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Who got that job? GM, Creative Bay of Plenty

Lena Kovac, General Manager at Creative Bay of Plenty
Creative Bay of Plenty Team
We talk to Lena Kovac about the journey that led to her role as General Manager at Creative Bay of Plenty


“Keep doing what you’re doing, take risks and leap into the unknown, be open to what’s around the corner, be genuine but hard-working and committed to the case … Don’t compete - find ways to collaborate.”

This is the advice that Lena Kovac would give those seeking a career in arts management. Lena has recently started as the new General Manager at Creative Bay of Plenty. We spoke to her about her determination to be taken seriously in the sector as someone who can make things happen, and her plans to build Creative Bay of Plenty into a long-term resource that will serve everything to do with arts and culture in the region.

Lena has worked in the community arts sector since she moved to New Zealand from Germany in 2009. She carries with her a desire to bring communities together through art at a local level, but also on a broader scale, to strengthen the creative sector so that practitioners can not only survive, but thrive.

“ I see myself as an enabler, a connector and a facilitator bringing community/communities together, giving access to the arts and equipping practitioners with the skills they need to thrive.”

Most recently, Lena has spent four years heading the Mairangi Arts Centre in Auckland. She focused her energy on opening up the Centre’s programme to a diverse audience reaching out to meet broader communities. For example, she collaborated with the Department of Corrections forming a project to exhibit prison art, thus allowing communities who are often excluded from the benefits of arts and cultural centres to have their work celebrated.

In terms of this most recent career change, Lena says that she wasn’t actively searching for a new role when the opportunity at Creative Bay of Plenty turned up. However, she had begun thinking about growing into a bigger role with a scope beyond managing one facility.

“I wasn’t actually actively looking for a job - it kind of found me.”

The General Manager role at Creative Bay of Plenty provides an opportunity for Lena to expand her goal “to be a sector support for the whole creative sector”, and true to form she is bringing the community along with her. Within the first four months of being in the job, Lena has restructured her three staff roles to be more outward focused. She explains,

“One is to give funding advice/support to individuals and community groups and another to act as cultural community development offering mentoring and advice how to grow and become more self sustainable. We want our office in downtown Tauranga to be more of a community hub for people to come and seek advice, get information about what’s on and benefit from our connections and networks within the sector.”

She is embracing the need for a change at Creative Bay of Plenty and sees the journey as part of the goal. She will be engaging practitioners and their audience at every step of the way as they learn how to provide the best service for their community.

Lena expects many challenges along the road. This is a more public-facing role than what she is used to and she finds herself learning every day as she finds her feet in this new space. Her first challenge is connecting with the people of Tauranga.

“For Tauranga there’s a lot of work that needs to be done to get the wider public engaged, interested in and valuing arts and culture, how it is intrinsic to our everyday lives and absolutely vital for our well being, over and above all the other benefits.”   

You can see the driving force and commitment to being part of creating a sustainable life for people in the arts behind Lena’s approach. As part of what she achieves for Creative Bay of Plenty, she wants “ not only see parents send their kids to dancing lessons, but to take them along and attend a dance show. As a business to not only want paintings in your offices but to also pay the artists for creating them.”

Another major challenge is a lack of infrastructure and resourcing for the arts in the region. There are limited facilities for artists to showcase their work, and as a result for the public to be able to actively participate in arts and culture in the region. However, she remains hopeful that a fast growing population in Tauranga will open up opportunities to shape the look of the city and her role at Creative Bay of Plenty will provide the outlet to contribute to building a future for arts and culture in the region.

Currently she is most excited to be working on the development of an arts and culture strategy for Tauranga and the Western Bay. Something that previously did not exist.

“We currently don’t have a strategy of where we are heading as a sector, and it will be an important document for both Councils, funders, sponsors and the iwi in our region to take on board. At the moment too much is happening in little silos, and as I said above if we work in isolation we won’t be getting very far. But if we are all marching to the same beat we can achieve so much more.”

These are exciting times ahead for arts and culture in the Bay of Plenty with Lena Kovac at the helm. From the sounds of her enthusiasm, drive and expertise, Creative Bay of Plenty will become a fantastic resource for arts and culture in the region.

Written by

Hannah Mackintosh

29 Mar 2017

Hannah is a Wellington-based writer, community organiser and lover of stories.