Artistic Director of Cut the Cord Camilla Gürtler talks about achieving sustainable leadership within the arts in collaboration with the Nordic Council of Ministers

An opportunity for leaders across industries to connect on a global scale, International Leadership Week, taking place from Tuesday 16th until Thursday 19th November 2020 will offer insight into how best to achieve effective leadership. A digital initiative encouraging inclusivity and transparency – the week looks to inspire, celebrate great leadership and bring about changes. Driven by inspiring social change within her work, Cut the Cord’s Artistic Director Camilla Gürtler, in collaboration with Nordic Council of Ministers will present a trio of podcasts connecting Nordic and UK leaders on how best to achieve sustainability within the arts. An advocate of the Nordic model of sustainability, having started to explore this within her work, Camilla tells us more about what to expect from the conversations.

Hi Camilla, as part of International Leadership Week, Cut the Cord will be leading a trio of live discussions on sustainable leadership in collaboration with the Nordic Council of Ministers, the three areas of discussion being Climate Action, Diversity and Inclusivity and the Future of Artistic Leadership and Development. Why is it important to explore and find solutions for these 3 areas in particular?

Sustainability includes many areas, and what we want to achieve is a wholesome way of making the arts sector rebuild better. That means both in relation to climate action goals, but also in terms of equality and opportunity, and the way we support the next generation of artists and whose voices are being heard. We think these 3 areas are the key to making the creative sector fairer, greener and more transparent. We face huge devastation and irreversible change with climate change if we don’t take a stand as an industry. But in order to create real positive change, we also need to make sure the industry is representative of all voices, and that artistic leaders use their positions of power to enforce positive actions for the future. To really investigate how the creative sector can play a part in a more sustainable future, we felt all 3 areas needed to be addressed.   

Can you explain what these topics of discussion will involve?

The discussions will address more sustainable working processes in the arts sector and how these can transform leadership in both creative organisations and beyond. They engage cultural leaders in a debate on how to ensure the future of the arts is more inclusive, sustainable and equal. This includes topics such as what a cultural leader’s role is in ensuring an organisation’s climate goals, how we ensure a diverse and inclusive cultural sector, and the ways in which we can reimagine organisational structures to ensure a more sustainable leadership model.

We want to explore how we shift an in-grown model and rebuild in a more sustainable way, on all accounts. Change doesn’t have to come in steps – inclusive and sustainable practice can incorporate all these action points. We discuss the practices and action points already taken by cultural leaders, organisations and movements to lay out an inspiring toolbox for a more equal and inclusive arts sector that plays an active role in climate action.

The talks will hold the arts to account on a global scale, aiming to highlight the importance of protecting the industry and encourage growth – panellists including Tamasha Theatre’s Artistic Director Fin Kennedy and Unge Viken Teater’s Artistic Director Bo Anders Sundstedt. How have you approached organising the panel discussions?

We wanted to find panellists who have been making inspirational work within the three areas, who have already created a set of positive actions that can inspire others. It was important to us to include passionate cultural leaders and movements, who are all in the position to make key changes to the industry, and who have already had the experience of making these positive shifts. It was a bit of a puzzle as we needed to ensure the panels were small but varied in experience and included two Nordic panellists and one from the UK, bringing perspectives from very different locations and countries. We’ve been fortunate enough to connect with many innovative and passionate organisations and cultural leaders in all participating countries, and we are really excited to highlight the amazing work they do. In each panel we’ve tried to vary the experience of the panellists and how they’ve worked within the topics – for example, our Climate Action talk has panellists from both climate action movements and a venue, giving different insights into how we can incorporate climate goals into artistic work and leadership. In the same way, our panel on Diversity and Inclusivity include organisations leading on both representation of artists of diverse cultural backgrounds, as well as disability-led work and work for and by the LGBTQIA+ community.

Our last talk covers both the importance of artist development, and what the future of artistic leadership will look like – so programming these talks was really about ensuring we hear many different perspectives and working methods from cultural leaders we admire.

Commissioned by the Nordic Council of Ministers for their Nordic Talks podcast, these conversations will be accessible to international audiences who’ll gain a greater insight into how sustainability is currently being factored into the arts. Why is this crucial?

Transparency and accessibility are crucial in making the arts sector more sustainable – these discussions can’t just be for and with big organisations and cultural leaders behind closed doors. We need them to be open access and available to all to really have an impact and start a ripple effect of actions made by both cultural leaders, institutions and artists. The talks are with cultural leaders, investigating the future of sustainable leadership in the arts – but they are just as much for artists watching, looking for ways to incorporate a more sustainable practice. It’s important we reach the cultural leaders and artists of the future, to ensure these are not just one-off conversations, but long-term goals with impact. And these topics are not just reserved for certain countries or regions, but for the creative sector as a whole, internationally, and that’s why we’ve made them free to join – so that artists and organisations can join, wherever they are, and take part in these discussions. 

The collaboration will offer an opportunity for discussions to explore the Nordic model of sustainability and how this can be implemented within the UK and internationally. Why in particular explore the Nordic model further?

Sustainability has been a big Nordic focus for years, as well as a focus on equality and transparency. For the past few years we’ve been showcasing Nordic theatre in the UK and focusing on collaborations with the Nordic countries, and with that we’ve started exploring more Nordic ways of working. I think there are many things we can take from the Nordic model when looking to rebuild the arts sector after Covid-19. Both in more transparent leadership models, with a flatter hierarchy, but also in how organisations commit to social responsibility such as climate goals. We also see great shifts in the UK, with a strong focus on diversity and making the arts more representative, and that’s why we find the combination of the Nordic and UK panellists so exciting. I think there’s a lot we can learn from each other and the positive actions made by cultural leaders in both regions, and hopefully the combination of these can lead to a much more sustainable creative sector in the future. 

You’ve been quoted as saying “As the creative sector and the rest of the world look at ways of rebuilding after the pandemic, we wanted to find a way to investigate how the arts can play a key part in a more sustainable world.” How do you feel art can achieve this?

The arts have the power to reach people, to inspire and to move. As artists we have such an influence on people’s lives – just imagine going through this pandemic without any form of artistic output – and with that comes a huge responsibility. The creative sector has the power to bring people together, to bring empathy, to be educational, provide escapism – and to change the world. It doesn’t have to be political to have an influence on people’s lives, and so it’s important the arts take a stand on sustainability. This includes the public messages of course, but also in how art is being created, both by artists and by organisations. And this is what we want to explore in the talks – how can we build a better, more sustainable foundation for artists and art for the future. When the creative sector has this power to influence and inspire, we need to make sure we set a positive example – both in our messaging, but also in our working models and how artists are supported. I truly believe that if the whole creative industry implemented sustainability goals and better equality and representation of underrepresented voices, then we’d see this positive shift in other industries and people’s lives.

What do you hope the conversations will achieve? 

I hope they will provide others in the industry with some clear action points for the future, that can contribute to a change in how we view sustainability and leadership in the arts. I hope the talks make other cultural leaders commit to similar action points and realise the power they hold for change. I also hope the talks inspire artists to act, to be an active part of the change, so that we see this from both sides. We want to celebrate the work of inspiring cultural leaders and movements and together explore the action points for implementing this work more widely in the industry. The conversations are a call for action for more sustainable ways of running institutions and supporting the leaders of the future, particularly emerging artists. So, I hope we see a shift in priorities and a change in how we make art and for whom.  

How do you envision the arts moving forward?

The pandemic has really highlighted in which ways the industry – and society – needs to re-evaluate its structures and barriers in order to make it more open access, transparent and sustainable. I think the creative industry is investigating what our work is trying to achieve, and how we can best do this at a time where the arts and artists are trying to adjust to a very different world. I think the arts community has come together in a way I haven’t experienced before, and that’s very positive. I hope it leads to a change in how we do things, making the industry more open and transparent in leadership, more supportive of emerging artists, and more representative. A lot of positive movements have happened recently to ensure better representation of artists of all backgrounds and what stories are being told, and we need to keep pushing that. But we also need to question the relevance of the arts and what we bring to the public – and how we use our voice for positive change. Particularly when it comes to sustainability – I think we need to lead the way for a better society that protects our planet. I hope the future of the arts is an active industry that protects and supports its artists, that is strongly connected to communities and that uses its voice for positive social change.

Questions by Lucy Basaba.

Conversations covering Climate Action, Diversity & Inclusivity and Artist Development & The Future of Artistic Leadership will take place daily from Tuesday 17th until Thursday 19th November 2020 from 11am to 12:30pm (GMT) online. To find out more and to book your free ticket/s, visit here…

Written by Theatrefullstop