On the Couch with Joel McGuinness

GAC-Joel-McGuiness-photo-by-Peter-FosterWho is Joel McGuinness?
I am the CEO and Creative Director of Geelong Arts Centre. I am a creative entrepreneur, executive administrator, and cultural leader who LOVES performing arts, communities, and the vital role of creativity in driving positive change.

We are just about to complete a $140m capital redevelopment, backed by the Victoria government (we opened the $38.5m Stage Two in November 2019), which I have been working on for the last 6 years. Geelong Arts Centre and our region is extraordinary, and I have loved being part of the transformation and seeing the confidence, resilience and beauty as part of this community. It all started when I literally ran away and joined the circus at 16-year-old from my tiny home town in regional WA.

What would you do differently from what you do now?
I think what I do is pretty different in a lot of respects! I think that the daily news needs to have an arts and culture section just before the sport! I believe that expression through culture and the arts is vital to our lives as a society and community and therefore should be celebrated every day.

I believe in the power of collaboration and the co-design process, so I would continue to involve various stakeholders in decision-making, ensuring that our offerings remain inclusive and reflective of the community’s aspirations. I would further explore and implement cutting-edge technologies to create a spatially intelligent arts centre that enhances the visitor experience and fosters a deeper connection between the audience and the arts. Anything to ensure that Geelong Arts Centre can confidently step into the future.

One day, I would love to have a cute boutique hotel with lots of great art and cook for people, but for now I feel that I am doing what I was born to do!

Who inspires you and why?
I am honestly inspired by so many people around me and a lot of them I work with every day. The team here have blown me away with their determination, resilience and love for what we do and for this community.

I am continually inspired by artists who manage to create, share and inspire meaning out of this topsy turvy world and I feel that they are more vital than ever before.

I am also inspired by the pure joy and beauty of my nieces Skyler and Sierra, and nephew Sailor. Seeing the world through young people’s eyes and open hearts is so, so precious and reminds us to stay open and excited about life and the world around us.

What would you do to make a difference in the world?
Arts are for everyone and by sharing and understanding each other just a little bit more, this can have profound impacts and change. I want to challenge the notion of black box theatres that turn their back on the world and radically change the relationship between the art and the audience through leading institutions that challenge the status quo.

I used to talk about ‘making space and getting out of the way’ but recently I have learned from the incredible First Nations community that creating space and holding space is way more important, as it is much more involved and nurturing than an empty space. Holding and creating spaces where diverse voices are heard and valued,

I aim to create cultural spaces that truly resonate with the community. I am, and will continue to be, a passionate advocate for the arts as a powerful tool for positive change, supporting emerging artists through initiatives like Geelong Arts Centre’s Creative Engine, providing grants, professional development, and access to facilities for artists and makers.

If you can be authentic, vulnerable and openly laugh at yourself and the humour in the world, I see this as leadership too.

Favourite holiday destination and why?
I am dreaming of Italy at the moment and the coast of Spain right near the French border. San Sebastian and the Basque country are incredible and I have always wanted to see the Croatian coast too! Maybe next year will be a travel year… I grew up on the coast of Western Australia so love the beach, sun, swimming, reading and cocktails.

When friends come to town, what attraction would you take them to, and why?
When friends come to town, I would take them to Geelong Arts Centre, of course! I’m so proud of the transformation we’ve achieved through the capital redevelopment and the co-design process. I love taking my friends and family to experience the awesome shows and seeing a glimpse of my world.

Also, I love Arborist and just Little Malop Street precinct in general and breakfast in Pakington Street. Box Office is a favourite breakfast place, and also love all the incredible wineries; Jack Rabbit and Leura Park are two of my favourites. And show them around our arts precinct – Geelong is bustling with the Geelong Arts Centre redevelopment, as well as the beautiful exhibitions across the road at Geelong Gallery and some great activities at Geelong Library.

Beyond that, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to showcase some of the amazing coastline (maybe in the warmer months though!) and the awesome food and wine offerings of the G21 region. We really are so lucky to have such an exceptional range of culinary and natural experiences available right on our doorstep.

What are you currently reading?
I am reading a bit of fantasy again lately and always love a biography. I’ve nearly finished American Gods by Neil Gaiman and am loving the sobering and apt commentary on how we have lost our way and worship of consumerism and somewhat empty promises of capitalism. I am drawn by the mix of ancient wisdom interspersed with whimsy, bleakness and a touch of magic.

What are you currently listening to?
Loving the Kylie Minogue resurgence and not ashamed to say it!!! Kylie said it best when she said, Padam Padam and I think there is something in that for everyone. Been listening to Tina Turner, Miley Cyrus and old school 80s and 90s music, but then went to Melbourne Recital Centre the other night and was blown away by the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra’s collaboration on the Ottoman Baroque and the beauty of bringing Rumi’s poetry alive with exquisite Turkish instruments. Also, VERY excited for Jessica Mauboy and Missy Higgins at Geelong Arts Centre!

Happiness is?
Happiness, for me is laughter, connection and joy. Seeing artists thrive, audiences engaged, and our arts centre becoming a source of inspiration and connection also brings me immense joy. I am lucky to work among some incredible, talented, caring people on the daily, and creating an inclusive and supportive space that allows people to be themselves… I am also dreaming of that beach, sun, a cocktail, and adventures together with my husband.

What does the future hold for you?
The future holds exciting possibilities! I can’t imagine a future where I’m not advocating for the arts and cultural sector, championing the transformative power of the arts in all its forms, and hopefully inspiring some others in the field along the way.

I feel like I would like to write again and bring some more creativity into my own practice and probably some more study. I want to see Geelong Arts Centre alive, thriving and incredible local artists supported to have a career here in the region!

Joel is the CEO and Creative Director of Geelong Arts Centre – which is about to celebrate their Grand Opening Festival from 19 August – 23 September 2023. For more information, visit: www.geelongartscentre.org.au for details.

Image: Joel McGuiness – photo by Peter Foster