Are arts managers their own enemy when it comes to intercultural development? Insights from the #interculturalmanagers workshop
This first workshop of the new network “Cultural Managers as Intercultural Brokers” took place 15-17 January 2017 at Heilbronn University, Germany. Its highly renowned international participants examined the role that arts and cultural managers can play in handling the challenges of globalisation. And they discussed the question how arts management is influenced by certain worldviews and how this in turn influences the fulfilment of its tasks in international contexts, and thereby shed light on the sometimes self-inflicted barriers for fostering intercultural understanding.
It surely wasn’t the intention of the network coordinators – Victoria Durrer from Queen’s University Belfast, Raphalea Henze from Heilbronn University and Ina Ross from the National School of Drama Delhi – to hold the networks first workshop shortly before the inauguration of the next US president. But nonetheless, the event heavily influenced the discussions by underlining the dark sides of globalisation and, thereby, emphasised the increasing importance of arts and culture as a bridge between people from different countries.
How intercultural is cultural management?
At least in the cultural sector it is unquestioned that artistic expression fosters the ability to deal with alternative perceptions, and for that reason, arts and cultural managers have a significant role to play in directing, administering and mediating intercultural understanding. By now, as Raphaela Henze showed in a recent study, about half of them is working on a transcultural level. But since most arts and cultural managers, at least in the western world, still come from middle-class families, working with colleagues or institutions from other countries doesn't mean that they have own experiences in working abroad, engage in issues of intercultural relations or have a deeper knowledge of different milieus or backgrounds. Thus, although globalisation and interculturality have already affected their day-to-day work, they are not prepared enough for the changes this will bring in the future.
For this reason, intersectorial and international workshops as this one are an urgent need to integrate existing knowledge about the dimensions of these processes from fields such as postcolonial, cultural, history, or policy studies into arts and cultural management. And they are needed to exchange views about the experiences within different countries and groups, and to analyse the current structures and habits of the sector in order to develop policies, practices and pedagogies that foster new perspectives on the practices, tools and also biases of arts managers.
Who builds the barriers for intercultural exchange?
All of the participants, coming from India, different regions of Europe, the Middle East and the Americas, are professionals either in (inter-)cultural management, cultural policy or cultural diplomacy. They presented topics such as
- The relationship between global politics and creative expression (J.P. Singh, Director of the Centre for Cultural Relations at University of Edinburgh)
- Career paths of cultural managers and how they influence the arts sector (Milena Dragićević Šešić, UNESCO Chair in Interculturalism, Art Management and Mediation at the University of Arts, Belgrade)
- The dangerous Eurocentrism of European Arts Management (Raphaela Henze)
and international exemplary studies on e.g.
- How the arts in different countries are dealing with the current refugee situation (Jana Al Obeidyine, Arab Fund for Arts and Culture, Beirut)
- The relationship between cultural diversity, immigration and the cultural situation in Bulgaria (Tatiana Stoitchkova, Academy of Arts, Sofia)
- The differences between traditional arts management education and cultural agency in Latin America (Javier J. Hernández Acosta, Universidad del Sagrado Corazón, Puerto Rico)
- or The issue of metrolingualism in Aarhus 2017 as the European Capital of Culture (Ushma Chauhan Jacobsen, Aarhus University).
All of this presentations showed that arts managers in research and practice as well as artists do a lot to promote cultural equality and intercultural exchange. They also made clear that most of the challenging aspects in the relationship between the arts and globalisation are strongly related to cultural policy as well as international, often indirect power relations between the dominant western countries and the southern hemisphere. But how can arts managers and researchers influence policies and power relations to accelerate the internationalisation of arts management? The discussions and round tables during the workshop offered a lot of opportunities to exchange about this question – and at the same time distinguished the workshop from most conferences.
Self-reflection of biases of western arts and cultural managers
The first important finding was that self-awareness has to get a higher significance in the field. Although arts managers and researchers at least in the western world most of the time have academic backgrounds in cultural studies, some of them still rarely scrutinise their own unconscious assumptions regarding e.g. international hierarchies of art forms and institutions. For example, they take it as a given that European art history is still the unquestioned basis for what quality criteria art has to fulfil to count as “good”. This classification is one of the reasons why most non-European art forms are still labelled as craft, “ethno” or “exotic”, although they are a highly important and vivid part of the culture in their countries of origin. The same counts for the way heritage is handled. J.P. Singh emphasised in his presentation that monumentation and musealisation inherit the assumption that to protect heritage it has to lose its utilisation – and with that also its meaning. Such kinds of Eurocentric cultural domination come along with economic and paternalistic reasons. They are obvious in the example of the international classification of festivals and biennales. Here, the European ones are again considered as most important for artists to get recognized on a global scale – although a regional event may bring more attention, a better understanding of their work and more impact to the local communities.
