Bucharest Conference: Professional Development

from 18 to 21 November 2015

The conference looked at three aspects of Professional Development: cultural management and leadership; artist development; and nurturing directors. At the same time, the process involved expert input from Human Resources personnel, Education managers, and colleagues from beyond Europe. We asked three delegates, each new to Opera Europa conferences, to give us their perspective on their experience.


Jane Crowther, Director of Human Resources – Royal Opera House

‘This was my first Opera Europa experience and it was fantastic! A great opportunity to meet colleagues from across the world and share ideas and experiences. I’ve spent most of my career in the commercial sector and it is a refreshing change to be part of a group who are so willing to share and collaborate. It was reassuring too to see that we are all wrestling with the same types of challenges, no matter where we are based.

We had some great sessions on personal development – from how to motivate and retain staff, to what makes a good leader: 
■ We had a particularly rich discussion about how to think about ‘performance management’ in an artistic organisation in the Evaluation and Feedback session.The interesting dichotomy that in the rehearsal room it’s considered to be part of the day job to give and receive constructive criticism, but once you are out of the rehearsal room it is a totally different story.
■ We had another great discussion about development and employee mobility – there are interesting challenges in the Opera sector, particularly if you are the only Opera House in your country as this results in very limited opportunities for staff to progress and develop. Twenty-five years’ service is not uncommon so how do we continue to motivate and retrain our staff in this scenario?
■ I also liked the idea of looking at our organisations from a surplus or deficit perspective – not just the traditional financial concept of surplus or deficit but also applying this to the human capital, artistic and community perspectives. 
■ In terms of leadership, I thought Marc Scorca’s concept of having your own personal Board of Directors 
was fascinating – a group of trusted advisors who can be really honest about your performance and progress. I also though his quote about ‘allowing bad reviews to ruin my breakfast but not my lunch‘ was a good challenge to me to let go of bad feedback, learn from it and move on!

I also enjoyed the session on ‘Establishing your Opera’s identity and integrating its purpose’ session on Thursday. Compared to some of the rather ‘superior’ mission statements in the commercial world it is refreshing 
to see people selling something they actually believe in. It was also reassuring to see that a number of us had the same ideas and visions. However, Annilise Miskimmon raised some fantastic challenges about the mission statements and strategies in our sector and that we are at risk of becoming interchangeable and bland. Good food for thought!

Talking of food. It was great to be able to explore Bucharest and test out some of the local delicacies! I’m looking forward catching up with my new HR colleagues at the HR forum in the Spring in London.’

Hannah Griffiths, Head of Participation & Learning – GöteborgsOperan

‘So it’s your first time at Opera Europa as a grown-up?’ asked a colleague over breakfast in Bucharest. ‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘I suppose it is.’

Several years ago, I was a member of Opera Europa’s young delegates’ Think Tank, a role that took me to Barcelona, Madrid, London, Warsaw and Lyon. So, although I’ve been working in opera now for 7 years and the ‘young’ delegate phase ended for me at the ripe old age of 30, this was my first Opera Europa conference as a fully-fledged delegate and as an employee of GöteborgsOperan in Sweden. 

Participation sits at the very heart of my work. I was therefore delighted that Opera Europa had decided to include education as a key part of the Bucharest conference. ‘Education’ is a slippery word. Where once it meant collaborating with schools, it can now entail much more: community, learning, participation, outreach, engagement, even ‘empowerment’ in the case of our friends at La Monnaie. There can be (though not necessarily) strong resonances with nurturing talent, professional productions for young people and audience development.
RESEO, the European Network for Opera and Dance Education, has done and continues to do valuable work. I’m also convinced of a pressing need for education to be part of a dynamic whole, rather than a parallel strand of work, group of colleagues or topic for debate. That education looks set to become an ever-greater part of Opera Europa’s conferences is timely and right. The ‘education at the core’ session on Saturday was attended by a modest total of 31 delegates. There’s work to be done, clearly, but our sessions in Bucharest represented a promising start. 

