Leading Brisbane:
Kate Gould, Brisbane Powerhouse

12 MARCH 2024

Brisbane Powerhouse CEO and Artistic Director, and member of BEDA’s Better Brisbane Alliance, Kate Gould sat down with Driving Brisbane to talk about Brisbane’s globally acclaimed cultural scene, saying yes to a ‘crazy idea’ and leveraging the city’s status as an Olympic and Paralympic city.



Co-founding Mona’s annual winter arts festival Dark Mofo must be a career highlight. Are there any learnings from that experience that you have taken with you into your current role as CEO/Artistic Director of Brisbane Powerhouse?

Working on Dark Mofo, I learnt not to be afraid. Due diligence is required on all projects but at some point, you’ve got to jump. In the arts and events industries, the stakes can sometimes seem impossibly high, but people, for the most part, love an audacious vision. Dark Mofo was bold, and hopefully, the work we're doing at Brisbane Powerhouse captures a similar bold spirit.

My other key takeaway is to create something that the local community will love. If they embrace it, cultural tourists are likely to follow.

Brisbane Powerhouse is at the centre of so many exciting events and attractions for Brisbane - what are some of the things coming up in 2024?

Brisbane Powerhouse has more surprises in store for 2024. We are excited to announce the creation of our largest event yet, Melt Open, an LGBTQIA+ festival across the city of Brisbane/Meanjin. Melt Open is born out of the success of Brisbane Powerhouse’s Melt Festival of Queer Arts and Culture. Melt Open is an open-access or fringe festival, with artists, community groups, and venues encouraged to register and participate. Through Melt Open, we aim to offer visitors a new way to experience our city, featuring major community events such as the River Pride Parade led by Courtney Act and the striking artwork by Spencer Tunick, involving 10,000 naked bodies across the Story Bridge. Notably, 5,000 prospective nudies have signed up so far.

Melt Open will take over the city for three weeks 23 October to 10 November 2024.

Favours the Bold_Vertigo

Vertigo was highlighted in the recent New York Times 52 Places to Go feature on Brisbane - where did the idea come from and what impact has it had on The Powerhouse?

Great ideas often come from unlikely places. Upon my return to Brisbane and assuming my role at Powerhouse, I had a coffee with John Sharpe, co-founder of Story Bridge Adventure Climb. During our conversation, he shared a crazy idea of mounting dining tables 17 meters in the air on the top of Brisbane Powerhouse's iconic heritage wall and dangling patrons from the edge. Without hesitation, I responded, 'we're doing it.' Two years later we’ve successfully brought this vision to life, a restaurant like no other in the world. People love it with a common response, “it’s a lot higher up there than it looks from the ground”. Stay tuned, the fully accessible version of the experience is about to land.

Creating more things for visitors to see and do, like Vertigo, Night Feast and MELT Festival, are key to growing our visitor economy - do you have any other ideas in the works? What advice would you give to other tourism experiences who are wanting to build on their current offering?

We’re about to open our bold OHM Festival of Other Music featuring Yothu Yindi, Lydia Lunch and Japanese noise makers Boris. OHM is for the Dark Mofo crowd, and as Dark Mofo isn't on this year, I encourage fans to pilgrimage to Brisbane instead.

My advice to tourism operators is identify the essential ingredient of your experience, does it thrill, pamper, or challenge your visitor? Permeate your entire brand with the essence of this experience, i.e. marketing, tone of voice, the experience itself. The goal is to make people feel what you love about the experience before they sign up. And, always, lever your competitive advantage.

Brisbane’s global reputation is gaining momentum as the city gears up to host the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games. How does Brisbane Powerhouse hope to leverage this opportunity?

In 2032 Brisbane Powerhouse will be the grunge/chic outsider in a city of shining new buildings and Games infrastructure. We will be a cultural heart of the authentic Brisbane/Meanjin with thrilling expressions of Queensland contemporary arts and culture by diverse peoples. Visitors can stop by any time to experience thoughtful projects that deliver wonder to the casual viewer and deeper meaning to the enthusiast. The Games offer Brisbane Powerhouse, and the artists it showcases, the chance to be an international cultural destination for years to come.

Brisbane is on an exciting trajectory, what do you think is contributing to the city's growth? What do you see as the big opportunities for the city?

Brisbane is beautiful, the challenge is balancing our liveability with growth. If in 2032 Brisbane looks and feels like the southern capitals, we will have failed our mission to deliver for the city’s future. In my view future Brisbane will be defined by our unique experiences, however small and human scale.

Brisbane’s cultural fabric from the 70s, 80s and 90s, as seen in “Boy Swallows Universe”, is the next layer we must strive to preserve. In essence, big opportunities come from the sum of their authentic parts.

You returned to Brisbane after 17 years away working for organisations including Dark Mofo, Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and the Aboriginal Arts and Culture Centre - what drew you back to Brisbane, and specifically The Powerhouse?

Brisbane Powerhouse was a regular haunt when I was living in Brisbane 20 years ago. I marvelled that such a place could exist in what I thought of as a beige city. Returning to my spiritual home of Brisbane, I could see the potential for applying everything I'd learned in my career, particularly my experiences with Dark Mofo, to the phenomenal Brisbane Powerhouse building and its programs. Brisbane has changed significantly since my early years, and curiously, our city’s much-loved heritage power station is now coming of age.

Brisbane's creative industry exports are making waves around the world, with the incredible success of Bluey, and the Netflix series for Boy Swallows Universe. What do you think Brisbane's strengths are here, and how can we continue to foster local creative talent?

Brisbanites have a wonderful self-deprecating humour. We are not too sure of ourselves and sometimes feel a little overwhelmed by our grown up cousins Sydney and Melbourne. Both “Bluey” and “Boy Swallows Universe” capture our humour perfectly.

We've got the talent in Brisbane, and more clever people are moving here each day. The key is ensuring an investment pipeline and our leaders making the right strategic decisions to invest in the strongest ideas where capability also exists.

Better Brisbane Alliance

What do you hope to achieve with your involvement in the Better Brisbane Alliance?

I can’t think of a roundtable in another city to match the Better Brisbane Alliance. A good share of Brisbane’s key strategic players sits around this table. I hope that my place on this committee will contribute to elevating the important role that arts and culture can play in the lead up to the Olympics and Paralympic Games.

People in line at food stalls at Brisbane Powerhouse's Night Feast
Night Feast

On a personal note

What’s the best business advice you were ever given?

Employ people better than you.

Best business or cultural book?

“Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg

Best event in Brisbane?

Night Feast

Favourite Brisbane restaurant?

Bar Alto at Brisbane Powerhouse

In the spirit of International Women’s Day last week, who are the women leaders that inspire you the most and why?

Athlete Turia Pitt is a force of nature. Her unwavering grit in the face of adversity is truly inspiring.

Tanya Hosch is the General Manager of Social Inclusion at the AFL. I have observed Tanya addressing complex social issues within the male-dominated world of Aussie Rules football, an industry also tackling racism elements. Tanya remains composed and impressive under pressure.

Brisbane City