge will be to ensure its financial viability.

How do you relax?

I enjoy vigorous hiking. I find Howth Head particularly beautiful – if you do the entire loop, you experience several different landscapes all in the one walk. In the right weather, the view over the sea and across harbours is stunning.

What skills and personality traits do you think are essential for a job like yours?

The most important personality traits are a positive attitude, a willingness to learn and the ability to rely on the expertise of others. Opera management and production can only come to successful fruition through genuine team work, usually a very large team. There are many necessary skills, but the key ones are financial management and fundraising.

As many of my colleagues working in arts organisations can attest, working in this field can lead to difficult and stressful situations. The best antidote is a healthy sense of humour.

What’s your advice to anyone who wants to pursue a career in the same field?

University will not prepare you for a job – so study a subject you really enjoy. You will learn how to do the job later. Try to gain experience in a variety of fields – finance, marketing, fundraising, contracting, tour management and so on. Learn how to write – effective communication is a powerful tool.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?

Believe in yourself and in your work.

What has been the best moment of your career so far?

Watching the reaction of an enraptured audience at our recent production of “The Marriage of Figaro” in the Gaiety Theatre.

What are your career aspirations?

To continue to work in a stimulating environment and to make a meaningful contribution to cultural life.

What is your current role and how long have you been working in it?

I am Artistic Director of the Complex and have been since 2010.

How did you get to where you are today and what influenced your decision to work in your chosen field?

I have always been a theatre director, working freelance in the UK and in Ireland, until I no longer wanted to work in theatres with fixed seating and a separation between the audience and the performer. At that point I decided to try to create my own kind of place where the physical barriers were obsolete and multi-arts could co-exist. It is inspiring to work alongside artists in neighbouring disciplines because I have found it leads to more open thinking, braver decisions and a more varied taste palette.

I am committed to the local community and especially of Dublin 7, in which I have been immersed for the last eighteen years. The Complex is involved with the projects in the area, producing some work with the High Hopes Choir for people in homelessness, ‘Browbeating’ a collaborative piece of theatre with the Abbey, with women experiencing intimidation through debt and crime, and through Complex Youth Theatre, drama for young people in their teens.  I am proud that we have the local people’s support which is down to presenting work in an inclusive and accessible way.

My job definitely chose me. I have made several attempts to get away, but it catches me up and returns me like a hostage.

What do you love/enjoy most about your job?

I have to pinch myself on most days. The Complex is in great shape and has been really rewarding, with artist’s studios that have all enjoyed full occupancy since the beginning and a full programme of exhibitions, theatre, festivals, circus, music and dance, bringing a myriad of practitioners into contact with me and the team here. It is always changing and so never predictable or repetitive. And people are always interesting especially when they are sharing their creativity and allowing you into their vulnerabilities, and to see what they care about.

I like leading the team and enabling projects to happen, finding ways around the roadblocks. We have space to trade which is a valuable commodity in the City Centre. It means there is usually a way to make possibilities become real.

And what are the most challenging parts of your job?

The Complex has defied the odds and inhabits a large warehouse in the city centre at affordable rent levels. The challenge is always around the corner that it will go under development and we will be displaced out into the suburbs where we will struggle to get audiences. The City Council has been incredibly supportive but it may need to take a step further to ensure that art houses like ours are retained in the City, through planning measures, ensuring that first plans are not repealed.

The Complex has been lucky with a fantastic stream of workers over the years. But I am territorial about my team, like an old wolf and I take it badly when staff want to move on.

How do you relax?

I go hiking with my teenage son and our dog at the weekends. And I drink.

What skills and personality traits do you think are essential for a job like yours?

You have to like leading and making brave decisions. You also need to listen to your instincts, collaborate when necessary, to enjoy people and acknowledge their strengths, play to them and always retain your humour, in the face of the successes and all the calamities too.

What’s your advice to anyone who wants to pursue a career in the same field?

I would advise them to try to do something else, because it is a precarious road, and only to pursue it if they cannot avoid it. Then to watch and learn from the good ones.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?

To know when to stop trying to control my life’s course.

What has been the best moment of your career so far?

It was when I completed my first site specific production of a new play called ‘Green’ by Anthony Goulding as part of the 1996 Dublin Fringe Festival in the North Dublin Brewing Company. The freedom was overwhelming to be able to stage a story in that way, with the audience close to the action, mobile like on a film set.

What are your career aspirations?

I hope to develop a final and permanent Complex in the markets, with a larger ground floor space, comprising an open plan venue that can seat 400 if required, with height and scope for all kinds of live arts and the ability to livestream or film productions for transmission. It will have 20 studios, a gallery and room for technical building, a bar, a restaurant and a community arts room. A pipe dream…or?

Monthly career interview with professionals in the creative sector

 

1. What is your current role and how long have you been working in it?

Since 2000 I’ve been head of the IFI Irish Film Archive, which is part of the Irish Film Institute, Ireland’s cultural institution for Film. www.ifi.ie.  The Archive is custodian of Ireland’s national moving image collection, a unique cultural and historical resource reflecting indigenous film production from 1897 to the present day. We preserve a wide range of moving image types, including newsreels, feature films, animations, home movies and documentaries. In addition to the work of such luminaries as John Boorman, Neil Jordan and Jim Sheridan we hold films made within local communities by amateur filmmakers. Our collections are a record of the last century’s most important social, political and historical events; making these images available to the Irish public enables us to collectively connect with our past and enriches our understanding of this pivotal period in Irish history. My job is to devise our strategy, oversee the development and implementation of policies and procedures and to secure funding to ensure we can continue to develop.

