Why I left the NIDA Master of Fine Arts (Cultural Leadership) after a month

I was one of 16 selected from 63 applicants to be in the very first cohort of the NIDA Master of Fine Arts in Cultural Leadership only to leave after a month.

Why leave and why write a blog post about it?


Let me answer the second part first: to correct the record en masse. I also thought my reason for leaving might interest those thinking about their leadership path in the arts sector.

When I heard about the new MfA at NIDA I was looking for my next step as an arts leader. I had already been lucky enough to attend what was for me the life changing Australia Council for the Arts Emerging Leadership Development Program. Over one week in April 2012 I learnt so much about leadership with a group of amazing and articulate individuals, all of whom continue to inspire me professionally and personally in different ways. After a number of years I was yearning for more.

I was interviewed by the CEO of NIDA Lynne Williams and the Chair of the new MfA, Robyn Archer. I was accepted and started attending the first week intensive with a couple of nagging doubts I wasn’t quite able to articulate.

Then I heard these words uttered by the special guest in one of the first sessions: “My biggest concern with a course like this is that it will become a mandatory qualification for cultural leadership roles and if that happens, where will the maverick leaders come from?”

There it was. I realised the root of my concerns was that I believe the phrase “maverick leader” is a tautology. Every leader must be a maverick and every maverick is a leader. If we are only going to get mavericks graduating from the course because they were already mavericks going in then it poses the question: what is added by the two years of mostly online study that couldn’t be added outside of it?

The answer for me at this point in my career was: not enough. I went over the course content and decided I could better achieve my goal of becoming a better maverick and leader outside the MfA. I already lead Anywhere Theatre Festival which is one of the most paradigm challenging and important organisations for independent artists in Australia. I am crystal clear on where I’d like to be in ten years time as a leader, I can call sector leaders to talk to while the internet and major libraries have all the resources I need to lead my own learning.

So at the end of March I withdrew from the course while achieving its aim (albeit very prematurely) of making me realise I already have the tools to lead instead of being led.


You can find details about the NIDA Master of Fine Arts (Cultural Leadership) at THIS LINK and the Australia Council for the Arts Leadership Program at THIS LINK. Talk to people who have done (or are doing) either to work out if either or none is best for you.