Managing WOW

Circus WOW’s longevity and success is due to many dedicated women putting their hands up to undertake many jobs for many, many hours. We share with you here document excerpts and quotes from past and current Management Committee volunteers; reflections on the camaraderie and the hard slog of keeping everything going; excitement, pride, stress, steep learning curves and growth, teamwork and skills building, hard decision making, conflict transformation, endless meetings and minute taking—and reaching for that elusive dream of WOW’s ongoing sustainability.

With Penny Lowther as founding Artistic Director and other keen women who joined, WOW grew very fast—with high expectations of what we could achieve and sustain as a volunteer community arts organisation. WOW established ‘arms’ in Training, Performance and Outreach work, as well as opportunities for women to move into circus professionally. Over the years women have jumped on board to take on hefty workloads and challenges as co-ordinators of these areas, as well as other responsibilities, in a working committee known initially as “The Fidos” and later as the Management Committee (MC). Early advice and support was given by Alicia Battestini and Hall Murray from Circus Monoxide, Donna Jackson from the Melbourne Women’s Circus and Sue Bessell from Wollongong Council. At other times consultants have been engaged to help review WOW’s goals and structure, and move toward sustainability.

When Penny moved away in 2005, Mara Vukasinovic and Keyna Imray were WOW Co-Directors from 2006 -2008. Since WOW’s incorporation as a not for profit association in 2008, MC volunteers have sustained a myriad of positions simultaneously: the essential circus Co-ordinator roles, plus the legally required roles (Chair, Treasurer, Secretary, Public Officer, and committee members), plus all the other tasks such as grant writing, fundraising, promotion, media, website and newsletters, dealing with insurance, policies and procedures, risk management and safety.

Often MC members have filled many exhausting roles at once; being, for example Chair or Vice Chair plus Training Co-ordinator plus website coordinator at the same time! It is also hard to create a boundary between being an MC ‘worker’ and simply enjoying classes and performing. For 20 years WOW has consistently and gratefully received and used Wollongong City Council’s Small Cultural Grants program to achieve goals, but this would not have been possible without the tireless work of volunteers applying for and acquitting every one of those applications.

Thus, like a lot of volunteer organisations, WOW faces ongoing problems of recruiting enough volunteers, volunteers juggling work and life responsibilities, and volunteer ‘burn out’. A period of heightened stress began in 2008 for a number of years when WOW lost its first ‘home’ in Bellambi Lane, and so the MC needed to look for a new home, lobby for support, struggle to continue a training program, and battle fear of closure due to financial stress.

“Will we at least break even if we run this class?” remains a Training Co-ordinator dilemma over the years. Difficult decisions had to be made to limit WOW operations but still run classes to provide training for women and work for our valued trainers. Due to funds saved from past performances, WOW was able to pay for a Company Manager between 2008–2011. Cheryle Moore in this position helped sustain the work of the MC and developed many memorable WOW acts. Finally, after having an office at Coledale Community Centre, WOW found a new home at Switchfit Gym.

Thinking of the future—seeking a volunteer to fill the role of Artistic Director, and establishing an Advisory Board are two initiatives that might support the hard work of the MC. In 2021 there are a number of welcome newcomers on the management committee, and there is great hope that WOW will continue to successfully navigate the stress and effort of keeping the organisation running.

Kate Clarkson and Ellen Curtis

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