2. How did you get to where you are today and what influenced your decision to work in your chosen field?

I followed a fairly circuitous route, which I think shows how difficult it is to know what career you want when in school. I had always intended a career in fashion and studied it for 4 years in NCAD before realising I didn’t like the business side. A brief detour into media studies led to a work placement at the National Museum of Ireland, where I became aware that archiving was a profession. I ended up staying in the Museum for 5 years working in the conservation department, during that time I completed a part-time MA in Museum Studies from Leicester University. There was a public service recruitment embargo then, so my chances of a permanent job were restricted and I decided to get a post grad qualification in Archiving from UCD. This led me to a brief stint managing a digitisation project in the National Archives, during which time I applied for, and was offered my current role.

3. What do you love/enjoy most about your job?

It’s very rewarding to know that I am helping to protect and share our national memory. The collections in the Archive are endlessly fascinating, the material we safe-guard is such a vivid and tangible document of Ireland’s past and really shows the development of modern Ireland at a time of unprecedented change. After all these years I’m still excited by the content of our collections and eager to make them as widely available as possible which is why developing the IFI Player has been such a rewarding experience www.ifiplayer.ie. Another bonus is that I work with an amazing team, who are dedicated and fearlessly take on every challenge they encounter. I can honestly say the commitment and enthusiasm of the archive team is one of the things I enjoy most about my job.

4. And what are the most challenging parts of your job?

I think that moving image preservation is unfortunately not as high up the cultural agenda as it should be and funding is always an issue within the arts in Ireland. Approximately 70% of the Irish Film Institute’s revenue is self-generated with the remainder coming from grants, sponsorship and our commercial activities; the Irish Arts Council is our main funder. As is common in many cultural institutions the Archive has been under-staffed and under-resourced for much of its existence. However, despite these difficulties the Archive has been fortunate to have an energetic and highly experienced staff that ensure the resources available to them are effectively employed and we have been able to achieve a lot with small budgets.

One of the biggest challenges we have faced in recent years has been the move from analogue to digital production and distribution. Restricted budgets, the rapid change in digital technologies and the increasing speed of format obsolescence have exacerbated the scale of the challenge but we have made great strides in this area even considering our limited resources. In recent years we have undertaken a major digital infrastructure upgrade project which radically changed our ability to collect, preserve and make accessible the digital collections which we are acquiring in ever increasing quantities. We also published our Digital Preservation and Access Strategy http://www.ifi.ie/wp-content/uploads/DPAS-V.2.pdf which has been very well received internationally, and it continues to be a roadmap for our digital development. This shift within the industry to digital has not only required the acquisition of new technological solutions, but staff have also been obliged to develop new skills and new ways of thinking about collections management and access. Securing funding to enable us to continue to protect our digital collections will be an ongoing challenge for the IFI as an organisation, but it is vital to ensure Ireland’s national moving image heritage is protected and available for future generations.

5. How do you relax?

I’m involved in greyhound rescue, so I spend a lot of time with the dogs! I also like to sew so my fashion degree didn’t go to waste. I love music so go to gig’s regularly and I also occasionally DJ in a great venue pub called the Thomas House in Dublin.

6. What skills and personality traits do you think are essential for a job like yours?

Apart from having the “archive gene” I think you need to be methodical, organised in order to understand the huge variety of systems and standards we have to devise and implement; you also need to be optimistic and really believe you can make a difference, as seeking funding within the cultural sector can be very disheartening; you also need to be determined, and patient, as it often takes a long time to get things done in the arts! Some of the projects I have been working on since I started in the role are only coming to fruition now.

7. What’s your advice to anyone who wants to pursue a career in the same field?

Volunteer in an Archive for a few months to make sure you understand the profession you are going into. The outside perception of what happens in an archive and the reality are often very different. We’ve had interns over the years from history backgrounds who have been frustrated by the more mundane, repetitive aspects of the job, like cataloguing or checking the condition of holdings. They think that they will spend their days delving into boxes or film cans discovering wonderful treasures, while that does happen from time to time, most of the job is more ordinary than that and requires rigorous attention to detail and adherence to very carefully thought out collections management policies and procedures.

8. What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?

Volunteer! As I mentioned above I’m a great believer in using work placements to gain experience and a realistic understanding of the profession you are interested in, particularly if it requires years of study. I spent 5 years in Art college and then realised I didn’t like the fashion industry. The other good piece of advice I was given is to collaborate, we work collaboratively with other organisations and that certainly pays dividends in terms of sharing resources and expertise.

9. What has been the best moment of your career so far?

There are so many! Two moments that were particularly memorable come to mind. Brendan Bowyer coming in for a screening of the Royal Showband documentary The One Nighters and singing three songs to a backing track in cinema 1, the crowds were literally dancing in the aisles that night ! The other was the sight of Daniel Day Lewis coming in on his motorbike for a screening of My Left Foot as part of a Neil Jordan retrospective. He and co-star Hugh O’Connor were greeting each other and catching up in the lobby of the Archive building, as very star struck Archive staff were leaving for the evening. In terms of projects the Irish Adverts Project was definitely a highlight http://ifiplayer.ie/adverts/. This was an 18 month project funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland where we conserved, catalogued and digitised thousands of adverts made for Irish TV in the 1960, 70s and 80s. It really caught the public’s imagination and received a great deal of media interest, including a feature on the Late Late Show.

10. What are your career aspirations?

Finishing my PhD I hope! I’m currently undertaking part-time PhD research in DCU on the area of film archiving and the development of policy and provision in Ireland compared to the rest of the world. We have a very different relationship to our moving image heritage than other western countries and I’m examining why that is and how we might improve the situation. It’s an area that hasn’t been really looked at before, so who knows I may look at turning my research into a book!

If you’re a professional who works in the creative sector and you’re interested in taking part in the ‘My Creative Career’ interview series, please get in touch by emailing Brendan at brendan@creativecareers.ie.  We’d love to hear from you!