How does some one who started out, a million years ago, as a ballet dancer end up offering services in strategic and business planning for the not for profit sector? Most of my career has been based on contract work, and has been spread over the arts, tertiary and community sectors. This has afforded me the opportunity to work on a large variety of projects and I value the breadth of experience this has given me. It is hard to summarise this sprawling career of overlapping contracts but this is what I have come up with so far:
- 1991-1999: Arts industry, worked as a freelance dancer and choreographer; developed management and business skills while I produced my own shows.
- 1999-2001: Worked as an English teacher in Japan. A wonderful cultural experience which also helped me to develop my group facilitation skills.
- 2001-2003: Focused on my studies – I attained a Graduate Diploma in Arts Management from RMIT University. Subjects studied included arts management (including marketing and business development), arts law (strong focus on intellectual property and contracts), cultural policy and procedure (how to analyse and create), managing a venue and managing a gallery. Much of the knowledge garnered from this course is transferable to other sectors.
- 2004-2010: Contract work for student services departments at RMIT University. Project management and event management, with a little administration thrown in. I worked on a great variety of projects, most had a strong focus on nurturing innovation in others (especially student artists) by applying my own innovative skills to devising / improving plans, procedures or systems. Rich experience!
- 2010-2011: 18 months spent as manager of Dandenong Neighbourhood House. My focus was on strengthening the governance, strategic, business and operational systems and procedures.
- 2011-2012: A 9 month contract as project manager of the Darebin Overseas Students Association (DOSA) Capacity Building project. The focus here was on supporting community leaders, developing relationships, community consultation and project planning.
This is the bare bones of it all, but there were many many smaller contracts on the side that I haven’t mentioned.
My work experience may seem to be varied, but to me there is a constant theme running through all I have done: I solve problems. I help people / projects that are stuck become unstuck. I am able to use my creative brain (what I call my ‘choreographer’s brain’) to invent solutions, identify opportunities, write documents or build plans. Many of the contracts I worked on were challenging and even unusual and I have spent more than my fair share of time working with people when they find themselves in a raw and vulnerable state. Sometimes this rawness and vulnerability is in response to an exciting new vision: an idea sits in their heads, all shiny and new and tantalising but untested and fragile. I help people decide how to best nurture their vision and what the first steps forward could be. My experience in the arts industry and working with talented staff and students at RMIT taught me how to do this.
Then there is the dark side: a project stalls, morale falters, goals and deadlines are missed, relationships with key partners become strained. I won’t mention any names here! But more than once I have devised risk management plans, renegotiated project plans and funding agreements, mended relationships, and generally disentangled messes.
I find this all to be intensely rewarding – it feeds that choreographer’s brain.