A few weeks ago we welcomed Aislinn Ryan, our new General Manager / Kaiwhakahaere Matua, to the team! We managed to find a spare moment to sit down and chat about returning to Aotearoa, career highlights and what she's most looking forward to in her new role.
1. You’ve recently moved back to New Zealand after some time away. What have you been up to overseas?
I have just returned home after 11 years in London, where I was working in arts management. I started off with English Touring Opera working in Partnerships & Development, after which I spent six years in the Tours & Projects department of the large classical music agency Askonas Holt Ltd. Covid put a sudden stop to that line of work, so I spent the past couple of years freelancing with two wonderful organisations: the International Teaching Artist Collaborative (ITAC) and Dublin-based Ériu Dance Company.
2. What’s it like being back in New Zealand after a while away?
It’s wonderful, both on a personal and professional level. After almost three years of Covid restrictions, I am loving catching up with family and friends and, especially, watching my young children get to know their grandparents and extended family. On a professional level, I’m excited to be back in the buzz of Wellington. There’s such a great cultural scene here and I am grateful to have been welcomed back into that fold.
3. Where does your interest in the arts stem from?
I was hugely fortunate to have been given many cultural opportunities as a youngster. Both my parents were musicians – my father was in the NZSO – so I attended countless concerts as a child, and we made the most of everything Wellington had on offer, from theatre to ballet to various festivals. I think I probably took it for granted at the time, however, I am now acutely aware of how privileged I was to experience live performances, and to participate in music and dance lessons. Access to the arts is so important; I hope in my new role I can play a part in increasing access to the arts for young people around Aotearoa.
4. Tell us about a career highlight!
It’s impossible to single one out so I will take the liberty of sharing two highlights! I managed a few of the Berliner Philharmoniker’s tours to Asia and I was always struck by the incredible audience response in Taiwan. The National Performing Arts Centre in Taipei would go to extraordinary lengths to erect huge screens in the public plaza outside the venue so that the public could watch live broadcasts of the concerts. Following a concert, we would usher Sir Simon Rattle and some musicians onto the steps outside to greet tens of thousands of screaming fans. I had never experienced anything quite like that intensity of response to classical music. Another highlight was spending a month at Teatro alla Scala in Milan in 2014. I was part of a small management team that brought five El Sistema ensembles – a total of 1200 musicians – from Venezuela to Milan as part of the World Expo. We organised concerts all over the city, including several performances of La Bohème at La Scala. So much has changed in the world since then that it’s difficult to imagine such an extensive (and expensive!) project like that taking place again, so I really cherish those memories of working with so many lovely and talented people in a beautiful city.
5. What are you most excited about for the NZSQ in 2023?
We have some fantastic projects lined up for 2023 but I’m most excited about our flagship national tour, which will take place in August/September. I am especially looking forward to meeting our audiences up and down the country.
6. Do you play an instrument?
Sadly, no. I played the violin as a child, and then moved on to the harp but I gave up music altogether in my early teens to focus on dancing - my first love!
7. What does a typical day on the job look like for a General Manager / Kaiwhakahaere Matua?
This is a tricky one to answer as I don’t think there’s anything typical about this job! However, any given day will likely involve conversations about future planning, as well as delving into project budgets. There is also a consistent focus on marketing and fundraising to ensure that we’re reaching as many people as possible with our work.
8. What do you love most about your role?
I love the variation, the people, and the product of course – live music is very special!
9. What are some of its challenges?
Funding is a challenge for many arts organisations. We are very fortunate to receive government funding, as well as support from trusts, foundations, and many generous individuals but we never take such support for granted and so maintaining sufficient funding remains a challenge. International touring is also becoming increasingly challenging due to rising costs, Covid-related uncertainties, and the climate crisis. However, I am confident that we will find creative solutions to ensure that the NZSQ can continue to be cultural ambassadors for Aotearoa on the international stage.
10. What sort of things do you enjoy doing outside of work?
I have two young children, so I am enjoying rediscovering Wellington through the eyes of little people! We love visiting Zealandia and the Zoo, and Te Papa is our go-to on a wet and windy weekend. After being cooped up in London throughout Covid, it’s a treat to pop down to Wellington’s south coast for a blast of fresh air – pure bliss!