The arts manager polled during Raphaela Henze’s before mentioned study summarised these challenges as a global north dominance that encompasses theory, policy and agenda-setting, a competition for resources and acknowledgement, a lack of respect and understanding for global south circumstances and cultural values – or to put it in a nutshell: “the cultural colonization of developing countries by rich ones“ – and also a pervasive capitalistic assessment of cultural projects.
Defining “arts and cultural management”
This last point should make us prick our ears because obviously the western perceptions of arts management are not as universal as we may think, but are also shaped by existing power relation in economics, business and institutional structures. This includes the ways of gaining and the approval of knowledge, the still predominant differentiation between high and community orientated art institutions or the suggestion that western management strategies and practices can and should be transferred to non-western institutions that need to be ‘brought up’. This point of view risks ignoring the specificities of local cultural contexts and the inherent knowledge of the local cultural managers and agents.
The differentiation between “arts managers”, “cultural managers”, “arts professionals” and “cultural agents” itself is something typical western. At least, this is what short surveys among the participants of the workshop, among the participants of Goethe-Instituts International Forum on Cultural Management and among our readers showed: the different definitions reflect the diverse concepts and structures of the regional art sectors. In the western hemisphere, arts management is often understood either as creating circumstances for artists or as similar to arts administration, and is differentiated from e.g. cultural agency or diplomacy. In non-western countries, as Javier Hernandez emphasised during the workshop, cultural management is more about people and seen as a creative tool to break down barriers, create community, communication and develop an open and tolerant society.
But it seems that in the current situation – with challenges like the re-strengthening of racism and nationalisation – this differentiation, postcolonial and paternalistic behaviours lose their applicability and legitimation. Instead, the importance of community-based formats and cultural agency is growing. In short, this relationship of power, impact and policies can be broken down into the formula:
the less political demands exist, the more space is for arts agency – the more difficult the circumstances are, the greater is the impact of the arts
Thus, with the current disruptions in society, tasks like mutual understanding, education or social cohesion are becoming increasingly important for western art institutions. But in fact, a lot of them are struggling with participatory formats that come with a disengagement of their standardised management practices and a re-thinking of what quality in the cultural sector means. In this situation, non-western institutions seem to be ahead in knowing what their audiences want and what participation means to them.
This situation with its negative aspects brings up a merging of global and local levels of arts management and fosters the sensitivity for its weaknesses. Here may lay an opportunity to learn from one another’s perspectives and practices to develop a greater balance of knowledge exchange with international colleagues, but also with experts from other fields.
But this development also inherits the challenge for arts and cultural managers to leave their “comfort zones” – something that especially Raphaela Henze emphasised during the workshop. It means that they have to leave some of their habits behind and redefine their missions. Thus, intercultural arts management as a way of opening borders does not only mean borders of nations, but also of the opinions, structures and behavioural patterns of the arts sector itself.
The first workshop of the network “Cultural Managers as Intercultural Brokers” brought up some bold and alarming theses to open up new ways of reflecting the habits and practices of the field. To adapt them to the challenges of globalisation, arts and cultural management not only needs a balance between the northern and southern hemisphere or the western and non-western perceptions of management, but also between the views of academics and practitioners. Workshops like this are one step to tackle necessary changes. Another one is to anchor internationalisation in national arts management education. How this may look like is the issue of another workshop of the network that will take place in Zurich in July (the deadline for the call for papers is April 20th). But most of all, arts and cultural managers should leave their comfort zones as often as possible, should get to know differing tools and approaches and should be politically incorrect from time to time. Because, as Javier Hernandez summarized, “arts managers much too often act in a reactive, defensive way and keep feeling powerless.”
The network ‘Brokering Intercultural Exchange: Interrogating the Role of Arts and Cultural Management’ is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council UK, and the Wurth Foundation funded its first seminar.
An extract of Raphaela Henzes study on international cultural management has been published in Arts Management Quarterly No. 124. Her book “Introduction to International Arts Management” will soon be published in English.
A review of the book "Culture as Vocation. Sociology of career choices in cultural management", which was the basis for Milena Dragićević Šešić's presentation, can be found here.