Birgit Mandel
is professor for cultural management and head of the master program Arts Mediation and Cultural Management at the University of Hildesheim. She is founding member and former president of the Association of Cultural Management at universities in Germany, Austria and Switzerland (Fachverband für Kulturmanagement) and Vice president of the German society for cultural policy.

Work Routines of Arts/ Cultural Managers in International Contexts

This article presents the results of a research on the opinions of arts/ cultural managers around the world regarding their profession, working conditions, current challenges, required competencies, and training opportunities. Is cultural management getting harmonized due to cultural globalization? Or are concepts and practices of cultural management more influenced by the specific national or regional conditions?
From a Western perspective it seems like cultural management is well established as a profession and as an academic discipline with a profound body of knowledge and strategies that seem to be similar all over the world. Moreover, due to an increasing amount of cultural cooperation beyond borders, working practises in arts and cultural management seem to become universal. Cultural managers work in international art festivals, global companies of the creative industries, or international tourism. They are involved in cultural diplomacy and cultural development cooperation; and, in times of an increasing worldwide migration, cultural managers are engaged in moderating intercultural change management processes in their own countries. Regarding these different and difficult working condition, how do cultural managers from different world regions describe their working conditions and missions, also in terms of cultural policy, and which differences can be observed? What are the main challenges of international cultural cooperation, which competencies are needed for working in international and intercultural contexts, and which training concepts in international cultural management proved to be successful? And are there differences between the Western world and other world regions?

These were the main research questions of an empirical survey, conducted by the author, with the support of students from the cultural management program at Hildesheim University in cooperation with the Goethe-Institut and the European Cultural Foundation Amsterdam/ Mit Ost Berlin. Interviews were conducted with 35 experts; 750 respondents from all over the world completed an online survey. In addition, in-depth analyses of two international arts/ cultural management trainings programs the MOOC Managing the Arts by Goethe-Institut and the Tandem Program by European Cultural Foundation Amsterdam/ MitOst e.V. were done.

The goal of this research project was to gain a better knowledge of the mind-sets, working conditions and practices of arts/ cultural managers worldwide, and to learn from their experiences in international cooperation. The findings were considered within a comparative perspective in terms of regional influences.

Socio-demographic features of respondents: Only few global players in cultural management; high level of education, but only one third specifically in arts/ cultural management

Although nearly all participants of the quantitative survey have had international experience, the lions share of the respondents, originating from altogether 110 countries, live and work predominantly in only one country. Very few can be classified as the type of arts/ cultural manager who acts internationally or even globally in more than 3 countries. Respondents from Northern/ Southern/ Western Europe and from Anglo America were significantly more mobile.

90 % of the respondents have an academic degree, but only 38% hold a degree or certificate specifically in arts/cultural management. Many execute certain functions of arts/ cultural management without considering themselves to be a professional arts/ cultural manager. Often the boundaries between the roles of arts/ cultural manager, artist, curator, mediator, and activist are blurred.

The notion of arts/ cultural management and the functions connected with it are neither for the German speaking countries nor internationally clearly defined.

Similar assessments: Self-perception, mission and goals as arts/ cultural manager

The quantitative survey, in particular, revealed significant similarities in the ways arts/ cultural management and cultural policy goals and perspectives are estimated among arts/ cultural managers worldwide.

Role models and missions in arts and cultural management can be defined by the general goals that arts and culture are supposed to achieve in a society, by organizational contexts and institutional sectors (profit, non profit, public) and by personal ideas and values. A clear majority of the respondents of the quantitative study identify themselves with the broader notion cultural manager and only a quarter with the notion arts manager. The majority of them chose as their self-understanding most often the role models of cultural educator and agent of social change. All of them are roles in which cultural managers take over societal responsibility instead of primarily managing an arts institution efficiently the understanding represented in most Western countries.

Enlarging the relevance of arts and culture in society and encouraging cultural participation among all groups of the population are seen as the most important future goals and tasks for arts/ cultural managers by nearly all respondents.

