Breaking down silos builds good cultural leadership
An interview with Tina Walsberger, Edinburgh International Festival’s Marketing and Communications Director.
Article from Arts Hub – 21 October 2019
By Richard Watts
Breaking out of our existing silos is one of the best ways to learn about new ideas and best practice from our peers, according to Tina Walsberger, Marketing and Communications Director at Edinburgh International Festival.
‘I believe we’re always better off when there’s a diversity of thinking,’ said Walsberger, the international keynote speaker at the upcoming Communicating the Arts conference in Sydney in November.
Formerly the Head of Marketing and Customer Services at Sydney Festival, where she helped grow attendance numbers to a record 653,000 in 2017, Walsberger joined Edinburgh International Festival in 2018. Her team – which numbers up to 40 people at its peak – helped the festival achieve £4 million (AUD $7,449,832) in sales this August for only the third time in its history.
At the 24th Communicating the Arts conference (formerly known as Communicating the Museum, and now open to members of the performing arts sector as well as the visual arts and museums sectors) Walsberger will be one of more than 250 national and international experts, sharing insights and advice into best marketing and communications practice, resulting professional development opportunities.
‘I spoke at the Communicating the Arts conference in Copenhagen in June, where the artforms were first merged. Both speakers and presenters came from all over the world and worked across sectors, which provided fascinating new approaches to shared problems. It’s also safe to say that the [conference] theme of Leadership will create plenty of common ground for everyone – some of my most meaningful mentors have been from entirely unrelated industries,’ Walsberger said.
Having worked in nine cities across five different countries, Walsberger has a rare and valuable insight into the importance of leadership in the arts. But what does good cultural leadership look like?
‘To me, great leadership is a combination of clarity of vision, ambition, empowerment and mentorship. It’s about creating goals for people to reach with sufficient support to reach them,’ she said.
A TALE OF TWO FESTIVALS
With time spent in both Sydney and Edinburgh, Walsberger is well placed to discuss the similarities and differences between each city and the festivals they host.
‘As the world’s festival city, Edinburgh is filled to the brim with arts enthusiasts every August, some of whom see several shows a day, for three weeks – the challenge here is to cut through in one of the world’s busiest arts landscapes, which hosts five festivals simultaneously. It’s even more vital to have a clear proposition that stands out amongst many other excellent offerings. There’s also an enormous benefit of existing within a proud ecosystem of arts festivals, because we combine forces to solve shared challenges,’ she explained.
‘With a 72 year history, there’s also an incredible sense of ownership amongst Edinburgh audiences. There’s great loyalty and a real sense of being held accountable. When the festival shifted its branding to a yellow and black colour palette, there was an immediate influx of letters and emails with opinions of every nature. I really enjoy the passion residents have for their local arts organisations. This is also reflected in a strength of local philanthropy and local government support.
‘Of course you find this in Australia too – arts lovers travel all over the country to experience the various festivals. It’s also amazing to see so much Australian art (as well as staff) in Edinburgh. There’s a sense here that Australia is a great contributor to the world’s cultural landscape, something that I felt in Australia but am so proud to see flourishing up north,’ Walsberger said.
FROM KEYNOTE TO SELF CARE
In her international keynote at Communicating the Arts, Brand Leadership: Growing a successful brand when everything else is shifting, Walsberger will discuss the challenges of maintaining and growing arts brands and what organisations can do to set themselves up for success.
‘Working from the perspective of a major festival brand, our identity is almost entirely made up of collective buy-in; we don’t own our venues, we don’t produce our art, even the majority of our staff members work short-term,’ she explained.
‘So, to deliver excellent festivals that live up to their brand promises, it takes a lot of work within an organisation. We’ll cover the need for shared goals, the importance of internal communication, empowerment of staff and how to review and readjust regularly.’
As well as her keynote presentation at Communicating the Arts, Walsberger will also discuss ways arts workers can avoid burn-out in the past-paced, high pressure festival environment during a presentation on the second day of the conference.
‘Wellbeing is a vital issue and I think the creative sector only stands to benefit from some focus on the issue. Our sector is enormously ambitious and struggles with limited resources, which makes us prone to putting in longer hours. I don’t expect this will change very quickly. But we also benefit from work that is generally meaningful and purpose driven – we’re a sector that loves what we do and we find a lot of energy for our work. My talk will focus on a few actionable exercises that can help us find more energy and avoid burnout.’
A PASSION FOR COMMUNICATION
Clearly, Walsberger is passionate about arts marketing – but why?
‘To ask about the importance of arts marketing is ultimately to ask about the importance of art,’ she told ArtsHub.
‘The purpose of marketing is to find and retain audiences, without which the arts couldn’t thrive.
‘I’m passionate about the arts for creating platforms for important stories and moments of shared enjoyment. We do a lot to connect diverse audiences with artforms they may not otherwise have found, hopefully creating some form of impact beyond the moment,’ Walsberger concluded.