Created in partnership with Limelight, Samuel Cairnduff‘s new podcast series explores arts and culture in our society with some of Australia’s leading executives, directors and artists.

Focused on the intersection between culture and society and grounded in his belief in the capacity of cultural institutions to transform lives and communities, Decoding Cultural Leadership is an evolution of research interviews with arts and culture thought leaders conducted for his PhD, Cairnduff tells Limelight.

Samuel Cairnduff

“They were really good conversations, but because it was for my PhD – which I am in the final stages of completing – I couldn’t use any of them publicly, as it was all anonymised.”

“I thought it was a real shame, because these people spoke so eloquently and passionately about what they did, I thought it would be really nice to do something that we could release publicly, because I don’t think we really hear leaders of arts organisations talking on one platform.”

Samuel Cairnduff interviews Fiona Allan, CEO of Opera Australia, for his podcast Decoding Cultural Leadership. Photo © Niloofar Pashmforoosh

Among those interviewed were Michael Lynch, whose many positions include CEO of the Sydney Opera House and Chief Executive of London’s South Bank Centre, and whose interview has been released today.

Other interviewees include Yarmila Alfonzetti, Chief Executive of Queensland Symphony Orchestra; Fiona Allan, CEO of Opera Australia; Richard Evans, Managing Director of the Australian Chamber Orchestra; First Nations cultural leader Dr Tjanara Goreng Goreng, the founder of OneINMA Global; Paul Grabowsky, the founding Artistic Director of the Australian Art Orchestra, which he led from 1994–2013; Louise Herron, the current CEO of the Sydney Opera House; Benjamin Northey, Principal Conductor in Residence of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra; Claire Spencer, the inaugural CEO of London’s Barbican Centre and former CEO of Arts Centre Melbourne; and Lissa Twomey, Executive Director of The Australian Ballet, among others.Cairnduff has plenty of experience in arts and cultural management. He was the Director of Marketing and Public Affairs at Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, 2017–2022. He currently lectures in Arts and Cultural Management at Deakin University and teaches Media and Communication at The University of Melbourne.

His interest in cultural leadership was triggered by Wesley Enoch’s Platform Paper Take Me To Your Leader: the dilemma of cultural leadership, published by Currency Press in 2014.

“Ten years down the track, it is an ongoing conversation,” says Cairnduff.

“I think it’s a really important time for us to look at cultural leadership in Australia because we are at this crux point. It’s a whole new world out there effectively; the way that we engage with culture is different, our expectations of cultural organisations are different to what they have ever been before. We expect cultural organisations to take a really active role in society. We’ve seen that with the recent Voice to Parliament referendum and, previously to that, the marriage equality plebiscite.”

“My feeling was that arts organisations didn’t necessarily understand what their role was in these big debates and it opened up a whole other question: Do we want them to be more engaged with issues of social change or do we expect them to just do their art? I think we’ve realised that we are definitely re-evaluating the role of culture in Australian society and we do expect [arts companies] to contribute to the broader conversation – so that’s what this podcast is all about.”


Decoding Cultural Leadership is available from 29 January. It can be found at all major podcast apps. The first episode is available here.

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