Poetry and Leadership in University Research Centres


‘Letter to the Centre’, Centre for Arts and Social Transformation, The University of Auckland. Drawn by Selina Tusitala Marsh.

Imaging studies undertaken at the University of Exeter in England in 2013 revealed that our brains respond differently to poetry than to prose; reading or writing poetry elicits an emotional response and we become more introspective. For leadership and strategic planning, critical reflection through poetry can be an effective tool for critical thinking and self-reflection.

Staff in the University of Auckland’s Centre for Arts and Social Transformation (CAST) took an arts-based approach to writing their centre’s strategic plan in 2021. The members of CAST held a Strategic Planning day in 2021 to discuss their annual goals and directions for the centre. Instead of adhering to the formulaic and uninspiring template provided by the administrative department of the university, CAST abandoned all boundaries to write a strategic plan as a poem.

Titled ‘Letter to the Centre’, the CAST Faculty strategic plan is a creative poem written collaboratively by all members of the centre. Each member wrote a single line and they were assembled collectively during a workshop on the Strategic Planning day. A separate written document, the ‘5-year Strategic Plan’, identifies programmes and curricula and was written by the University Arts administration. Deliberately separated from this routine 5-year document, the poem aims to manifest the mission, spirit, and unique identity of CAST to become a foundational document for members of the centre.

Bare foot, bare boned
Your open doors and open hearts
Open Arts and minds…