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Oxford Cultural Leaders

Oxford University Museums, in partnership with colleagues from the Saïd Business School, are delighted to announce that its highly successful residential programme, Oxford Cultural Leaders, will be running again in April 2016. Applications are now open.



Having access to expertise from across the cultural and business sectors has enabled Oxford to develop a programme that is unique within the museum and cultural sectors internationally. The programme was held for the first time in March 2015, bringing together a group of dynamic leaders 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 2015 programme)

Oxford Cultural Leaders is for dynamic and reflective CEOs, 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 will be held from 10-15 April 2016 within the University of Oxford's museums, colleges and cultural assets. Applications for the 2016 programme are now closed.

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 skilful decision makers, and develop mechanisms for dealing with demanding situations.

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.

“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 now see my potential more clearly. I actually have my Oxford Cultural Leaders notebook with me at work and I still refer to it 3 months down the line. I’ve also been doing things unconsciously; the changes on behaviour have become normal.” Emily Scott-Dearing, Lead Curator, Medicine Galleries, Science Museum (OLC 2015)

Participants will be staying at Trinity 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 the 2015 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)


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)

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. For example Pegram Harrison (Fellow in Entrepreneurship, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford), Richard Evans  (Director, Beamish, the Living Museum of the North), Janet Barnes (CEO, York Museums Trust) and Jonathan Lloyd (Director, Pegasus Theatre, Oxford) will provoke participants to consider how cultural organisations can reinvent themselves as businesses, with entrepreneurial ways of thinking and behaving. Tracey Camilleri (Associate Fellow, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford) will explore how leaders can cultivate creativity in a climate of constraint. Keith Ruddle (Associate Fellow, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford) will investigate transformational change, leading in complexity, adaptive leadership and ‘wicked problems’. Diane Lees (Director General, Imperial War Museums) will reflect on how cultural leaders can work with both their governing bodies and their staff to manage change effectively. 

“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)


Applications for the 2016 programme are now closed.

We are looking 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 were collected through an online portal accessible via this website. Applicatants were required to register for an account on the site, and were able work on their application online, and then log out and return at a later time to continue working and submit. Applicants were asked:

  • about the 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
  • for the 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.

Participants (both Home/EU and International) will be asked to contribute a fee of £2,500 which includes the cost of all tuition (both at the Business School and Oxford University Museums), accommodation, breakfast, lunch and supper (with the exception of two evenings when participants are able to explore Oxford and its many restaurants and pubs). There may be a limited number of partial bursaries available.

To discuss further the programme and the role of participants please contact the Programme Director, Lucy Shaw, | .

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