Big change for Burrinja

Ross Farnell in the Burinja theatre. 193904 Picture: ROB CAREW

By Casey Neill

 Ross Farnell’s decision to leave Burrinja after two decades leading the Upwey cultural centre wasn’t an easy one.

“But 20 years felt like a good time to have a change, not just for me but for our family,” he told the Mail.

“It’s new opportunities.”

Burrinja announced its executive director would step down at the end of June on Wednesday 22 May.

Venue manager Toni Kirk, alongside the board, will lead the organisation immediately following Dr Farnell’s departure while a recruitment process for a permanent replacement takes place.

Board president Holly DeMaria thanked Dr Farnell for his strong leadership and acknowledged his service to arts, culture and community in the Dandenong Ranges.

She said Burrinja had gone from strength to strength under his leadership and was “a highly-regarded cultural organisation and hub of creativity in the region that will continue to have real impact in our community”.

Dr Farnell told the Mail that this was a great time for someone new to step into the Burrinja leadership role, with a major centre redevelopment about to start.

“I thought it was a really fantastic opportunity for a new person to come in and have their fresh vision and their ideas come to the fore,” he said.

The building works will run for about 10 months from June and will transform several spaces.

Dr Farnell said he would like to come back to see how it all looks.

“I’ll definitely be back to say hello to the fantastic crew,” he said.

His background is as a musician and performing artist, and he hopes to spend more time in his home studio once he wraps up.

He looks back fondly on his start at Burrinja.

“I had this newly-minted PhD in cultural studies and was looking for work that was paying a bit more regularly than playing in a band,” he said.

“I saw the ad for an executive officer at a cultural centre in the Dandenongs.

“As someone who has always looked forward to coming up to the Dandenong Ranges, imagine working in a cultural centre in such an amazing place.

“I was fortunate enough to get the job and have been here ever since.

“Because the centre has evolved so much, there’s been so much opportunity for me to evolve and grow in what I do as well.

“There’s seldom been that time of feeling like you’re just doing the same thing.

“You never quite know what your day is going to hold.”

Dr Farnell said the role wasn’t just a job – he was part of a community, one he can see continuing to open its arms to the wider community for another 20 years.

“I’m totally optimistic about Burrinja’s future,” he said.

“I’ve been leading it, but we have such a fantastic team of staff and always have.

“That spirit of what we do and what we achieve here is really valued by people, even as they move on for career opportunities elsewhere.”

He’s been part of some really big moments over the years, like finding out Burrinja had secured cash for its theatre.

“But sometimes it’s the little things, like sitting down with an artist over a cup of tea as they’re preparing to leave the studio after three years,” he said.

“Or it’s the kids knocking on the stage door to come in and do their production.

“At the end of the day that’s been about making a better cultural hub for the community.”