Q&A: Shared leadership with Sam Trotman, Scottish Sculpture Workshop

As SCAN member Scottish Sculpture Workshop’s marks it’s 45th anniversary, it is one of a growing number of arts organisations in Scotland to recognise that two or more heads could be better than one. Programme and Partnerships Director Sam Trotman tells us more about why she favours joint leadership.

SSW is moving to what you call a “multi-voice leadership model” in 2024 – what prompted this decision and what does it mean for you as co-director?

We are excited to be moving to this new model in 2024 but it has been a long time in the making. Since I arrived at SSW it has been clear that to enable a workshop to run effectively collaboration and mutual learning is key. I also joined as Director when my first child was not quite one and I kept looking at other cultural workers and wondering how they lead organisations or continued their artistic practices whilst also being a caregiver. At times it felt (feels) impossible but I knew that the tools we learn as caregivers are also the tools of effective leadership and I wanted to lean into this further.

As we shift to this new model, my role will focus more fully on the programme and our vital partnerships and collaborations that make this happen. I also focus on building the resources needed to deliver this. My Co-Director is Sara Gallie, knows SSW inside out and has worked within the organisation for 12 years (and has known it as an artist for 20 years prior). Sara’s role as the Finance and Governance Director focuses on managing our resources and ensuring rigorous organisational compliance. We are both mothers and also undertake other forms of caregiving. Being able to collaborate in this new way supports both the organisation but also each other. We both come from working class backgrounds and without safety nets of inherited wealth or wider familial support structures the co-directorship enables us to work more efficiently and also have a life outside of work!

The move to co-direction means that our roles need to factor in more time for communication and working with both the artists we support and with our team. It involves much listening and taking time to outline what we are holding and what shapes certain decision making.

What do you hope this new model will enable SSW to achieve going forward?

For us this model enables many things to happen. Firstly, it affords more focus to our roles, meaning less juggling and more streamlined working. This in turn supports our wellbeing and that of our teams. As a team, if we are better supported then we are better positioned to support the artists and communities we work with. It has taken work to realise this and to actually learn to embody this – it is a practice! It is with thanks to mentors such as Adele Patrick of Glasgow Womens Library, Kathrin Böhm of MyVillages and our Board all of whom have championed this approach. Running a Residency and Community Programme that aims to support those involved holistically but not doing this for ourselves is fraught. As a sector we can not normalise the extreme pressure we have been working under and the loneliness of leadership, especially in a time when we are experiencing so many threats to the sector.

Secondly, this multi-voiced leadership model creates space for more people to step into leadership positions from a wide range of lived experiences. We hope it is a model that can sustain people who face barriers to leadership positions and to do so in a far more supported way.

Finally, I think it provides a stable model for us as a rural organisation, where the isolation from wider cultural centres of production can not be underestimated. It spreads knowledge more widely, sets up foundations for better collaboration and accounts for succession planning.

It’s of course early in the process, but do you think other arts organisations could benefit from such a model?

I think they already are! This way of working is not new and is rooted in the non-hierarchical working models used by communities, and especially by artists, for years. To develop how we are working we have borrowed from many forms of organising – socio-cratic models, women’s circles etc. I guess this form of working within the charitable sector was historically less common but we can see it blossoming in the UK now which is exciting! Shout out to our neighbours Deveron Projects and to Glasgow Print Studio, CCA, Alchemy Film and Moving Image Festival and Fierce Festival amongst others. All charities working with multi-voiced leadership.

What are some highlights of the SSW programme that you are looking forward to in your 45th anniversary year?

We are looking forward to the re-opening of our bothy following its renovations to develop new accessible accommodation, bathroom and kitchen and to landscape our site with new ramping. We are looking forward to the re-opening of some of the metal working and casting spaces at SSW following building works. We are also looking forward to our recently launched Community Making Space Programme. Also we welcome our group residents from August and will be launching new artists residency opportunities soon. Oh and we are excited to continue to work with Eva Masterman’s on Building the Clay Commons… more info coming soon.


All images: photography by Felicity Crawshaw