Adelaide Fringe chief on the art of recruiting talent

Charlie Cush

While digital technology has great potential, it can only be harnessed through people power, according to Adelaide Fringe Director and CEO Heather Croall. We caught up with Heather to discuss this, and how she unites diverse talents to achieve extraordinary results.


Thousands of people make the Adelaide Fringe happen; from permanent team members and seasonal contractors, to volunteers and artists. How do you go about recruiting such a diverse group of people?

Everything we do as an organisation is informed by an ongoing commitment to cultural diversity, inclusivity, and acceptance. We don't just value and celebrate difference – we depend upon it. That’s what makes Adelaide Fringe so strong. Everyone belongs and everyone is welcome.

Recruitment is a key contributor to that. While the Fringe runs for 31 days and nights, the Fringe team works all year round and we are always recruiting. As leaders, we continuously educate ourselves and our colleagues to ensure hiring decisions are guided by diversity, inclusivity, and acceptance. For example, we all participate in staff development in areas such as resilience workshops and Aboriginal cultural awareness.

As for artist recruitment, we’ve turned that on its head at Adelaide Fringe. Most festivals take a top-down approach, where curators pick the talent. But we have an open online platform to empower artists and venues to register and connect. Through this, we engage about 7,000 artists, and stage about 1,200 shows across hundreds of venues. The world is changing fast and we have to move with it

The online platform you mention is one product of Adelaide Fringe’s digital transformation in recent years. What advice do you have for leaders embarking on such projects?

It's easy to get distracted by all the amazing technology and tools available, but actually I think you have to start with the ‘users’ – the people our services are for. When we embarked on our digital transformation, we held internal workshops to help us be clear about who we are serving and the problems we are solving for them. That helped us get staff in the solutions-focused head space of “yes, and” rather than “no, but”. In other words, it helped our team to embark on the journey with an open mind. This established a culture of continuous improvement, which remains important because digital transformation is never really finished. For this reason, we provide resilience training for our people, to assist them in being agile and adaptable.

We are now in an age where automation is changing jobs and the world of work. But human qualities such as creativity, critical thinking and problem solving remain very much in demand. As a CEO in the arts, do you have any advice on how to get the most out of creative professionals?

Innovation and new solutions often come as a result of interdisciplinary collaboration. The first step is to invite creative minds into your decision-making and processes. That can be challenging, because artists and creative people sometimes speak a little differently to scientists, or economists, or accountants. But if you can find a common language and unite people around a problem, you will discover unexpected and highly effective solutions.

Of course, that’s difficult because silos exist in most organisations. That can be overcome when CEOs and other senior leaders prioritise and enable cross-departmental problem solving. If you provide a supportive, open-minded environment, then it can bring out the creative qualities in everyone

At Robert Walters, we’re delighted to be partnering with Adelaide Fringe in 2020. How would you describe the value of such partnerships?

Obviously, financial support enables us to make Adelaide Fringe the biggest and best that it can be. It allows us to bring more arts to more people in more places. There’s a community benefit there but also an economic one too. Last year, Adelaide Fringe generated $95 million in expenditure for the state economy.

The value of corporate partnerships extends beyond dollars and cents though. Robert Walters is also committed to helping us continue to hire a talented and diverse workforce in 2020.

And I see arts partnerships as a two-way street. Both parties should benefit. So as well as gaining access for their clients to live performances, corporates might, for example, engage artists to come in and do exercises with employees to support the creation of stronger teams, or have artists in residence to spark inter-disciplinary collaboration and innovation.

Really, there’s a multitude of ways that the arts can benefit business, and vice versa.


Robert Walters South Australia Director, Michelle Christie, reflects further on the mutual benefits when the businesses partner with arts organisations.

Robert Walters is a proud partner of the Adelaide Fringe, which runs from 14 February to 15 March 2020. Robert Walters is also a sponsor of the Brisbane Festival and presents the annual Robert Walters Group UK Young Artist of the Year Award.