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May 17: Arts, Culture, Tourism and Heritage

By Leaders Forum 2017 participant Kym Edwards


What a wonderfully thought-provoking and inspiring experience our Leaders Forum days are proving to be. We were recently fortunate to hear from an impressive line-up of guest speakers focusing on Ballarat’s culture, heritage, arts and tourism.

We kicked off our day early at the historic museum of Sovereign Hill, making our way along the cobblestone-lined roads and journeying back in time to marvel at our rich and amazing history which has been so eloquently captured and frozen in time. Sovereign Hill as a company is completely independent, employs 380 people along with 250 volunteers, and contributes $225m annually to the Victorian economy. The costumed school program operated on site is a world-leader and is currently doing amazing work with researchers in the fields of ADD, autism and dementia.

We were privileged to spend time with Sovereign Hill’s CEO Jeremy Johnson, whose main philosophy is “admit if you’re not good at something and then surround yourself with talented people and resources in that area of skill and expertise”. We were encouraged by Jeremy to consider the “uniqueness” of Ballarat and it’s richness of culture and history.

This was echoed by Visit Ballarat CEO Noel Dempsey, who shared his thoughts on the need for Ballarat to define its brand. Noel suggested we might be the “capital of the west” and encouraged us to think about big picture ideas and consider “what is uniquely Ballarat? Consider the heritage and richness of history – how do we bring the heritage alive?”. We have a growing calendar of events such as pop-up restaurants, Spring Fashion Week and White Night Ballarat, and Visit Ballarat is looking at ways to plan strategically over the next five to ten years.

Craig Dent, State Trustees CEO and alumnus of the Williamson Community Leadership program, presented to us on authentic leadership. Craig reminded us that character is one of the main ingredients of authentic leadership, along with transparency and accountability. He encouraged us to delve into our own “genuineness” to become more self-aware and, in his experience, if this isn’t uncomfortable then perhaps we aren’t digging deep enough.
As leaders, we should consistently practice self-awareness, reflection and mindfulness, develop and empower employees and those around us, whilst also seeking honest feedback which builds authenticity and develops genuine awareness. We need to understand our leadership “purpose” – explore and challenge it, and be open and transparent about sharing it. Craig reminded us that knowledge dates and encouraged continued learning through education and “staying engaged”.

Our forum was then fortunate to experience an underground Sovereign Hill mine tour led by Leaders Forum 2017 participant Serena Ioannucci. The knowledge Serena shared about mining processes, the conditions and hardships many men endured so long ago was incredible and most certainly reinforces her suitability in the role as the museum’s mine operations manager.

The afternoon was spent at the magnificent Art Gallery of Ballarat, where we enjoyed a vibrant panel discussion about the role of arts in shaping our region. The panel consisted of Julie Collins and Andrew Walsh (Biennale of Australian Art); Malcolm Sanders (Regional Arts Victoria), Gordon Morrison (Art Gallery of Ballarat), and Bryce Ives (Federation University’s Arts Academy and Gippsland Centre of Art and Design).

We heard a wealth of information, from the history of the gallery which was founded in 1884 to the exciting new B.O.A.A, which Julie Collins spoke passionately about. Bryce Ives’ presentation was particularly inspiring when he explained how, as a 10-year-old, he rode his bike in mid-winter to knock on the door of a radio studio to stand up for something he believed in. Bryce’s leadership focus is on enabling and providing the space for others to thrive. In closing, he encouraged us to either be the person who gets on their bike or the person who opens the door.

Finally, we heard from Ballarat City Council’s Susan Fayed and Federation University’s David McGuinness on Historic Urban Landscapes (HUL) and discussed HUL being a framework that will help us centralise our history and culture. A big challenge we have is that population growth is going to increase 60 per cent by 2040. We will experience new versions of Ballarat and demographic change. We need to adopt a smart city mentality to develop sustainably into the future.

The day proved there is a dire need for Ballarat’s leaders to be working collaboratively alongside the community to develop big ideas which will grow our beautifully historic and culture-rich city into a destination that is uniquely Ballarat.
If I can borrow the words of Bryce Ives, “Ballarat is a city that wants to leap forward and everyone is poised… ready to jump”.