Bernard Foccroulle opened the conference with deeply moving words about our fellow human beings in Paris, the Middle East and Africa. He went on to discuss a new balance between repertoire and creation (in short, we don’t have to choose!) and his notion of ‘intercultural creations’ as a barrier against the violence of the world resonated deeply with me. It was with this in mind that I landed back in Göteborg at lunchtime on Sunday. 
I raced straight in to work where I welcomed a group of adults to GöteborgsOperan for the first time: men and women who’ve arrived in Sweden in the last year as asylum seekers, mostly from Syria and Iraq. 
We spent 3 hours exploring the musical Crazy for You. Bernard suggested in his opening address that we ‘make opera a living artform which gives sense to the world.’ He also warned of the danger that opera become a ‘museum artform, focused on the past, not linked to our present’. So, what are our options? Can we make opera a living artform which gives to the world? As I stood shoulder to shoulder with those participants, trying to master the words to Gershwin’s ‘I got rhythm’ in Swedish, I decided that yes, it can be done. But it won’t happen automatically. Opera can also be a museum artform. To determine the difference is up to each and every one of us.’ 


Laura Lee Everett, Director of Artistic Services – OPERA America 

‘I was so delighted to be invited to participate in the Opera Europa fall conference this year. Having presented our own annual conference for over 500 attendees in the US, I know what a meaningful and important gathering it can be to have so many people from the field together to share ideas and learn from each other. It was a great pleasure to attend my first such meeting with our European colleagues.
Professional Development is a particular focus of the services my department manages at OPERA America, along with many of the programs Marc Scorca leads and moderates so well. I found the theme was well tracked through the conference activities and personally had three key take-aways from my time in Bucharest:

■ We are in the business of creating relationships to tell stories through music. Whether we are finding common ground to co-produce together, assessing the tangible and intangible assets we have as a company or exploring digital media as a way to engage with the new technology, all of these sessions/discussions made it clear that our field is driven by the strength of the relationships we build with our artists, our audience and each other.
■ There are uniform challenges with artist training, engaging new audiences and diversity in our field. We have begun these same discussions in the US and it is both heartening to know we are not alone in these challenges but frustrating to understand how much more we all need to do to make changes in the gender and color palettes of our arts communities.

■ Through the global relationships we build, we can inspire each other to change how we work locally. I found the opening presentation by Bernard Foccroulle about the layers of engagement being created at Aix-en-Provence so inspirational and forward looking, a great example of a company rich in human and artistic assets who is building relationships in their community year round. Annilese Miskimmon’s weighty response stuck with me for the rest of the week: how do we as arts organizations engage in our communities to be part of the social solutions to human crisis? 
I am certain that with all that I learned from new friendships and connections made in Bucharest, we will be able to bring these global ideas home and start changing our own worlds. I hope to see you all again very soon!’


Photo gallery

+++ Bucharest +++

> Final programme
> Final list of participants


> Bucharest's and Romania's opera houses and their artists abroad, by Ioan Holender

> Establishing your Opera's identity and integrating its purpose, by Bernard Foccroulle
> New digital content for new digital audiences, by Dominic Konrad
> Virtual reality opera, by Tim Hopkins
> The Social Opera House and The Banker
> Equipping cultural managers for today's job market: The Opera Management Course, by Cormac Simms

> Equipping cultural managers for today's job market: Accademia La Scala, by Monica Errico
> Training tomorrow's singers: Accademia La Scala, by Paola Cavani
> Manager and supervisor training, by Eddy Ballaux
> Production models for digital content, by Peter Maniura
> Involving artists in education programmes, by Royal Opera House Covent Garden

> Involving artists in education programmes, by Hannah Griffiths

> Involving artists in education programmes, by Katherine Haataja

> Involving artists in education programmes, by Michela Mannari and Lisa Navach

> Involving artists in education programmes, by Cormac Simms

> Manager and supervisor training, by La Monnaie
> The Opera Platform: 6 months report
> Young stage directors, by Anna Gustafson

> The search for new stage directors, by Opera Europa