Musical Chairs: Australia’s first ever arts administrators’ orchestra

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Words by Susan Eldridge and Chai Jie Low

The performing arts industry struggles with silos – clashes between ‘creatives’ and ‘management’, ‘administrators’ and ‘artists’. These false divisions can leave us feeling misunderstood, stressed and frustrated.

And yet the truth remains that no matter whether we’re backstage, onstage, or offstage, we’re united by our passion for the performing arts, the power of storytelling and performance, and our belief in every part of the vast ecosystem playing a role in creating a thriving industry.

With this in mind, three early career arts administrators have been selected as the project team behind Australia’s first Arts Administrators Orchestra project.

Jin Tong Long, Chai Jie Low and Alex Owens will help classical music administrators all over Australia to reconnect with their own instrumental skills, play music together and undertake professional development through the inaugural launch of MUSICAL CHAIRS: The Administrators Orchestra.

MUSICAL CHAIRS will be hosted by the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra in January 2022. Caroline Sharpen, CEO of Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra said that the orchestra was delighted to be the hosting partner for the project.

“This unique and innovative initiative will provide an invaluable opportunity for administrators to switch places with musicians and shift their perspective to the practical joys of music-making – which is the reason most of us became involved in arts administration in the first place! We’re equally thrilled that the project will be fully delivered by a team of emerging administrators who will be flexing their capabilities to present dynamic and participatory experience.”

Image by Ludwig Kwan.

The project is the brainchild of leading innovator, consultant and talent development expert, Susan Eldridge. Founder of Notable Values, Susan’s vision is to equip and support decision makers within the arts sector to solve long-standing systemic problems and create human-centred solutions.

“Having worked in learning design for the classical sector for a number of years, I’m concerned about the missing links in our training model. There is ample opportunity in higher education and on the job to learn theory and technical skills, but there is a huge gap in how we prepare and support decision makers to work well with others.”

“Our teams need to be equipped with skills in empathy, active listening, conflict negotiation and emotional regulation. MUSICAL CHAIRS: The Administrators Orchestra is designed for administrators at all stages of their career to learn and practice those skills in a safe and supportive environment.”

Jin, Chai Jie and Alex all balance portfolio careers as professional performers, music educators and arts administrators. They will work closely under the mentorship of Susan to enable classical music administrators to build community, strengthen professional relationships across the sector through this innovative learning program.

All profits from this project will support bursaries and scholarships for early career administrators to undertake additional professional development and individual mentorship in 2022.

A violin sits on top of pages of sheet music
Image by Jana T.

MUSICAL CHAIRS: The Administrators Orchestra is a great example of how we can see our roles as “and” rather than “or”, focusing on learning, growing, and connecting. Together, we can appreciate the vast range of knowledge, skills, and experience that typically extends well beyond someone’s current role title.

For more information about MUSICAL CHAIRS: The Administrators Orchestra, visit notablevalues.com/musicalchairs.

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