The Future Leaders program builds the capacity of artists and arts workers across Australia and the Asia-pacific. The year-long leadership development journey exposed participants to thought leaders from within and outside of the sector stretching their thinking and practice to enrich the sector across the region.


The Future Leaders Program is a personal and professional development opportunity administered by the Australia Council for the Arts (now Creative Australia) for early and mid-career emerging arts leaders.

The program promotes networking, while enhancing skills and knowledge and does so in close collaboration with First Nations artists and knowledge holders. Delivered over 12-months, participants connect with, and learn from, peers who work within organisations or independently, through in-person and online workshops.

Through facilitated discussion, knowledge exchanges, workshops and on Country learning with First Nations Elders, the Future Leaders program explores new models of leadership and how they intersect with prominent themes and challenges faced by the industry.

In 2019, Polykala was selected to design and deliver the Future Leaders program for the Australia Council for the Arts. The program had been running since 2017, bringing together participants from across the country and region and from different artistic mediums to develop their leadership practice in service of the arts sector.


Our 12-month program consisted of three intensives of five days each. The first intensive was run online, using the online learning platform Gather. The second and third intensives were in-person, retreats held in vibrant regional areas including: Bundanon, Minjerribah (Stradbroke Island and Wagga Wagga).

We designed the intensives using the ‘Fellowship’ approach, where the relationships of the cohort were fundamental to their ability to learn from each other during the program and to continue to support each other beyond the life of the program.

Each intensive had three fundamental ingredients: Adaptive Leadership teaching, on-Country learning, and exposure to guest speakers and facilitators from inside and outside the Arts sector.

The entire program was connected by the concepts and ideas drawn from the Adaptive Leadership framework. In particular, the theme of leadership as a practice (not a position) was central. Flowing on from treating leadership as something that we do, we explored the distinction between leadership and authority, the dynamics of social and organisational change and navigating technical and adaptive challenges. These core ideas were set against a backdrop of funding cuts to the arts sector, the ravages of COVID and the sincere will to centre First Nations practice to make progress on these challenges. 

The on-Country learning aspect of the program was central to its design. For the in-person residentials, we made significant efforts to foster ongoing connections with First Nations communities and Traditional Owners and Indigenous thought-leaders to ensure that the program was grounded in a historical and contemporary First Nations context. We are incredibly grateful to the hospitality and generosity of the Elders that hosted us on Country, including Uncle James Ingram, Aunty Lorraine Tye and Aunty Joyce Hampton on Wiradjuri Country, Jade Kennedy and Aunty Loretta Parsley on Yuin Country, Aunty Violet Sheridan on Ngunnawal Country and Aunty Mary Burgess, Aunty Maureen Myers on Quandamooka Country.

We drew on guest speakers and facilitators from the Australia Council for the Arts, independent arts organisations to build on the existing knowledge and experience of the participants. Equally, we invited guests from sectors outside the arts, from academia to agriculture, to challenge the assumptions of the program participants. All our guests, however, were united by their shared commitment to enacting social and cultural leadership by challenging the status quo and working towards a more resilient arts sector. Our guests included Wesley Enoch, Dr Tyson Yunkaporta, Lydia Fairhall, Dr Georgie MacLean, Dr Lucas lhlein, Dr Laura Fisher, Veronica Pardo and Jamie Lewis.


The extensive design and consultation involved in the delivery of the Future Leaders program is something we will never forget. It still stands as one of the most challenging and rewarding facilitation experiences we have undertaken. The immense and challenging project required us to successfully engage people from administrative, artistic and activist backgrounds balancing the sometimes competing needs of hands-on and more reflective learners. We’ve been invited back by Creative Australia, to design the next iteration of the arts leaders program for 2024 on the basis of the success of our work. 

“Polykala developed and shaped an incredible professional development program that was deeply layered, beautifully modulated and rigorous yet gentle. I was really impressed by the openness, focus and generosity of the group which is very much a testament to the culture you’ve established and modelled.”

Adam McGowan – Director, Industry Initiatives, Australia Council for the Arts


Australia Council for the Arts


2019 – 2023

Number of participants


Number of sessions



Wagga Wagga (NSW), Malua Bay (NSW), Canberra (ACT), Bundanon (NSW), Minjerribah/North Stradbroke Island (QLD), Online