Undoubtedly one of the major benefits of this programme is the newly acquired network of brilliant minds to share your interests with. Together, your journey as students in the Executive Master in Cultural Leadership does not end after your graduation. On our alumni page, we would like to highlight the journeys of those who graduated, as they present exciting new adventures.
Sarah Hiley has written this article about Nathalie de Potter, of the first cohort of the Executive Master in Cultural Leadership, on her thesis research focused on the Connecting Stars project.
Cultural leadership as agent for change
Loneliness is increasingly becoming one of the biggest societal crises of our time. Whilst the pandemic has had a dramatic and devastating impact on many people and industries around the world, the silent consequences of loneliness compound the existing problems beyond the reaches of Covid 19. The people among those most isolated and vulnerable to the pandemic are care home residents. Their experience of the last 2 years has been recognised, but often their stories have been muted or seen through the lens of medical or economic statistics. It is the challenge for all of us to affect change for the better and create something positive and meaningful out of devastating circumstances.
Articulating the world through stories
The arts and cultural sector has always tried to affect change in society. Its purpose to articulate the world around it and to tell stories sets it apart from other sectors. Fostering culture and creativity enables innovation to grow and flourish and drives change across industry and societies. The story of one performing arts company’s innovative approach to surviving the unprecedented crisis caused by the Covid-19 global pandemic, provides the focus for a professional research project undertaken by Nathalie De Potter, a student on the Executive Master in Cultural Leadership programme (EMCL). De Potter chose to conduct the research for her thesis on Constella OperaBallet’s Connecting Stars project, which was set up to address two very real and pressing problems presented by the pandemic.
De Potter’s thesis documents how Constella addressed the challenges presented by the Covid 19 pandemic and used it to innovate, without losing sight of its strategic objectives and charitable goals. Constella decided to tackle the devastating effects of the Covid lockdown from both a societal and business perspective by launching the Connecting Stars project during the first lockdown. The two problems presented by the pandemic were;
- Loneliness experienced by residents in care homes
- Freelance performing artists not being able to work during the pandemic and having no access to financial support
Leo Geyer, Constella’s founder, launched the project after trying to cheer his grandma up by performing on his bassoon playing over Zoom to her in the care home. “I was very pleased to do something to help my grandma who was feeling lonely and lacking energy, so it was wonderful to see her laugh and smile.” Connecting Stars connected two very diverse groups of people by providing free one-to-one virtual performances to isolated care home residents and, in so doing, giving musicians and dancers paid performance opportunities whilst the industry remained at a standstill.
Recognise your purpose
De Potter’s decision to document Constella’s Connecting Stars project for the thesis on the ECML module was not a straightforward one. It was not until the pandemic started and it was becoming clear that it had brought the performing arts sector to a halt, that De Potter knew exactly what she wanted to do. That clarity was driven by recognising her purpose and realising what was important enough to her, to have the drive to invest significant time and effort into making it a reality. Like many of the students on the Executive Master in Cultural Leadership programme, De Potter had enjoyed a professionally fulfilling and successful career. Yet, she felt her individual and professional purpose had never been completely aligned. As De Potter explains, “once you get on the career treadmill it is hard to slow down and consider other options”. Her decision to leave a successful career in London’s financial sector to pursue the EMCL course run by UMIO at Maastricht University in partnership with the Royal Academy of Arts in London, gave De Potter the opportunity to change gears and direction.
From purpose to impact
As a leader trying to gain a deeper understanding of what your purpose is, and finding the courage to articulate it, is the most important developmental task you will undertake. But, the process of self-reflection that is required to get to the core of what makes you you, takes commitment and time. The Connecting Stars project illustrates how having a deeper understanding of purpose and how this can be used to create impact can be a driver for positive change. Throughout the project and the height of the pandemic, Constella’s musicians and dancers gave over 200 virtual performances to nearly 1000 care home residents around the UK. The live and interactive nature allowed artists to connect with individuals or small groups ensuring much-needed human contact. Its success resulted in Constella receiving significant funding from Arts Council England to provide over 800 more performances to care home residents. It has not only provided paid work and performance opportunities to artists, but has helped to combat loneliness in care homes. Gramophone Magazine highlighted the project as “one of the organisations keeping music alive”.
However, to move from understanding your purpose to creating impact requires a shift in perspective. For De Potter, that shift was triggered by reading an article in a Harvard Business Review article, “From purpose to impact’. The line that resonated with De Potter was:
“Most of us go to our graves with our music still inside us, unplayed.” (Oliver Wendell Holmes)
Playing that music lit the touchpaper for De Potter to tell the Connecting Stars story for her EMCL Professional Project. Embarking on the EMCL course inspired De Potter to embrace opportunities that she would not have otherwise considered before. In this case, it became apparent that, even with a very small team and in a world in lockdown, you need to be ready to respond to challenges so you can have a positive impact on the world around you. The Connecting Stars project continues to be a step in the right direction from both a professional and personal perspective. These initiatives contribute to helping the industry survive a crisis while continuing to play a key role in improving the health and wellbeing of its audience.
UMIO is the executive branch of Maastricht University School of Business and Economics, a School leading in the fields of economics and international business
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