The leaders’ leader stepping down

This was going to be about how the Clore Leadership Programme had given us the new Tate director, and how the fears that, following the flouncing off back to Europe by the German director of the V&A after the Brexit vote, we would be excluding foreign talent from taking on our cultural institutions were groundless, and how Maria Balshaw’s story shows us why. The Clore has proved that this notoriously reticent nation has got talent bulging out of its tightly drawn borders. And then, out of the blue yesterday afternoon, the Clore’s director Sue Hoyle announced that she was leaving.

It seems to have been a sudden decision, perhaps made on her recent holiday with her husband, the cultural strategist Graham Devlin, but it is a blow. She set the thing up for Vivien Duffield in 2003, content to work behind the figurehead of the former culture secretary Chris Smith as his deputy, and taking over from him in 2008. But she is the Frankenstein behind the benign monster that has given us the general staff of genuine leaders the arts in this country was lacking. Gentle, generous, genuine, she could also be tough as Tupperware, always shy of the spotlight and always agonisingly discreet. As economies, politics and the cultural industries have changed over the last 14 years, so she has moulded and remoulded the programme bringing in modules on governance, for instance, and making short courses for young prodigies in a hurry. Back in 2009 she told me, “The kind of leadership we’re looking for now is not just focussed on one person; what we’re doing is encouraging, inspiring and supporting individuals to reach their potential, and therefore organisations to reach their potential, and I feel that’s really what motivates me”, and that hasn’t changed. And don’t under-estimate calm good sense as a leadership talent.
In the programme fellows, as they’re called, swap art forms to broaden their experience. “I had to be taken out of the comfort zone, and the fellowship zigzagged me, gave me a real sense that in order to skill up I had to go to the cliff’s edge and take a risk” said Chris Stafford, a projects manager in the Globe’s education department when he did the Clore in 2009, now chief executive of The Curve in Leicester which he is leading towards its elusive potential, and at 36 looking at a brilliant future. There have been 334 fellows so far, there are ten applicants for each place and the 14th intake has just closed.
Sue got an OBE for her work, and despite her modesty her influence through the Clore and the wide circle of friends she and Graham have has been immense. She said that you don’t have to be at the head of an organisation to be a good leader, but she couldn’t help it. I hope you’re leaving the leaders to take the lead elsewhere in the arts, Sue, but meanwhile thanks for the leaders like Maria you’ve given us.


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