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Regional differences, but a common vision. Goethe-Institutís International Forum on Cultural Management and Cultural Policy 2016

The second edition of the International Forum on Cultural Management and Cultural Policy again brought together cultural experts from all over the world for two weeks in Munich, Germany for discussions and the development of ideas. And flanked by the presidential election in the US, the participants experienced that independently of their geographical and professional background they are connected by the vision to break down barriers and prejudices.

Internationally, there are different definitions of “arts management” that reflect the diverse concepts and structures of the regional art sectors. For some, arts management is “the getting things done’ side of making art, putting everything in place so that artists can then engage their creativity fully – the fuel that goes into the car.” For others, “working in this field is all about people from all walks of life and the most important thing is to take care of their thoughts and concerns to orchestra the best outcome.” Arts management can also be understood as “a transitional tool to create a new economic system where artists are agents of change. Therefore, arts management opens opportunities for continuity, sustainability and development.” But independently of the background of the single arts manager, “all of us are one way or another to be dealing with the same kinds of challenges. How do we break down barriers to people experiencing the arts? And how do we achieve this when resources are scarce?”

These quotations from participants of the second International Forum on Cultural Management and Cultural Policy show that arts managers worldwide all need the appropriate skills, methods and approaches to deal with transformation processes, cultural policies and challenges for their communities. Therefore, the aims of Goethe-Institut’s forum are to offer a practice-oriented qualification that helps the participants improving their work processes, and to build up a long lasting network of international arts professionals that fosters new cooperation and provides a stimulus to reflect upon their role in society. 

The focus of this year’s edition laid on the independent performing arts sector, whose multiple facets were represented by participants with geographical backgrounds from every continent. During workshops, presentations, peer learning formats, coaching and meetings with the partnering organizations from Munich – the city’s department for culture and the initiatives Spielmotor, DOK.fest, Hoch X, Pathos and Rodeo Festival from the local independent art scene – they had the chance to exchange about perspectives, successes and failures, and to develop visions for their projects, for future arts management and artistic production. The discussions and experiences showed that cultural professionals despite of different arts policies and societal backgrounds have a lot in common and that international cooperation can open up potentials to better deal with regional challenges. 

After the Forum on Cultural Management, we asked three participants about the issues that are currently most relevant for their specific region and projects, what new insights they gained from the International Forum to improve the conditions of artistic production in their home country, and where they see opportunities or barriers for new ways of cooperation.

The cultural sector in England, Hongkong and Mexico 

Tom Mansfield is artistic director of Upstart Theatre based in London. The theatre recently finished its first international co-production with Pathos München and Highway Productions Athens, which dealt with how the refugee situation is manifesting itself in the partnering countries. He came to the International Forum to discuss “The Chorus Project”, a new collaborative play that wants to explore democracy and its discontents in the contemporary world. 

For Tom, the most urging issue for the English arts sector currently is a decrease of funding that is arising from the government’s austerity policies. This pressure especially to be more entrepreneurial and find additional revenue streams is “massively challenging but also can be very rewarding, as the crisis has led to organisations thinking of new ways to partner together for mutual support and developing some really exciting collaborations. How can we be sustainable, is the question we keep asking.” Next to this, the Brexit shed light on the challenges for transnational collaborations in the arts and emphasized the possibilities of technology to communicate and share ideas and values beyond national borders.

Bobo Lee is a Hong Kong based artist and cultural manager with backgrounds in cinema, new media art and theatre on the artistic and programme curating, project and venue management, organisation development and capacity building on the managerial side. She worked for Hong Kong Arts Centre, the experimental theatre company Zuni Icosahedron, the School of Creative Media at City University Hong Kong and currently the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority, where she is focusing on the development of the city’s cultural ecology. To the International Forum she brought a programme that merges technology and creativity in theatre and includes aspects of audience development and participation. 

For Bobo, the discrepancy between the status quo of cultural management and the actual practise are the main problems of Hong Kong’s arts sector, fostered by a lack of training opportunities. Another issue is here again the pressure to open up new funding and operation models. Although funding helped to build up a lot of arts organisations in Hong Kong for over 20 years, it is missing the concept of incubating ideas and encouraging interdisciplinary research and development. Thus, Bobo’s motivation to participate at the International Forum was a review of the sector’s needs and what can help it to move forward. 

Aarón Hernandez Farfán is a Mexican independent actor and director. He was part of a theatre company before he oriented towards multidisciplinary work and social development. Currently, he is building up his own performing arts company “Agua Quemada Creatividad”. 

To Goethe-Institut’s Forum on Cultural Management, Aarón brought the project “Lulu: the circus of desire”. The play has an emphasis on gender violence in order to expose this big issue of Mexican society in an accessible way, and the forum maintained to open up new, intercultural perspectives on the issue to his audiences, his partners and himself. The insights into other countries’ cultural policies and structures that Aarón gained from the Forum on Cultural Management helped him “to understand our local context in a wider, global perspective. It demonstrated that every context has its challenges, and that intercultural strategies are more important than ever to actually make a change. We can’t live in a local bubble anymore and pretend to be disconnected from what is happening around the world.” The forum further underlined that decentralization and democratization are the most urging issues of Mexico’s political system. As the researcher Tomas Ejea has proven in his study “Poder y creación artística en México“, cultural policy in this system of secrecy, corruption and impunity is primarily a strategy to help liberate social pressure and foster authoritarianism. To Aarón, to use the arts’ importance for the recovery of the society, the government not only has to formally recognize it, but to develop appropriate cultural policies. Instead, programs of the Mexican National Fund for Arts and Culture (FONCA) are cancelled with no explanation and to ask for transparency implies the risk of being outcasted by the system. This and the ignorance especially of the performing arts by the private sector prevent Mexican artists from creating an independent art structure. 

