A curious mind

Our Lord Mayor’s creative approach to breathing new life into the city.

Sandy Verschoor

Adelaide’s 63rd Lord Mayor, Sandy Verschoor has a big imagination and a curious mind, attributes that have served her well in her mission to make the city of Adelaide the place to be.

And whether in local government, or working at the helm of some of the state’s premier arts and cultural events, Sandy has been dedicated to injecting artistic energy into the city. “I have three grown children and I want them to look at Adelaide as a place they want to be for work and to live. They can do anything they want, anywhere in the world, and they can do it from here,” she said.

Going right back to childhood, curiosity and creativity have been the driving forces behind our Lord Mayor. “I don’t think I’ve lost the essence of what I was like as a child, I was insanely curious and that was encouraged,” said Ms Verschoor.

“I wanted to know how things worked. I was the kid that got my fingers stuck in things and I used to follow my dad around and ask how does this work, how does that work, and I’d take things apart and try to work out how they went back together – not always successfully.”

“I grew up in a family where taking risks and finding new ways and creativity and innovation were just part and parcel of what you did every day.”

“With that came lots of ups and downs. As a family, we've had to traverse that territory where things worked incredibly well and also when they didn’t.”

A thirst for new knowledge led Sandy to study a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Adelaide where she discovered a passion for political sociology and psychology.

It has been a lifetime love of learning that has led her to further qualifications, including a Masters of Creative Writing, also from the University of Adelaide, a PhD in Business, a Diploma in Journalism and an MBA in entrepreneurship to name a few.

Tapping into her ever-present creative side, and putting her Masters to good use, Sandy, who is only the third female mayor in Adelaide City Council’s 178 year history, loves to write.

“I think I’ve always been a writer. I have an active imagination – my husband would say a bit too active – and I like to channel that through words.”

She has a book underway and writes poetry – a passion she rediscovered during her Masters. She is also a budding playwright. Earlier this year at the Adelaide Fringe, a play she authored had its first public reading. Before she entered local government, our Lord Mayor was entrenched in South Australia’s arts and culture industries.

Lord Mayor Sandy Verschoor
“I have three grown children and I want them to look at Adelaide as a place they want to be for work and to live.”Sandy Verschoor

Her very first break in the arts as a marketing manager for the 1996 Adelaide Festival was fortuitous.

“My first experience was doing the 1996 Adelaide Festival, Barrie Kosky’s festival, which just about blew my brain because it was the most extraordinary experience I’d ever had,” said Ms Verschoor.

Over the next decade, Adelaide's current Lord Mayor worked with Australian arts royalty, including Robyn Archer on the 1998 and 2000 Adelaide Festivals, and Ian Scobie on a number of projects including WOMADelaide and Katrina Sedgwick on the Adelaide International Film Festival. She was CEO of the Fringe for four years (2006–2010), working alongside Director Christie Anthoney, and was the CEO of the 2017 Adelaide Festival for directors Rachel Healy and Neil Armfield AO (who recently received honorary doctorates from the University of Adelaide).

“I have worked with some of the most fascinating people globally, all here in Adelaide, so I’ve been incredibly lucky in that way,” Ms Verschoor said.

Sandy Verschoor

The move into local government came after completion of her Masters, when she was approached about a contract to set up Adelaide City Council’s Vibrant City Program. “I was here for five months and absolutely loved it – outside it looked like this slow lumbering beast and inside there were so many extraordinary people who were so passionate and dedicated to what they did and I thought, 'this is pretty amazing’.”

Since that time, Sandy has contributed to the vibrancy and culture of the city in interesting ways, including producing Adelaide Festival of Ideas twice, and spearheading Splash Adelaide – a Council program designed to give Adelaide’s creatives an opportunity to realise their ambitions while minimising risks, responsible for initiatives including the mobile food trucks and the Adelaide Night Market.

She has also led teams that worked jointly with state government to drive changes in licensing, resulting in more than 100 new small bars and venues opening in the city.

Now, as Lord Mayor, there are no signs of slowing down.

“We do groundbreaking projects in this city, we’re just not very loud at telling our own story. Adelaide people are passionate, creative and push boundaries, yet are quite humble at the same time, which is the thing I love most about this city.”

Story by Kelly Brown
Photo by Meaghan Coles

Tagged in lumen, lumen Summer 2019