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In the first of a new occasional series offering senior arts professionals an opportunity to reflect on the industry, Peter Stark suggests that careers in the arts cannot be measured through linear progressions.
Heading towards my sixtieth year and three-quarters of the way to fulfilling my intended minimum of 50 years practice in the unusual world that arts managers occupy between the arts and politics I found myself pondering ArtsProfessionals invitation to readers to contribute their job ladders. Like many, I consider my own career an interesting one shouldnt we all? But I must admit to severe reservations about the notion of a job ladder and what it may tell us about a way of thinking about our profession that is becoming more prevalent within it..

It seems to me that the concept of a ladder can only be a valid metaphor for a career within professions that are coherent and structured enough to be recognised as a single system. Thus, the armed, health and civil services would qualify, as would local government, academia and the largest multinationals. The arts professions in Britain would not. If, however, there were a ladder that professions as a whole could climb, there could be a different story to tell.

At the start of my career, we were allowed (just) to call ourselves arts administrators. Only a short time earlier, we had been secretaries to the artist or to the Board. The journey via arts management to cultural management has been an honourable one. The latest emerging presumption (that we are now cultural leaders) may be considered hubristic. Without access to the top tier of influence on national policy the DCMS and despite important new budgetary responsibilities in recent years, our most senior managers can be left lonely in mid/late career, at the top of swaying ladders, with nowhere to step off onto. They must pray for the golden parachute and dread the noise of sawing from below.


If, however, we accept a less structured view of our field as a complex of interacting specialist areas and connections to the larger systems of others, then a richer picture of our collective journey emerges. As an example, to have moved structurally within local government thinking from a location alongside cemeteries or public baths somewhere under either grass-cutting or libraries, to where we are now, has been a remarkable achievement for my generation and its mentors.

The past three Deputy Chief Executives of (the old) Northern Arts (after Peter Hewitt at ACE) are now in post as Chief Executive of The NewcastleGateshead Initiative/Executive Director of Tourism for Tyne and Wear (Andrew Dixon), Deputy Chief Executive of Gateshead Council (Jane Robinson), Assistant Chief Executive, Newcastle City Council (Paul Rubinstein). We may be moving to an era where for some authorities the role of city programmer (cultural management), assumes some of the influence previously enjoyed by clerks to the council (lawyers), treasurers (accountants), the professionally eponymous city planners and city engineers, along with the multi-professionally sourced directors of development.

It seems to me that helpful metaphors for a successful career in our profession have to accommodate both this kind of sideways movement and occasions when we step out of the linear sequence altogether and rest, research, recharge, review.

Our journey is, then, not up a ladder, or along a single Bunyanesque road. Nor do we simply career down the primrose path. Our CVs should not be linear or straightforward. Rather, when we reflect on our progress, we should target a richness in the person specification that we offer ourselves in response to those offered by employers. Perhaps the metaphor for our careers should be one of purposeful exploration, of playing a range of roles from luggage lugger to leader in expeditions of discovery and delivery. Our careers should be informed by an acceptance of the risk of failure. As Bill Herbert concluded his poem for the World Culture Summit this year the if and not the how of making shore.


During this kind of career as an explorer and mine is set out in the column to the right ladders have often been carried. They have been useful to gain height and fresh perspective looking forwards and backwards. They have occasionally got me into places where the front door was locked and in short bursts they have provided personal security and the odd years of pension. They have also taken me into some dark holes and once or twice over the top of the trench and into no mans land.

Contact Peter Stark at http://www.pstark.com

Peter Stark

1968-70 Set up theatre group at Birmingham Arts Laboratory migrated into administration. Appointed to New Activities Committee of the Arts Council, investigating the explosion of cultural activity in the late 1960s.

1970-72 At Welfare State International, established administration, performed and secured a (lasting) revenue grant base.

1972-77 Conceived and established South Hill Park Arts Centre in Bracknell, at the time the largest community-based arts centre in the country.

1978-79 Produced Arts Strategy for Northampton Development Corporation.

1979-82 City University, Lecturer in Arts Management.

1982-84 Led the Council of Regional Arts Associations through the build up to and fall out from the Arts Councils structural and policy review, The Glory of the Garden.

1984-92 Led Northern Arts through the abolition of Tyne and Wear MCC and three government reviews of the arts funding system. Maintained constitutional autonomy with a philosophy centred on the importance of the live and local in cultural policy, the potential of local government in this area, the role of the artist, and the need to strengthen the region's infrastructure with new facilities for music and the contemporary visual arts. Designed and directed the campaign for UK Year of the Visual Arts (1996). Awarded the OBE for services to the arts in the North in 1990.

1992-94 Development Director for Voluntary Arts Network

1994-95 Adviser on National Lottery Strategy to Newcastle City Council.

1995-96 Devised and promoted Bridging the Millennia, a Millennium project to build new bridges for the North of England.

1996-2000 Special Projects Adviser for Gateshead Council, writing and co-ordinating Lottery applications for the Baltic and The Sage Gateshead. Chaired the Music Centre partners developing the brief and design with the architects. Part of the successful team for the Gateshead Millennium Bridge and for the whole Gateshead Quays.

2000-03 Professor of Cultural Policy and Management, University of Northumbria. Projects included a Review of Arts Policy for Dartington Hall Trust and the development of a professional relationship with cultural agendas in South Africa.

2003-present Independent Advisor on the development and management of cultural policy, programmes and projects across regeneration sectors. Research Associate to Centre for Cultural Policy and Management at the University of the Witwatersrand.