is professor of Arts Management at Heilbronn University, Germany, author of Introduction to International Arts Management and co-founder of the international, interdisciplinary network Brokering Intercultural Exchange.
Report ENCATC Annual Conference 2016
Cultural Management Education in Risk Societies
The 24th ENCATC Annual Conference took place in Valencia, Spain, from 57 October, 2016. The event brought together about 160 academics, researchers and professionals from the cultural sector, policy makers, artists and students from over 30 countries. And with a more focused and application oriented program their debates about the new paradigm needed for cultural management and policy to face todays risk societies could have in fact been very fruitful and inspiring.
Like all its forerunners, the 2016 ENCATC Annual Conference can pride itself on a highly relaxed, while inspiring atmosphere. It was in large part due to the amazing cultural centre La Nau of the University of Valencia, where most of the event took place, the beautiful city itself, and wonderful weather.
The role of Ph.D.s in arts management
The first day of the conference was for members only although the topics on the agenda, e.g. leadership and Ph.D. programs, would have been of interest to a broader community as well. The discussion The Changing Nature of Doctoral Education in Cultural Management and Cultural Policy, chaired by Richard Malony from New York University, offered insights into the still-existing differences on the education of future leaders. Whereas Malony was convinced that a Ph.D. is the natural next step for an academic career, his colleagues from Spain, UK and France did not share this view. Ian King from the University of the Arts London explained that a Ph.D. is for most candidates just a means to move up on the career ladder in their respective institutions or an added bonus when looking for new job opportunities. Since so many people in arts management hold a Ph.D. already (Dubois 2016), he predicted that the next big thing would be the post-docs.
From an economic perspective and UK universities surely have it it might be worth considering what could be offered (at high prices) to those that want even more than a Ph.D., but not necessarily an academic career that does not seem tempting to many in the sector. In the UK there are even two different types of Ph.D.s: the more practical, and the more academic. Yet no one could really pinpoint the difference between them. As a participant of the discussion mentioned, there are excellent practical dissertations grounded in sound research and methodology while at the same time there are also many that seem to be purely academic (in a discipline like arts management this is somehow difficult) but lack substance or to use a contemporary buzzword relevance.
The fact that Ph.D. candidates in arts management originate from many different disciplines causes lengthy discussions and makes some works difficult to assess due to lack of common terminology or methodology. Personally, I believe that this interdisciplinary aspect should be fostered, as it is an enormous asset to arts management and allows the necessary change of perspective.
New challenges for arts management in risk societies
The first official day of the ENCATC conference on October 6 started with a keynote on Cultural Risks in Digital Society delivered by Antonio Ariño Villarroya, Vice Chancellor of Culture and Equality at the University of Valencia. In fact, he was the only person I came across who really touched on the too broad topic of risk societies when elaborating on the challenges and opportunities that digitalization in particular brings to the sector. Furthermore, one of the biggest challenges international arts management is facing became apparent on this morning. Villarroya read from his script in Spanish while the audience, which consisted mainly of non-Spanish speakers, had to read his text simultaneously in English. This resulted in a slightly surreal situation that many were not willing to stand. It is not only linguistic challenges and the inconsistent use of key terminology that is often discussed these days and hinders us, it is much more basic and maybe therefore even more difficult: the lack of a common language.
Hurdles in conference management
After lunch the first round of parallel research panels started. And unfortunately, it seemed as if every paper handed in to the conference committee was accepted for presentation. This policy has several downsides. First, the scope as well as the quality of the presentations varied enormously. Second, presenters were put together in groups that did not fit content-wise, and also did not adhere to the title chosen for the particular session. Third, since there were so many panels in parallel, more or less every participant of the conference was either presenting or chairing a panel, which did not leave many people to listen to the presentations. Chairs, who came unprepared without an idea about the topic at hand and not having read the papers, did not really help in getting the discussions most of the time among panellists themselves going and focused.
The way the panels were handled was disappointing, especially for those that came well prepared and expected a discussion and further insights that might be of interest to the project or helpful to their research. For early career researchers this might be an opportunity to gain experiences at an international conference, but for those already beyond this stage, it was unfortunately a waste of time.
The panels were followed by field trips to different locations in Valencia. The participants could chose from the Museu de les Ciencies Principe Felipe, Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia Palau de la Opera, Centre del Carmen and Institut Valencià dArt Modern IVAM. The evening reception at the stunningly beautiful Monastery of San Miguel de los Reyes with a wonderful voice and harp concert by Quiteria Muñoz and Úrsula Segarra left incredible lasting impressions.
International differences of the arts sector
On Friday, October 7 there were again parallel panels and sessions. I found myself chairing a panel with Chandra Roxanne Master's Candidate at Goucher College, United States who held a brilliant presentation on Arts Currency: A Long-Term Funding Tool for the US Nonprofit Arts Sector. The following lively, but unfortunately very intimate, discussion centred around one of the key differences between the US and the European cultural sector. Such a currency, based on the idea of community-currency, which has in some cases proven to be successful, can only function when there is a market. In most of Europe, we have a highly subsidized arts sector and not even a quasi-market for the majority of artistic products as participants from Finland remarked.
The transfer knowledge session in the afternoon lacked a clear structure. Several (research) projects some more, some less innovative were presented. Patrick Fuery, Dean and Professor at Chapman University, United States was supposed to talk about Interdisciplinarity and Global Networks as Paradigm Shift. He presented some interesting projects in the broader context of awareness campaigns but then found himself in lengthy explanations about the absence of the creative industries and entrepreneurship in the US-American arts management curricula a view that was not even shared by his compatriots in the audience among them Sherburne Laughlin, the president of ENCATCs US-American equivalent AAAE.
The conference ended with wonderful music by Capella Ministres and performances of Tornejants Algemesí and Muixeranga d'Algemesí (UNESCO recognised intangible heritage) - certainly highlights of this event, which unfortunately only a minority of participants had the chance to see since many had departed earlier.
Surely these international conferences see themselves as incubators and networking events. As such they are certainly important, and this 24th ENCATC annual conference provided great opportunities and enough time for meeting many new and interesting people from around the world. The fact that ENCATC is reaching out to partners like AAAE and ANCER (Asia Pacific Network for Cultural Education and Research) provides its members with even more exciting opportunities to do what Florida (2014) calls an integral element of the creative class: networking.
But when content is becoming mere marginalia, things can go wrong. And when everyone, everywhere, every day is networking some became tired of it!
It is time to think about alternative formats for this kind of conference. This isnt an easy task. However, arts managers who deal with creative formats every day should be able to come up with something that allows for more content-based work maybe by distributing key readings in advance, trying formats like world café, and coming up with a topic that is not too broad, but also not so narrow that only experts will be interested in it. Less is more sometimes.