Commonalities and international cooperation

These three examples show that the backgrounds of the forum’s participants, their projects and the problems they have to face in their home countries differ in many ways. Nonetheless, there are a lot of aspects they have in common as well. To Aarón, “we all are struggling to get funded, that is a common challenge. But although there are many contrasts between e.g. the Mexican and the German arts policies, a centralized system vs. a decentralized system, these differences can be a joyful experience that can enrich creative projects.” To Bobo, there is a “need of working together to use possibilities that can’t happen in our current practise. The different backgrounds are complementary, and learning from them about creating opportunities is a rare chance.“ And for Tom, “international collaboration is incredibly rewarding, a vital way of developing understanding between people from different countries. There’s huge potential for the sharing of resources as well as artistic ideas”.

But besides these visions, the Forum on Cultural Management also brought to light the difficulties of working together on international and intercultural levels. For Tom, it is “really important that we communicate as clearly and honestly as possible from the beginning of every process, and avoid making assumptions. We can learn a vast amount from one another in terms of practice, but we can’t assume that everyone does things in exactly the same way.” Communication is the crucial point for Bobo as well: “The most difficult bit of international co-operation is right at the beginning: why should people be working together and how can the voices of each member be taken into account in content development.” Since this year’s Forum on Cultural Management was focused on the field of performing arts, to Aarón, all participants had “the advantage to be familiarized with collective processes, and to understand that conflicts are part of any relationship. The collide in a process can be both catastrophic and fantastic, depending on the way you look at it, and we can enrich our mutual perspectives if we are open to understand the cultural structures behind them. International arts management can really change that.

To Patrick Foehl, a conceptual consultant, trainer and researcher in cultural management and cultural policy based in Berlin who for the second time lead a workshop on future cultural development during the forum, “it became clear that the issues we discussed – cooperation, audience empowerment, visibility strategies, the overall impact of arts and culture in a changing global society and the roles of cultural managers in these transformation processes – are virulent all over the world. That implies that there is a strong potential and need to have more international exchange and transnational projects to support cultural development and impact.”  

This opinion was underpinned by the US election that took place in parallel to the Forum on Cultural Management and underpinned the importance of thinking about such issues. To Aarón, this political event showed “a special link between us, a sense of togetherness that really made a change. We realized we were not alone and that social fabric actually exists. This created some sense of equilibrium to a feeling that is dominating the air in the whole world: fear. I feel empowered now and I see us as an international network with an enormous potential to build sustainability. Sometimes, universality lies on local issues that are identified because of one simple factor: humanity. And that is what intercultural exchange is about. To clarify your artistic goals today means also to be political active and to create a shifting space.

The aftermath of the first International Forum

To the participants, the Forum on Cultural Management with its different approaches, formats and the inclusion of potential partners was not only an in-training opportunity, but a way to get closely connected and to perceive mutual and fertile understanding. Thus, the feeling of togetherness that developed during the two weeks was very motivating for the participants. Now, the challenge is to keep that feeling alive, stay connected, and foster the progression of the developed ideas. To build up an environment for sustaining dialogue and to guarantee that the outcomes will result in long-term effects and cooperation, the Goethe-Institut founded an alumni network after the first edition of the International Forum in 2015. 

Samer Yamani, participant of the 2015 Forum on Cultural Management, told us about the outcome of this network and the following guidance of the local Goethe-Instituts. Samer is a Syrian arts manager, lecturer and founder of “Creative Dialogue”, an organization based in Barcelona and specialized in creating and managing international programs in the field of the creative and cultural industries to enhance human capital, creative potential, community and socio-economic development. Based on the networking during the first editon, he built up collaborations for his international research and training program DURAR. The program aims to foster innovation in the cultural heritage sector to respond to local needs and establish investment opportunities that lead to economic growth, development of new markets and job, social cohesion and environmental sustainability. The Forum on Cultural Management helped him to collaborate with international experts to organize editions of DURAR in Baku, Tbilis, Manila and in 2017 in Munich in cooperation with Dokfest München and Creative Munich – and thus, his participation for him was absolutely successful. 

Overall, Goethe-Institut’s International Forum on Cultural Management and Cultural Policy again showed that cultural managers around the world face a lot of challenges that often reach beyond the borders of their sector or country. Therefore, it does not astonish that the social aspects of their daily work, such as networking or building close connections and infrastructures to support each other, were burning issues to the participants. To Bobo, the International Forum made them “rethink the missions and outcomes of a programme beyond a product-oriented model.“ And, as Aarón concluded, “intercultural networking is fundamental to make art not only affordable, but more interesting. Globalization won’t come from free trade, but from free arts, and the main objective is to structure a sustainable system.” Fitting this vision, the Forum on Cultural Management is planned and implemented in accordance with sustainability, protection of the environment and resource-friendly criteria. With this demand, Goethe-Institut shows that cultural players are important multipliers in the long-term development not only of the arts sector, but of daily live and social just as well.

Our review of the 2015 International Forum on Cultural Management and Cultural Policy as a format for professional training can be found here.

Author/Source: Author: Kristin Oswald. With pictures by Loredana La Rocca/ Goethe-Institut.
Management Topic: Job & Training
Cultural Area: General
Submitted by editor-in-chief on Jan 23, 2017