Oxford Cultural Leaders

Oxford University's Gardens, Libraries and Museums, in partnership with the Saïd Business School, will run the highly successful residential leadership programme, Oxford Cultural Leaders, again from 7-12 April 2019.

Applications for the 2019 programme will open on 27 September 2018.

Having access to expertise from across the cultural and business sectors has enabled Oxford to develop a unique programme for cultural leaders. The programme was held for the first time in March 2015, and for every year since has brought together dynamic leaders, from across the world, to experiment and take risks with new business models and to explore new ways of working and creating organisational cultures that encourage new ideas.


About the Programme (see the 2017 programme)

Oxford Cultural Leaders is for dynamic and reflective directors, heads of department and senior managers who want to challenge and redefine their identity as a leader and their vision for their organisation at a time of great challenge and complexity for the cultural sector. This week long immersive, residential course is held anually in March/April within the University of Oxford's gardens, libraries and museums, colleges and other cultural assets.

The programme was created in response to the clear message from governments across the globe that cultural organisations need to look beyond the state for their income, demonstrating their commercial acumen and ability to deliver successfully new business models. Oxford Cultural Leaders addresses the need for cultural organisations to reinvent themselves as businesses, albeit not-for-profit, with entrepreneurial ways of thinking and behaving, by developing a cadre of leaders who are able to skilfully and confidently tackle these challenges.

“I firmly believe that the success of the sector is reliant on a new type of leader - one who embraces change; is entrepreneurial in outlook; who continually looks outwards to learn new things and yet is rooted in a strong sense of values, core purpose and public service.” Diane Lees, Director General, Imperial War Museums

Oxford Cultural Leaders is supportive and developmental, but creates a space that feels emergent and which is provocative and challenging – it intentionally disrupts how participants think, working on conceptual, contextual, organisational and personal levels.  The programme enables participants to experiment, take risks with ideas, to break old habits, create new ways of thinking and behaving, to become skillful decision makers, and develop mechanisms for dealing with demanding situations.

Oxford Cultural Leaders 2016 participants in discussion

The programme is delivered within a coaching environment where theory is explored and tested through provocation, fast-moving motivational sessions, experiential learning and reflective opportunities where participants are able to step outside the learning space.

“It was an incredibly empowering week. I returned to work with a real sense of agency. It made me realise that leadership doesn’t just happen. It’s a conscious practice.” Jane Severs, Director, Association of Heritage Industries Newfoundland and Labrador (OCL 2016)

Participants will be staying at Corpus Christi College in the heart of Oxford. A beautiful, peaceful and historic setting which is only a stone’s throw from the wonderful museums, cultural venues and university buildings that we use to deliver the teaching, workshop and social elements of the programme.

How will participants benefit? (read feedback from our alumni)

By the end of the programme participants have greater insight into themselves as leaders; reflecting on their vision, values, impact, behaviours and attitudes (including to risk). They are better equipped to deliver a more robust and resilient solution to the challenges ahead and are more entrepreneurially minded. In essence, they will leave the programme feeling more confident to take charge of themselves, their teams, and the tasks in hand.  They will be confident in re-evaluating, reflecting and asking questions: what are we doing, what do we need to do and, how can we achieve this?

“Some of the sessions on the programme had a trick or a technique you could take back and instantly use, which has been great and immediately useful. But the sum of the sessions coming together to explore adaptive leadership has had the most impact on me. The programme has made me feel more considered about my career, my professional practice and my leadership style. I’m more conscious of the art of what I am doing.” Rachel Hudson, Director of Marketing, Communications and Development, Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (OCL 2015)

How will their organisations benefit?

The programme develops leaders who are able to return to their organisations with the confidence and skill set to experiment and take risks with new business models and ways of working whilst supporting and creating a climate for new ideas. 

Their organisations benefit from having leaders who have the insight and ability to uncover the hidden talents and qualities of their people. They understand how developing and encouraging new ways of thinking, changing behaviours and acquiring new skills can help their organisations adapt; enabling them to become more sustainable and resilient. 

“I have talked to a number of my colleagues about how inspiring I found the course and they too mention how they can see my excitement about it. It really has made me want to integrate some of the activities we did into both my approach but also my team's approach to thinking more about where we want to be and how we are going to get there.” Traci Dix-Williams, Director of Operations, Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust (OCL 2015) 

"The session on transformative leadership and how we can communicate and inspire teams through comlex and difficult change was absolutely brilliant. I have already started to apply what I have learned and expect amazing results with my team." Sarah Wight, Chief Operating Officer, Arnolfini Galleries, Bristol (OCL 2015)

Oxford Museum Directors panel discussion chaired by Di Lees (Director General, Imperial War Museums)

The Faculty (read more)

The programme is delivered within a coaching environment, where theory and practice are explored and tested through provocations, fast-paced motivational sessions and experiential learning. Reflective opportunities, peer mentoring, and action-learning sessions are woven throughout the design of the programme to enable participants to step outside the learning space. Sessions flow into the evenings where participants are able to hear talks and provocations from cultural leaders and engage in conversations about the future of the cultural sector. 

“Diane Lees’ session on governance was transformational as was the Venture Sprint on the entrepreneurial thinking day. The variety of sessions across the week meant we didn’t know what was coming next and the push and stretch was excellent – it really challenged us.” Alistair Burtenshaw, Director, The Charleston Trust (OCL 2015)

“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 (OCL 2015)

The faculty for Oxford Cultural Leaders has been carefully curated to include senior cultural sector leaders and commentators, business school experts and industry authorities. The programme will provoke participants to consider how cultural organisations can reinvent themselves as not-for-profit hybrid-businesses, with entrepreneurial ways of thinking and behaving; explore relational, transformational and adapative leadership; and enable confidence in cultivating organisational and indivitual creativity in a climate of constraint.  

“I have made a lot of changes as a consequence of Oxford Cultural Leaders. The session on board governance had a big impact and got me thinking clearly about what transformation might look like and enabled me to move my plans forward.” Graham Henderson, Chief Executive of the Rimbaud & Verlaine Foundation (OCL 2015)

Collage of portraits of Oxford Cultural Leaders faculty

Making an application

Applications for the 2019 programme will open soon.

Each year we look to bring together a programme cohort of approximately 20 people who have the capacity to lead significant change, and whose organisation is ready to evolve. You should aspire to be innovative and entrepreneurial, and have a strong desire to have an impact on your organisation and the broader cultural sector. 

Recruitment is via a competitive process, with a panel of faculty members carefully considering applications based on what they can contribute to the programme, as sharing knowledge and expertise, and providing peer consultancy and support are core to the programmes' success.  

Applications are made via this website and ask for:

  • details of your current and recent roles, as well as the size and scope of the organisations you have worked in
  • your expectations of the programme, as well as the knowledge, passion and experience you think you can bring which will further enrich the experience for other participants
  • details of two referees who can speak to both your suitability for the programme and what it will mean for your organisation; we will contact these referees on your behalf but please do discuss you application with them.

You can download a PDF version of the 2018 application to see the types of questions asked here.

In 2019 participants (both Home/EU and International) contribute a fee of £2,850 which includes the cost of all tuition, accommodation, breakfast, lunch and supper (with the exception of one evening when participants are able to explore Oxford and its many restaurants and pubs).

To discuss further the programme and the role of participants please contact the Programme Director, Lucy Shaw, lucy.shaw@museums.ox.ac.uk | 01865 613783.

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