Letting go - making space
I won't be returning to the British Council at the end of my sabbatical in June. Instead I'll be leaving the organisation on 31 January.
It's time for the next thing.
Six months in, my sabbatical has been everything I hoped it would. It has allowed me to be adviser, supporter and critical friend to an unexpectedly (refreshingly) broad range of artists and cultural organisations, to rediscover my own creativity and to reconnect with the UK arts sectors.
Last October I made the decision not to apply for the Director Arts role at British Council. It's a job I have always wanted, but I was certain that the programme and team needed new energy and perspective from outside the organisation. This belief is strengthened as the post has been re-advertised and the search for an exceptional person continues.
So, as I continue to be approached for cultural sector assignments (thank you friends, colleagues and people I don't know who have sent things my way), have become a trustee of Eclipse and chair of the National Dance Network it feels right not to go back.
I joined the British Council (this time) in 2011. I did a three-year stint as a projects manager in (what was then) the drama and dance team in London in the late '90s, went away for twelve years - to Sydney, Newcastle and Eastleigh - and returned to be one of the newly created regional arts directors under newly appointed director arts Graham Sheffield. The 'Wider Europe' region was so complex and hard to define the organisation had to make up a name for it. I moved to Istanbul, having never even been there, to lead a team of 35 people and a programme across 15 countries and 11 time zones. Two years became six. It was the most extraordinary experience, giving me opportunities to work right across the arts, an understanding of countries troubled and at peace, a deal of useful learning and a greatly enhanced international network of friends and colleagues.
And colleagues who have become friends.
I am most proud of the team I built with Wider Europe's regional director Michael Bird, and of the way the extraordinary people in that team worked with local partners, country directors, UK colleagues and with each other to create a programme that connected with more than 20m people and told many, many important stories. It's still happening - which, of course, is the best bit - but that time, those stories and the people will stay with me always.
Now it's time to move on. To let go and to make space - for me and, I hope, for others. Time to grow into the next phase in a world where the old certainties encountered by many before me - logical career progression, opportunities on a visible horizon, reward based on precedent - have gone. Mostly thankfully, sometimes worryingly. It's time to co-create, to continue to collaborate, to make it up all over again and with different people.
Graham Sheffield (standing far left), Michael Bird (kneeling centre) and members and guests of the British Council's Wider Europe arts team on the roof of the Adahan Hotel, Istanbul, 2016.