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Focus on Leadership: Fernando do Campo

Jul 21, 2015

Each year John Monash Scholarships are awarded to outstanding graduates from Australian universities who have demonstrated leadership skills and have a vision for a better Australia. The Scholarship enables them to undertake Masters or Doctoral degrees at the world’s best universities in order to work towards that vision.

Fernando do Campo was one of the recipients of the 2014 Australian Cultural John Monash Scholarship and has taken the time to answer a few questions about what the scholarship has a allowed him to achieve and where he hopes it will take him in the future.

What have been your experiences as one of the inaugural Australian Cultural John Monash Scholars? 

I’ve spent the past five or so years working across disciplines and wearing various hats in the arts while researching where and how I could best continue my studies, hopefully abroad. The Sir General John Monash Foundation Scholarship is one of the few ways that an Australian artist can undertake supported postgraduate study overseas. I am honoured to be one of the first recipients. I see my practice and my role as a member of the Australian arts community in dialogue with professionals across all disciplines and fields of enquiry. We can’t function as a silo. The John Monash Scholarship not only allows me to fulfill my own academic ambitions, it connects me with an incredible cohort of young Australian leaders outside of the arts. The dialogue across the scholars is rich and regular and the sense of community and shared opportunities are already paramount.

What is your background?

I am an artist, writer and curator currently based in Brooklyn, with a daily commute to my studio in Manhattan at Parsons The New School for Design. I relocated to New York a year ago to undertake a Masters in Fine Arts. I grew up in Mar del Plata, Argentina but have lived in Australia since the age of ten. Although my mailing address in Australia has been quite irregular, I happily identify as Tasmanian. Migrating, and then my almost nomadic upbringing across Australia informs much of my practice today. I value location specificity just as much as itinerant cross-pollination, local community as much as global peers. As an Australian I feel this is key, living regionally has taught me most of what I know – as have the opportunities to leave and come back, repeatedly.

What do you see ‘cultural leadership’ as?

I don’t see leadership as a role or ‘hat’, but rather as the recognition that a gap exists for improvement and accepting that individually or collectively we can be better at what we do. This often comes from learning and innovation. Compared to other fields or sectors for development, cultural leadership functions as a shared goal and mutually as an attribute; one must (collectively and individually) not just be able to recognise what requires development but also what begs championing. In the cultural sector this means articulating the strengths and weaknesses of a broader community, its nuanced and layered histories and complex, ever-changing networks. Cultural leadership is present when a community is able to innovate, share knowledge and learn more about itself.

What do you think is the most important trait a cultural leader should have?

Leadership does not have a solid format; I think it’s successful when shared and open. Leadership occurs through innovation, and innovation is triggered when a gap is identified, a space to better. I think education, mentorship and collaboration add to the necessary skills of a good leader. If talking about a community or a cultural group/sector then the identification of these is multi-prismatic – they occur simultaneously across individuals, groups, organisations and governments. Good leaders need to be able to see how things are moving, and not only impose ideas or change but cause ideas or change through example and by observing those people and factors around them. I view good leadership as the offering of well crafted and well presented options that trigger positive change. Good leaders can recognise and analyse the benefits and flaws from various options before others, and can guide discussion, collaboration and development through the presentation of ideas or moments where these separate factors can intersect and innovate together.

What other leaders do you admire?

I find organisations offer good examples for sound leadership, indicative of a considered series of negotiations, compromises, moments of innovation, risk and intelligence. The Queensland Art Gallery | Galley of Modern Art (QAGOMA) in Brisbane is an institution that has remained fresh. The risks they take with acquisitions and commitment to exhibition design, particularly in their children’s gallery, deserves praise. Firstdraft ARI in Sydney is a key leader in its collective history and progressive legacy. Its twenty-five plus years as an ARI prove the importance of supporting early career practitioners while its recent relocation confirms their determination to move forward, re-inventing the wheel when necessary.

As a practitioner and advocate for the arts, I seek mentorship in various people for different roles. As an artist, Raquel Ormella has always been someone who I have learnt from, and as do many other artists who have studied under her at the Australian National University, we maintain a close mentoring relationship. And now as peers we support each other through balancing the many nuances of working in the arts and maintaining a rigorous practice. Raquel has always been a leader in the way an artist can remain critical (of themselves, their environment, practice) while producing quality work and working across various roles in the arts lexicon.

When I was an emerging arts administrator and curator I learnt nearly everything I needed from Michael Edwards, Director Contemporary Art Tasmania.  Michael deserves praise for his ongoing support of early career artists and curators particularly in Tasmania. I also nod my head to Simon Mordant and praise him for his vision, risk, innovation and commitment at dreaming of a new pavilion for Australia at the Venice Biennale, and for his commitment to promoting Australian arts practice on a global and critical stage. When I worked at the Biennale in 2013, his generosity was palpable – generosity, another key attribute to any good leader.

What’s next for you?

I am currently half-way through my Masters of Fine Arts at Parsons, and this year was filled with study as well as exhibitions and projects both in New York and in Australia; 2015-2016 doesn’t look too different! My focus is to gain as much as possible from my time at Parsons and in New York. I work with over twenty different faculty, all practicing artists and curators from throughout the world, each with a different knowledge set, tool box and specific methodologies which they employ and share as artists, teachers and citizens in the world. My cohort of peers is even more impressive and generous. I plan on returning to Australia upon completion of this program while still continuing to work internationally; and vice-versa I plan on staying overseas while continuing to work in Australia. Where I am located is not an issue for me, I feel at home and happily displaced everywhere I am. This makes me more acute to each place. Previous balancing of arts industry hats – artist, curator, writer, arts administrator, advocate – do not bother me as much anymore. I look forward to working across all these roles simultaneously. That’s my practice as a whole, one of multi-disciplines, maintaining critique and high in conversation. What’s next for me is the same as always, to find new sites for innovation and points of intersection, where culture (through the arts) can reach its greatest potential.

Scholarships are each valued at AUD $60,000 per year for a maximum of three years (up to AUD $180,000). The Scholarships have no age or discipline restrictions, and are tailored for modern leadership in a global society. Applications for 2016 scholarships close 12 August 2015.

Click here for more information on John Monash Scholarships .