Claudia Castro (’04)

Claudia Castro is a 2004 Arts Administration graduate and recent fellowship alumna of the Clore Leadership Programme in London, U.K. Fellows of the program are mentored by and shadow leaders in British cultural institutions, receiving coaching and attending intensive training sessions to strengthen their skills as promising leaders in the creative cultural sector. The program has transformed Claudia’s way of thinking as an arts administration professional, as a teacher and as a person. Currently, Claudia lives in Brasilia, Brazil teaching music at a primary arts school. Having just finished the program in January 2016, she recently took the time to reflect about her challenges, experiences and rewards of her Clore Leadership Fellowship.

Tell us a little about yourself. Are you an artist?

I’m a flutist and cultural manager. I’ve performed professionally in orchestras and have performed recitals in many countries. I had just finished my masters in music performance at NYU before going to Boston University to do the MS in Arts Administration. As a cultural manager, I have managed a theatre company, run arts education programs, been involved in cultural policy at national and local levels, and managed international cultural cooperation programs among 20 Latin American countries, plus Spain and Portugal.

In your own words, what is the Clore Leadership Programme? 

It’s a professional development program for people who are interested in honing their leadership skills. Clore draws people from wide backgrounds in the cultural field. There were people who specialized in museums, performing arts and many other creative industries. We even had a marine archaeologist working in our cohort! Clore selects a mix of people who reflect the cultural sector very well.

How many fellows are chosen for the program?

The Clore Leadership Programme chooses twenty fellows from Great Britain and four fellows from other countries. Two are usually from Hong Kong and the other two from rotating countries. I was the first Brazilian to be awarded the fellowship in the program’s 11th year; my other fellow cohort was from Egypt.

What did you hope to get out of the program and how was the program tailored to your needs?

The program involved immersion sessions with all the fellows at Bore Place, an organic farm in Kent, where I learned from leaders of top national organizations as they spoke about their experiences. They shared with us their personal challenges working with people and alerted us to their need to be supported by their peers. During the course we were constantly confronted with our demons. It was very comforting to know that everybody has self-doubts and conflicts. We explored personal challenges in coaching sessions throughout the year. That first immersion session set off a series of questions: Who am I? What is it I want? Where do I want to go? How do I want to work? The Clore Leadership Programme put us on a roller coaster of emotions. As fellows, we bonded as a group resulting in a safe environment to share our experiences. Those sessions shook me up and have been part of that transforming experience for me as an individual and collectively as a group.

What is something surprising that you learned about yourself or others through the program?

I learned that we all need to be more self-aware of our thoughts, our emotions and how we behave in different contexts. As you become more connected with your surroundings, the world becomes more colorful.

I applied to the Clore Leadership Programme because I realized I needed to reconnect myself with my dreams and make sense of my career so far. I attended Directors’ and staff meetings for specific projects at the Barbican Centre for the Arts where I was invited to share my views and professional experience. The program made me understand that I can choose where I want to be and the next step I will take professionally.

Can you describe a challenge or difficult situation you had to overcome through the Clore Leadership Programme?*

I was put on a temporary assignment in a British Cultural Institution for three months. British authorities required me to get a work visa because my fellowship was government funded.  I had to deal with several visa issue problems last minute which was very stressful. In order to apply for a visa stamp in Brazil, I needed a letter of support from my fellowship sponsor. In turn, they needed a letter from my host organization.

Coincidentally, there had been a change in the British visa issuance system. My passport was sent from Brazil to Colombia! It took a few days for my passport to be returned, I lost my scheduled flight, and the Portuguese airline with whom I had booked my ticket went on strike. I was late to the start of my training because of these setbacks, and as a consequence, I had to request an extension of my fellowship.

In the first few coaching sessions, I learned how to overcome anxiety and frustration and I came to terms with the fact that I had done everything within my reach to avoid such an overwhelmingly stressful situation. I ended up facilitating communication among four organizations in England and Brazil to get to the solution of this situation. Throughout the process, a voice kept sounding in my head: keep your cool. This is a Murphy’s Law type of situation that you might encounter leading an organization – anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

What advice might you give to current students of the Arts Administration program who are considering applying for this program?

Thinking about Boston University students, I asked the Clore program director about fellowships for American students. There are no fellowships currently available for Americans, but they may apply to the program, provided they find their sponsors.

If you are an international student, the fellowship which amounts to about £14,000, is available for the countries listed each year on the Clore website.

What are some ways the Clore Leadership Programme has shaped your thinking in your current position? 

The coaching sessions and training gave me a great tool: active listening. In any situation you’re going to be (meetings, working with a team, etc.) you need to understand how to read people better in order to help them through their processes. As a musician, I thought I had good listening skills, but I found out there is much more to listening and interpreting people’s ideas and behaviors. There’s about five different levels of listening: Level 1 is when you wait for your turn to speak; level 2, when you are anxious to share your experience; level 3, when you are quick in giving advice; level 4, when you are encouraging, eliciting for more; level 5, when you are active listening by engaging with silence. Most people often get stuck on levels one to three. We listen while thinking of what we’re going to say in response. When you get to level five as a listener, you reflect and act as a mirror to what the person is saying, being able to help them better through non-judgmental and trust building questions.

What wisdom could you give to current students?

Be self-aware, be true to yourself and seek help from others.

Learn More about Claudia

Image Credit: Clore Leadership Programme

Pictured: Claudia Castro ’04 with Sir John Tusa (former Chairman of Clore Leadership Programme and Head of Barbican Centre for the Arts) and Sue Hoyle (Director, Clore Leadership Programme).

Interview conducted by Claire Fassnacht

*This question was revised by the interviewed.