Oxford Cultural Leaders first took place in 2015 and this successful week-long residential programme has run in spring each year ever since.
We have welcomed directors, heads of departments, and senior managers from a diverse range of institutions including museums, galleries, science centres, libraries, performing arts institutions, strategic bodies, and media and design agencies, from across the globe including the UK, Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
We now have an amazing international network of alumni members who meet and connect regularly in order to share ideas and inspiration, support one another’s continued leadership, and develop partnerships and programmes between themselves and their institutions.
Oxford Cultural Leaders helps delegates to develop their leadership practice and to address specific challenges within their organisations. In their own words, a selection of our alumni members have described the positive impact of the programme and its effect on their working practice:
What has the impact of the programme been on you?
"I went into OCL hoping to gain useful skills and ways of thinking that would help me fulfill professional ambitions as a cultural leader at a time of change. I found all of that and more, but what I couldn't have anticipated was the amazing peer network support and championing each other throughout the week and beyond." Sevra Davis, Director of Architecturem Design and Fashion, British Council
"I joined OCL with some big questions about where next - for me and for my organisation. Not only did I discover the answers, I gained practical tools, helpful insights and a new network of colleagues and friends - all of which I have called upon since. It was like listening to exquisite music whilst looking at a wide open landscape and eating and entire tube of Berocca - inspiring and energising." Caroline Jones, CEO, The Story Museum
"The course was excellent, challenging, thought-provoking and engaging. It is exactly what is needed for leaders in the arts sector. It provided me personally with a great opportunity to review and test my own practice and to draw on the wisdom of others, both the impressive speakers and academics and the other arts leaders on the course, who were all brilliant." Graham Henderson, Chief Executive of the Rimbaud & Verlaine Foundation
"Oxford Cultural Leaders did two things for me. It told me what I was doing right and what I was doing wrong, but it also showed me what I can do differently." Alistair Burtenshaw, Director, Watts Gallery – Artists’ Village
"The programme gave me confidence and renewed energy, as well as a useful chance to step outside the immediate pressures of my organisation and consider the issues I face from a distance. It both supported and reinvigorated my approach." Henrietta Boex, Director of Cultural Services, Falmouth Town Council
"OCL proved to be a mental spa in so many senses. A whole week, where you were allowed to focus on your challenges, fears and wishes in relation to work. The sessions were devised in such a way that you could mirror issues in the presentations and speakers, without them becoming too personal…I also realised that I had ideas relating to my work, which I needed to turn into real opportunities." Sophie Brunn, Director of Strategic Development and Administration, History and Art, Agency for Art and Culture, Denmark
"I was exposed to new ideas and concepts. I met a wonderful group of colleagues from whom I learned a whole lot more. I also had some really important ‘me time’. This was time to get away from the office and the day to day routine, and to sit down and reflect about my leadership and my organisation. … I have now returned to work with new thoughts and ideas, and… I have ideas and initiatives that I want to implement that have arisen directly from attending OCL and I am confident that they will make a difference to my organisation." Ian Standen, Chief Executive, Bletchley Park Trust
"Since the course I have had renewed energy and the projects I organise are now much more focused and larger scale." Lone Britt Christensen, Cultural Attaché, Embassy of Denmark, London
Why should you choose Oxford Cultural Leaders over other programmes?
"OCL is not a programme, it is an experience. You won't think the same way again." Ben Sullivan, Managing Director, Biblioteca UK
"It was fantastic to take time out from the everyday pressures of running a museum to learn and think strategically in the company of an amazing group of international peers. The opportunity to reconnect with my vision for my own organisation, and to be supported in that by the outstanding group of lecturers and facilitators was hugely valuable. I've done quite a number of leadership programmes in the past, but this was something really special." Stephanie Fuller, Director & CEO, Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft
"The programme framework integrated leadership skills with mindful strategies and I loved that. It was so relevant to my core values." Melissa A. Carrillo, Director of New Media & Technology for the Smithsonian Latino Center
"Oxford Cultural Leaders is the only place in the world where business practices, cultural values and academic insights truly meet." Martijn Laar, B2C Director, Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision
"One of the key selling points of this programme was its focus on entrepreneurship as a key element of running a museum or cultural organisation. In this sector we are all grappling with the challenges of having to do ‘more with less’ and the need to develop entrepreneurial skills is crucial. This thread was woven into every aspect of the course keeping everything grounded in reality." Ian Standen, Chief Executive Bletchley Park Trust
"What surprised me most was the programme's ability to suspend the participants’ status issues and positioning and create a trusting, open, generous and sharing environment between us. It allowed us to work really well together, and this did generate some incredible moments of co-creation." Anette Østerby, Head of Visual Arts, Danish Arts Council
"OCL with its combination of cultural leadership issues, embracing both entrepreneurship and risk-taking to me seemed like just the combination, I had been looking for. I was also interested in finding a leadership course, which was different to what is otherwise on offer in Denmark. When I came across the OCL website, this seemed like just what I had been looking for." Sophie Brunn, Director of Strategic Development and Administration, History and Art, Agency for Art and Culture, Denmark
"It was the perfect programme. I have never been on a course that was so carefully thought through and planned. It gave me new perspectives – the Business School involvement gives perspectives you wouldn’t get elsewhere." Lone Britt Christensen, Cultural Attaché, Embassy of Denmark, London
"I’ve done many courses and was quite sceptical I wouldn’t get anything new. But from the first day I realised it was something completely different. The programme was put together so sensitively – the whole conception was a beautiful thing." Kristel Oitmaa, Cultural Diplomat, Estonia Embassy, London
Which session had the most impact and why?
