The new Creative Arts Leadership MA, for which I am Programme Lead (and for which I uprooted my life from London to Manchester in 09/2019) will be an innovative, radical trans-disciplinary postgraduate programme that interrogates existing understanding and practices of ‘leadership’, and seeks to (co-)create new, diversified models and new role models that are inclusive, ethically, socially and environmentally responsible through creative arts processes. Curated by UK’s oldest comprehensive art school ranked UK number 2 in Research Power in the Research Excellence Framework 2021, and where artist-turned Suffragette Leader Sylvia Pankhurst — who personifies Creative Arts Leadership — was alumni, and co-delivered with the triple-accredited Business School, the MA scopes, maps, and enacts the possibilities of a more equitable creative leadership praxis. The first iteration will begin 09/2023 as a one-year fulltime MA, with other possible future strands and modalities (e.g. Creative EDI Leadership, Kinder Leadership, CPD, part time/PG Cert/PG dip, online/hybrid offerings, MBA, MASc). The MA was approved in 05/2022 after 2.5 years of development. The slides and text below are an early preview of the course and contextualise why/how arts, creativity and leadership are entangled. The MA comprises core units of Curating Change (on inclusive leadership, which focuses on elements like kindness and neurodiversity by atypical leaders), Business as Unusual (on Personal and Global Leadership), Social, Ethical & Environmental Enterprise for Leaders. Learners can self-design their own bespoke programme of learning with the interdisciplinary Optional units such as on Circular Economy (from the Faculty of Business and Law), The Ethics of Anthropocene (Philosophy), and Theory of Change and Community Based Participatory Research (both Sociology), and synthesise their learning through a 60-credit Synthesis Project entitled ‘My Leadership’. In addition, I have designed and will lead a different but related short course as part of the Office for Students Pilot Programme entitled Creative Leadership, from 07/2023. I have been invited by Manchester Met’s award-winning RISE programme winner (Guardian University Award for best Course Design, Retention and Student Outcomes 2022) to lead this unit. Pitched at Level 4 (equivalent to first year of undergraduate), the course will target working adults. Manchester Met is one of 22 institutions to deliver the OfS’ Lifelong Learning Entitlement (2025), a cornerstone of the government’s Education White Paper. The 6-week Creative Leadership short course targets nurses, care home and NHS staff, and it will be delivered with Manchester Met’s acclaimed RISE programme (winner of Guardian University Award for best Course Design, Retention and Student Outcomes 2020).


Since 1998, I have showcased my artistic research on >900 platforms (MOMA New York, Documenta and more), taught and/or consulted in >100 HEIs and organisations (including Royal College of Art, Australian National University and Singapore government’s Media Authority for 5 years) and won >15 awards (including National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement Images Culture Change Award and San Francisco International Film Festival Golden Gate Award). I moved to Manchester in 09/2019 to join Manchester Metropolitan University as Senior Lecturer and specialist in creative leadership to be a Programme Leader for a new Creative Arts Leadership MA.    


Putin. Pizzagate. Pandemic. Policies paralysing the precariat. Profits poisoning the planet. Procedures persecuting people of colour, who are queer, or with queer brains and minds. Has pale/stale leadership caused our state of perma-crisis? Or isn’t ‘leadership’ as a concept and practice itself in crisis? Artful, agile and atypical, the Creative Arts Leadership MA is an urgent creative pedagogical intervention. Despite its tentacular nature spanning a wide range of topics, ‘leadership’ is often not discussed within the arts and humanities. Instead, similar to how future studies was previously ‘rejected’ in the social sciences (Urry 2016), leadership is often derided as a neo-liberalist construct in the arts (e.g. Hoyle 2018). This is despite how, from the copious sketches and notes that spurred human’s dream of flying by Leonardo da Vinci, to game-changing movements like the global crowdfunding platform Kickstarter by artist Perry Chen, evidence abounds on how art and artful approaches have played a profound role to transform how we see, feel, think, organise, work and play (Tan 2020a). Within the arts & humanities, neurodiversity as creative and cultural phenomena and process(es) also remain ‘invisible’ – much like the disability itself (Tan 2018). This is at odds with how neuro-minorities are over-represented in the arts (Bacon and Bennett 2013; RCA 2016), including da Vinci whose mirror-writing and intellectual promiscuity were due to his dyslexia and ADHD (Røsstad 2002; Mangione and Maestro 2019; Catani and Mazzarello 2019). The Creative Arts Leadership MA will fill these lacunae. The course scopes, maps, and enacts the possibilities of a more equitable creative leadership praxis. It seeks to counter the danger of a ‘single story’ (Adichie 2009) and re-imagine ‘leadership’ by starting from the drawing board, to draw on examples from the arts and culture. Crucially, following the ground-clearing labour and rigour of black feminist approaches which interrogate not just the what, but how and why of knowledge production (Collins 2000), including prejudices embedded within positivist critiques of patriarchal systems (Obasi 2022), the course will also highlight – and seeks to dismantle – colonialist monuments, models and mechanisms within existing discourses and practices. The Creative Arts Leadership MA will thus equip and empower participants to take a step back to review the forces that have given rise to toxic templates of governance and power, and step up, to curate bold visions and tactics that celebrate new models, role models and ecosystems.


The delay caused by the pandemic has enabled me to conduct extensive primary research and consultation with >100 senior academic and industry experts about new modes of leadership required for future crises. Manchester Met colleagues I have engaged with include PVC Education, the Faculty’s DPVC, Heads of Education, International, University Teaching Academy, School Of Digital Arts, Policy Evaluation Research Unit and more. External consultants include neurodivergent business leader and academic Prof. Chin Hwee Tan, CEO Asia Pacific of Trafigura (US$147 billion revenue), Katelijn Verstraete, former Director Arts & Creative Industries East Asia British Council, and David Moutrey, Manchester Director of Culture and CEO of HOME Theatre. Instead of passively re-laying/reproducing existing knowledge, the research-driven and student-centred MA creatively interrogates ‘leadership’, and seeks to re-imagine new models centring EDI, with/for/by learners and teachers keen to disrupt and advance their own practice and thinking to create personal, organisational, and social change. The unique MA improves on arts management and leadership PG offerings common in HE today.