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The Year Ahead For The NAC: Building A Stronger Arts Funding Organisation

The end of year break is always a welcome time for reflection on both the year passed and the year that lies ahead of us. It is a time to celebrate successes and achievements and to steel your resolve to continue on that path in the New Year.

For me there were 3 things that stood out as being critical to both our past achievements and potential future successes:

  1. The importance of the creative sector to the country and its economy
  2. How building a performance culture creates success
  3. The need for certainty and clarity in a very uncertain world

In a country such as ours where there are many competing interests, whether social, political, economic or cultural, it is important to appreciate the instrumental role the arts can play in creating platforms for growth. In essence, the underlying instrumental value of the arts is its ability to educate, and promote tolerance and innovation in the most profound ways. Crucially, when the arts are made accessible and located in the broader context of public culture, they have the potential to stimulate broad growth.

We are very mindful of our mandate to make the arts accessible and central to people’s lives and will continue on the path begun a few years ago of moving from simply being a passive funder reacting to funding proposals; to pro-actively identifying potential opportunities to make a real, sustained impact. In 2017 we will ramp up those efforts identifying critical projects to support.

But we cannot achieve our best-laid plans without the best people on our side. Which brings me to my second point – the importance of creating a performance culture. When I joined the organization 3 years ago my priority was to attract, retain and reward the best possible people. This meant creating a culture with high performance at its heart.

It is not an easy process when performance has never been properly measured and appraised. But to succeed we realized we had to find a very tangible example of success for the organization as a whole. And so we set ourselves the goal of receiving a clean audit – something the organization had never achieved in its 19-year history. To do this required that our systems, policies and procedures were objectively sound and above reproach. The clean audit was set as a key performance criterion for all staff - and we achieved the goal two years in a row. (Last year we rewarded the whole organization with a bonus for reaching that milestone). And so began our journey towards creating a high performance organization. Needless to say this path will encounter attendant conflict-critical characteristics of “change management”.

Which brings me to my third point – that clarity brings certainty. The ratings agencies, by way of example, look for amongst other things, clear policy that is well implemented. To achieve clear policy requires stable leadership. In the 19 years of the NAC the average tenure of CEOs was a little over two years which meant amongst other things a frequent change in vision which in turn led to uncertainty amongst all our stakeholders, internally and externally. I am fortunate in that I am the first “longer term” appointment and am two-thirds into my 5-year contract; but with still so much to be done. And that, I have realized, has allowed us to create some longer term policy certainty. And it is very much a “we” – the senior NAC leadership team. Our biggest challenge is then how do we retain talented staff. Our CFO, by way of example, won the young CFO of the year award and the public CFO of the year award in 2016. That makes him very attractive to the private sector and to lose him to that sector is always a very real possibility. That means amongst other things that we have to reward talent and not be afraid to do so. And which we did do in 2016.

The arts teach us grit and innovative thinking – two qualities that we will need in good measure in 2017 to stay focused on our path of building the arts in this great nation.

I wish you all a very successful, rewarding and high performance 2017!

Yours sincerely,
Rosemary Mangope
CEO, National Arts Council

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