"I found the sessions directly relevant to my work, in particular Keith Ruddle's session looking at engaging others in your big idea. I've used this recently to position a potentially contentious Board paper and it worked really well to get people in the right frame of mind for listening to the project." Philippa Rawlinson, Director of Operations & Marketing, The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust
"I have brought back a real sense of having attended a brilliant course. It was amazing. Jonathan Stebbings’ session on Inspirational Leadership was one of the best things I’ve done in my life. It was the light bulb moment for me." David Wright, Director, Navy Museums, Auckland, New Zealand
"The games and exercises we did had such deep meaning behind them and they demonstrated so cleverly how our behaviour impacts on others. It really made me think much more about what I say and how I behave." Kristel Oitmaa, Cultural Diplomat, Estonia Embassy, London
"Working together with my colleagues to prepare a business pitch as part of the entrepreneurship seminar with the Said Business School. It was a real pleasure to work as a team and under pressure with such a talented and experienced group of arts leaders, and to present alongside them. This was merely one of the highlights. The programme as a whole was full of great experiences of shared working, which was educative, useful and enjoyable." Graham Henderson, Chief Executive of the Rimbaud & Verlaine Foundation
"One of the highlights of the programme was the opportunity to listen to, and interact with, senior practitioners within the sector and to hear their perspective on heritage and culture. For me personally the stand-out example was listening to Carole Souter, currently the Master at St Cross College, Oxford, and formerly the Chief Executive of the Heritage Lottery Fund. Her candid and sage advice was fascinating, incisive and amusing, and very much in tune with the themes of the programme." Ian Standen, Chief Executive Bletchley Park Trust
What have you used from the programme in your work place?
"The challenges I brought with me to look at in the week are now being addressed and by the end of the year measures will be in place. The inspirational sessions from the week have been turned into something real." Rachel Davies, Director of Operations, Ashmolean Museum
"The themes around creativity within constraint, adaptive leadership and entrepreneurship all came together throughout the week and across the different sessions. I now see myself differently as a result of the overall experience. I hadn’t had that external mirror to see myself in before and I think I now understand my place within the wider sector. I wanted that context and I got it from the programme. I now see my potential more clearly." Emily Scott-Dearing, Cultural Consultant and Curator
"I had a trustees meeting the week after the programme and found the programme had given me an injection of confidence and assurance. I want to develop some specific projects around leadership which may lead on to capital development plans and this is all a result of what came out of the Oxford course." Stephen Allen, Head of Learning and Programmes, National Museums Scotland
Where there any other benefits to attending the programme?
"OCL equips you with skills, strategies and different ways of thinking tailored to your personal challenges. You share the experience with a handpicked group of people who then become an amazing support network." Ben Sullivan, Managing Director, Biblioteca UK
"My attention was completely absorbed by the programme each day, in every session and every topic. We were filled with content on so many different levels, and in such variation that it never became boring or irrelevant. Using the city and all it has to offer in terms of spaces and history made you able to put issues into a much larger perspective and context. Walk and talk was also a very important part of the course, where you could share your thoughts in an intimate space." Sophie Brunn, Director of Strategic Development and Administration, History and Art, Agency for Art and Culture, Denmark
"On arrival we were ‘thrown in at the deep end’ with ice-breaking activities and by the end of the first day we all knew each other very well. And what an interesting and eclectic group we were. Almost half the group came from overseas, whilst the UK contingent represented a wide range of museums and cultural organisations. We quickly gelled together as a team and by dinner that evening, in the imposing surrounds of Pembroke College Hall, conversation was flowing and everyone was sharing their thoughts and experiences." Ian Standen, Chief Executive Bletchley Park Trust
"The calibre of participants was incredibly high and we came from such different organisations. Here am I starting something from scratch whereas other colleagues were looking to reinvigorate practice in established organisations, but we still all converged on the same points." Graham Henderson, Chief Executive of the Rimbaud & Verlaine Foundation
"Even completing the application form was useful and meant before I’d even started the programme I’d begun to think about and reflect on my leadership practice." Charlotte Cunningham, Artistic Director, Turtle Key Arts
"The peer coaching was one of the best things about Oxford Cultural Leaders. Having someone you don’t know listening to you with their different input and perspective." Anna Bright, Director, Shire Hall Historic Courthouse Museum
"I feel that I am using what I got out of the programme in terms of ideas and tools, but I also made some great connections with other colleagues on the programme. Not only do I feel that I could go to anyone of them and ask for their thoughts on any matter but some of these relationships could develop into practical partnerships between our organisations." Rachel Hudson, Director of Fundraising, Marketing and Communications, Practical Action