Strange are the ways of the boards of arts and cultural institutions. Decision and risk averse, they are relying increasingly on headhunters to choose candidates to fill vacancies so that, when the Chosen Ones turn out to be duds, as they often do, they can blame the recruiter.

The increasingly irrelevant NSW Government and the humble Frank Sartor, Minister for the Yartz, Minister for Redfern, Minister for Planning and just about every other enterprise that affects the quality of life in the state, has a poor record in choosing appropriate personnel and his recent anointing of Dawn Casey as the new boss of the Powerhouse Museum suggests that his judgement is not improving.

The smart money was on the Acting Director Jennifer Sanders whose referees included, inter alia, Paul Keating, Edmund Capon and the Director of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington plus a number of past and present Trustees but Sanders, who has propped up three previous lame duck directors, was passed over for Ms. Casey who Crikey readers may recall was the inaugural director of the Museum of Australia in Canberra, the greatest disaster in the country’s museological history.

Ms. Casey’s appointment was at least politically correct. The Trustees of the Historic Houses Trust of NSW are also considering not only a replacement for the hugely successful and popular director Peter Watts but also for his deputy, Helen Temple. Given that the HHT was the inspired creation of Neville Wran, it seems odd that his former wife, Jill, who is current President of the Board of Trustees, should put Nifty’s legacy at risk by handing over the choice of Watts’ successor to another head hunting firm.

To complicate matters further, the new Director-General of the Department of the Arts, Carol Mills, has declared an interest in the choice, but given that she comes from the Department of Ageing and Disability, scepticism about her expertise in matters of heritage is not unreasonable.

Meanwhile, back in Melbourne, the Australian Ballet is on the scout for a replacement for ex-GM Richard Evans who has decamped to the Sydney Opera House where the decision to appoint him was made by the Trustees, most of whom are experienced in the arts, not by one of those recruitment firms more interested in fast and fat fees than in long-term results.

Peter Fray

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