Artist as Leader (2007-09)

Introduction to the research

Research into the role of the artist working in public indicates that artists are uniquely placed to inform and creatively develop public life. In seeking to understand the Nature of Creativity in public contexts, this research focuses on the concept of ‘leading through practice’. It opens up a new trajectory of thinking about leadership that is not predominantly management based, in which the role of artist operating within social, cultural and environmental contexts is scrutinised for what it can reveal about creativity in general.

The Project

In response to the Cox Review ‘The Artist as Leader’ research drew together a practice based network of artists, researchers, organisational leaders and policy makers to explore the issue of leadership in the arts sector. The research was a partnership between:

On the Edge Research at Gray’s School of Art, Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen (academic research partner);

Performing Arts Labs (PAL) in London (cross-disciplinary development of professional creative practitioners in the arts, sciences, education, industry and government);

Cultural Enterprise Office, Scotland (business support for artists and Micro Businesses in the creative industries);

Scottish Leadership Foundation (raising the quality of leadership in Scotland’s public sector).

This research was developed through two strands. The first strand, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Research Networks Scheme (Creativity) 2006, took the form of thirty two open ended, in depth interviews with individuals drawn from arts practice, art organisations and cultural policy sectors (Research Assistant Chris Fremantle). The aim of this strand was to explore perceptions of leadership in relation to each contributor’s situation, experience and role.

The second strand, funded by Arts Council England’s Cultural Leadership Programme, the Scottish Arts Council and the Jerwood Foundation, took the form of a Lab in two parts: January and June 2008. Participants were selected from the network and included artists, policy makers and organisational leaders.


The research opened up a complexity around leadership in the arts that takes the discourse beyond the good management of organisations, skills and competencies. It resulted in three scenarios in which leadership emerges in the arts. Firstly, artists can be leaders through the sheer quality of their work and its recognition in the world, a means of experiencing the world differently. Secondly, artists frequently lead organisations to support the creation of new work and its presentation to or co-production with audiences and communities. Thirdly, artists as activists articulate a political role for the arts, opening up a space of civic discourse.

The research has been disseminated in a number of ways through refereed papers and conference presentations listed below. The Artist as Leader Research Report (Artist as Leader Research Report) analyses the interview material, placing the emergent discussion on leadership within a larger frame of cultural policy research and its effect on the funding and opportunity for artists.  The Artist as Leader film by Emma Davie, commissioned as part of the research to focus on the Lab process, offers a different perspective on the research questions and discussion that focuses on the diversity of individual voices, expectations and experiences.

The Artist as Leader research is currently developed further through the PhD research into cultural leadership of Jon Price (IDEAS funded).

Two Clore Fellows, Sofaer and Matarasso, and Fokert, a writer in media theory, cite the impact of the Artist as Leader research in terms of new influential ways of thinking about practice of the arts. Sofaer, the first dedicated ‘Artist Fellow’ within Clore, acknowledges this research in 2012 as an important precursor to his own perceptions of leadership, in particular the need to publically recognize where and how artists are leading within the wider social, cultural spheres. Sofaer uses this need to underpin in depth interviews with high level practitioners: Cornelia Parker, Field Theory, First Draft, Masato Nakamura, Richard Layzell, Richard Hicks, Kate Love and David Wilson. He publishes on the same platform as the early output of Artist as Leader (2007): an with a 18k professional readership and 32 year archive of artistic practice.

Matarasso (2010), an independent writer and Clore Fellow, was commissioned by NESTA and Clore Leadership programme to explore the role of the arts in our current age of economic and environmental uncertainty. He notes that the Artist as Leader ‘s definition of leadership is far removed from stereotypes of the romantic genius, emphasizing the ‘collaborative and social’ and the ‘relational’. The research positions the artist in relationship with others as a way of opening up problems to better ways forward to adapting to cultural change. This is viewed as a counterpoint to quantifying the value of culture and the arts


Research participants

David Butler, Life Work Art, University of Newcastle upon Tyne
Emma Davie, Film maker and Lecturer, Edinburgh College of Art (Lab participant)
Roanne Dods, Director, Jerwood Foundation, London (Lab participant)
Angus Farquhar, Creative Director NVA, Glasgow
Lee French,  Publisher Variant, Glasgow
David Harding,  Head of Environmental Art (retired), Glasgow School of Art
Matt Hulse, Experimental Film maker and Lecturer, Edinburgh College of Art (Lab participant)
Jackie Kay, Poet, Manchester and Professor of Poetry, University of Newcastle upon Tyne (Lab participant)
Jude Kelly, Artistic Director of Southbank Centre London
Maggie Kinloch, Head of Drama, RSAMD , Glasgow
C. Lappin, Executive Director, Y-Dance, Glasgow
Bob Last, Producer, Dundee
Robert Laycock, Artist and Chief Executive, Helix Arts, Newcastle upon Tyne
Kirstin Lloyd, Curator, Stills, Edinburgh (Lab participant)
Liz Lochhead, Poet and Writer in Residence, Glasgow School of Art
James Marriot, Artist and Co-Director PLATFORM London (Lab participant)
Lucy Mason, National Performing Companies Unit, Edinburgh and Scottish Executive (Europe, External Affairs and Culture)
Francis McKee, Curator and Director CCA, Glasgow
Janice Parker, Independent Choreographer Edinburgh (Lab participant)
Adele Patrick, Lifelong Learning Co-ordinator, Glasgow Women’s Library
G Porter, Artist and Founder President, Scottish Artist Union, Glasgow
G Robertson, Artistic Director, Catherine Wheels Theatre Company, Edinburgh
Angela Saunders, Head of Cultural Participation and Advocacy, Culture Division, Scottish Government (Lab participant)
Phillip Schlesinger, Director, Centre for Cultural Policy Research, University of Glasgow
Andrew Senior, Head of Creative Economies Unit, British Council
Tom Shakespeare, Performance Artist, Chair Arts Council North East, Newcastle upon Tyne
Simon Sharkey, Associate Director New Learning, National Theatre of Scotland
Barbara Steveni, Co-Founder APG/O+I, London 
Jim Tough, Acting Director Scottish Arts Council, Edinburgh (Lab Participant)
John Wallace, Principal, RSAMD Glasgow (Lab Participant)
Zoe van Zwanenberg, Chief Executive, Scottish Leadership Foundation, Edinburgh (Lab Participant)

Lab provocateurs

Bob Last, Producer, Dundee
Graham Leicester, International Futures Forum, St Andrews
Phillip Schlesinger, Centre for Cultural Policy Research, University of Glasgow
Tom Shakespeare, Performance Artist, Chair Arts Council North East, Newcastle upon Tyne




  1. […] I was so happy to spend a few hours dialoging with Anne Douglas last week about our mutual interest into the connection points between the artist and leadership. Anne and her colleagues in Scotland have been doing some interesting thinking about this and it seems we have similar ideas as well as divergent ones. One of the exciting outcomes about Anne’s work culminated in a week long residential round table between artists and policy makers/funders etc in Scotland where the group explored these ideas through dialogue, performance, visual arts, film, poetry, walking, explorining, cleaning up the environment – check it out […]

  2. […] Artist as Leader (2007-09) […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: