Monday, 5 November 2012

Guest post: "A question of value", by Rebecca Lamoin (Australia)

A few weeks ago, in my post On public value, I mentioned that Kennedy Center fellow Rebecca Lamoin, from  the Queensland Performing Arts Centre, was organizing a two-day forum on the public value of cultural institutions. In preparation of this project, Rebecca asked arts managers three really crucial questions: "What is the most important thing your organisation delivers to your community? Why do your communities love you? What people in your city would miss if your organisation wasn’t there anymore?". As promised at the time, Rebecca is now giving us some feedback on how the forum went. Let´s not forget that this is only the beginning of the project, so we´ll also be curious to know how it develops in the next months and what the final outcome is, so I am sure we´ll be hearing from Rebecca again. mv

In whose interest? ABC Radio National panel discussion with, from left to right, Rhonda White (QPAC Board Member), Mark Moore (Harvard University), Julianne Schultz (Griffith University) and Paul Barclay (Host, Big Ideas, ABC Radio National). Photo: QPAC

In the introduction to On Kissing, Tickling and Being Bored, Adam Phillips refers to psychoanalysis as a story, or a way of telling stories, that makes people feel better. In making such a statement, Mr Phillips demonstrates his able skills as both a psychotherapist and lauded master of language.  He reminds us that one of the key aims of engaging in storytelling is to make people feel better – about themselves, about others and the world. It strikes me that this is also a key ambition of art.

As arts managers we too seek out stories as a way to cast different light and shadow on people, places and ideas. In developing a recent project, it occured to me that the ability to create a solid and captivating narrative is a skill required of us not only in curating programs for our audiences, but in communicating the fundamental purpose of the organisations we work for.

The public value project

The public value project, although not poetically titled, is nonetheless intended to illuminate the key points in a narrative about a major performing arts centre and its interconnectedness with the communities it serves.

The Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC) is one of Australia’s leading cultural institutions and over its 27 year history has served the people of Queensland, the country’s second largest state. QPAC attracted more than one million visitors in the last year and presented more than 1400 performances that spanned comedy, dance, music, musicals, drama and more. It is financially stable, growing in reputation and capacity. By almost any measure, and certainly the ones applied to it, it is a successful centre. In asking ourselves the question “What comes next?”, in the knowledge that growth doesn’t simply mean expansion, we cast our collective attention backwards to reflect on our mission, our core purpose. What is it exactly that we want to be, what is the story, the overarching narrative of our Centre?
We have constructed a year long project with the principal purpose of shaping a shared story about who we are that doffs its hat to our many past achievements and sets up the coming decade. We have relied significantly on the work of a leading figure in the field of public management, Harvard Professor Mark H Moore. His seminal book Creating Public Value: Strategic Management in Government impacted on public policy discourse around the world in the mid-90s. Professor Moore’s concept of public is simultaneously simple and complex and I do it no justice by summarising it here, but I offer this: private companies exist to create shareholder value, public organisations exist to create public value. The questions of what constitutes public value and who gets to decide what it is, is where the nuance begins. In essence, he proposes that public organisations create value when they fulfil the social ambitions contained in their missions.

Professor Mark H. Moore

Last week QPAC was fortunate to have Professor Moore spend two days with us discussing what this concept means for a publicly owned performing arts centre. This is not unusual territory for Professor Moore. He spent several years on a work commissioned by Arts Midwest and the Wallace Foundation that looked at how 13 state arts agencies in the United States created public value (see here).

Professor Moore delivered a public keynote address, participated in a national radio discussion and facilitated workshops with our Board and staff that sought to offer a broad introduction to issues and practice relating to public value and to support QPAC in moving forward. Details of his sessions can be found here.

Free public lecture by Mark H. Moore on public value. (Photo: QPAC)

More than 400 people turned out to hear Professor Moore’s introductory lecture. They represented government, business, education, non-profits, and arts organisations large and small. For QPAC, we wanted to share this incredible thinker during his brief time with us; for the rest of the city it was an opportunity to give voice and space to a subject that is clearly timely, relevant and perhaps offers a way to navigate some of the complexities of contemporary public leadership.    

In his time with the QPAC Board and staff, Professor Moore’s expertise and questioning was both provocative and comforting. He challenged us to consider what we are, what those who give us authority want us to be and what we have the capacity to deliver. As an arts organisation, we considered the territory between our accomplishments – great programs, large audiences and financial success – and genuine achievement in creating a better and more engaged citizenry through art.

What next?

QPAC’s public value project continues in coming months with discussion deepening within the organisation and expanding to include rich dialogue with our partners, colleagues and communities. Our thinking and learning will be woven into our next planning cycle and will certainly be evident in all that we do going forward.

In the next phase of the project we face the challenge of defining exactly what kind of value we seek to create and of course the inevitable challenge of how we will measure it. It is a challenge we look forward to tackling.

Large organisations that are created to serve a public almost always benefit from moments of honest reflection undertaken with a genuine desire to be better at what they do. If at our core we are about facilitating ways for people to share stories then perhaps the most significant outcome of Professor Moore’s visit and our ongoing work is that we too will find new ways, our own way to tell the story of how we work with the communities we serve to create public value through art.

Rebecca Lamoin
is the Associate Director, Strategy at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre in Brisbane, Australia. She has worked in large and small arts organizations in a variety of roles across multiple art forms, including performing arts, visual arts, literature and festivals. She has a Bachelor of Arts (Journalism) and a Master of Arts in Cultural Policy. She is an International Fellow of the DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington DC.

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