Jessica Alice is a writer, editor, broadcaster and artistic programmer who was selected to take part in the Australia Council Future Leaders Program in 2018. We caught up with Jessica as she was preparing to start her new role as Director of Writers SA to talk about the Future Leaders Program, what she has learned from the experience and what good leadership in the arts looks like.
I have held senior and leadership positions in some of Australia’s greatest arts organisations for over six years – recently as Program Manager of Melbourne Writers Festival, Co-Director of National Young Writers Festival and as part of the executive leadership team of Regional Arts Victoria. I’m thrilled to now begin a new role as Director of Writers SA, supporting writers and literature in South Australia.
I was attracted to the Australia Council Future Leaders Program because of the opportunity of time and space to meditate on my values and the state of creative organisations in Australia. Time and space are often hard to come by in the arts – particularly festivals where we work to an extraordinary pace – and this dedicated focus was what was simply, yet profoundly, impactful for me in the program.
I'm interested in collaboration, so I also loved the idea of being part of a cohort of such remarkably talented, diverse arts practitioners. A lot of my work in literary programming and within institutions is centred on collaborative partnerships – between organisations, artists, art forms – as a tool for community building. It's enriching to me to have this exchange among peers, too.
The program has made me surer of my values and curiouser about my curiosities. I'm spending a lot of time thinking about the health of organisations and the people within them. I’m working on the best models of facilitation, of understanding cultural context and practicing cultural safety.
As people who labour in the arts our whole selves are often in our work, and the divide between our personal, social and work lives can be blurred. The program reiterated to me how integral it is to take time to reflect on who we are, what we value and why, and to prioritise our mental and physical health. The same is true for organisations in assessing our health and success, and why we do what we do.
To me, leadership is about clarity of vision and purpose, and inspiring that vision in a collective to together bring about action and change. The best leadership helps others to become leaders in their own right.
It’s important to have leadership training specifically for the arts to recognise the reality and context of not-for-profits. Arts organisations are often driven by philosophies that may require different metrics for success, have a broader range of stakeholders, and the function of boards may be more nuanced than other sectors. Arts leaders must be advocates for a vision of the arts in public life and for our communities of writers and artists. We serve our communities, so we must be present within and representative of these communities.
We asked Jessica what she sees for her career going forward.
The future is full of such delicious possibility! I hope to still be challenging myself, working with community, and making a meaningful impact in the world.
Learn more about the Future Leaders Program.