Arts/ cultural managers all over the world share a similar set of attitudes and values

Although there are very different country or context specific challenges and framework conditions, arts/ cultural managers independently of the national origin of the respondents share very similar views on the goals and challenges of their daily work. For that reason, some of the experts assume that arts/ cultural managers all over the world, especially when working internationally, might share the same values (like freedom of expression, democracy, aiming for non-hierarchical relations and equality). This could indicate that international exchange leads to a similar understanding and moreover that there is a kind of group identity of cultural operators as like-minded individuals all over the world, which is even stronger than the nationally shaped cultural identity.

Significant differences between respondents from Western and from developing or emerging countries

Besides this widespread similarities a closer look revealed some significant regional differences mainly between arts/ cultural managers from developing and emerging countries and those from Western countries: Respondents from developing and emerging countries identify themselves even more often with the roles agent of social change and artist; they stress more often the importance of cultural policy aims such as promoting social integration, building and stabilizing democracy, fostering national identity and fostering religious values; and they name building and strengthening a democratic society more often as a central goal of arts/ cultural managers in the future. They assess the style, in which arts/cultural management is practiced, more often as important influence factors than the individual educational background of the manager. And they mention visa restrictions, hierarchies among partners, prejudices, ready-made concepts ignoring specific national /local contexts more often as challenges and difficulties applying to their international work.

Employment, work and training situation of arts/ cultural managers differ considerably

Concerning working conditions in the cultural sector and in arts/ cultural management the experts experiences show big contrasts, ranging from a well-funded public arts sector with many governmentally funded institutions like in Germany to a cultural life mostly organised and executed by volunteers and the civil society, or a creative industry based cultural system that is highly influenced by private companies and commercial offers. Working conditions for arts/ cultural managers are very much dependent on structures for cultural funding and on the countrys economic and political situation.

In European countries, arts/ cultural management is rather seen as part of the arts sphere whereas in many non-European countries it is, according to the experts, rather considered as part of the economic field. In countries without a coherent cultural policy and a less structured and poorly financed cultural infrastructure the functions of arts/ cultural management are less specialized. Cultural operators often are artist and manager at the same time or work voluntarily while earning money in other sectors. Also, the shares of jobs for arts/ cultural managers in the public sector, the civil society sector and the private cultural industry sector as well as the amount of freelancers differ between countries.

In many countries with censorship executed by an autocratic government, arts/ cultural managers, artists and other people active in the creative sector who offer free-spirited and critical art can only work in the underground. Especially in countries with difficult political situations, arts/ cultural managers often define themselves also as political activist, social change makers and artivists, a term originating from the Arabic region, where many artists understand themselves as politically active arts/ cultural managers with the goal to strengthen a democratic civil society.

Differing cultural policy contexts for arts/cultural management

The relationship between cultural management and cultural policy can, according to the experts, range from serving cultural policy to the administration and execution of policy aims, to working as opposition and trying to establish an alternative policy agenda and being an alternative public voice and platform. It was mentioned that in some countries there exists no explicit cultural policy, and often foreign cultural funders take over this role.

Among the main cultural policy objectives in their country, the respondents of the online survey consider fostering cultural education and preserving cultural heritage to be most dominant. Not surprisingly: the policy aim of strengthening democracy through arts and culture is most often rated as very important by respondents from the regions Sub Saharan Africa, Middle East/ North Africa.

The interviewed experts highlight a range of impacts of arts/ cultural management on political transformation processes which again depend on the political circumstances of a country:

  • Showing different perspectives on current societal problems beyond thinking in terms of black and white;
  • helping to develop an open minded civil society;
  • giving people support for their self-education and empowering them to participate in political issues;
  • helping to create intercultural understanding in a society.
Cultural manager in countries with difficult political circumstances understand their work more often to be politically important.

No global, universal approach in arts/ cultural management

The experts interviewed and the respondents of the quantitative survey widely agree that there are no standardized global strategies and concepts of arts/ cultural management that are used in the same way all over the world. The political, economical, cultural, institutional and local conditions are too different and arts/ cultural management can only be successful if it takes these specific conditions into account. Therefore, Western concepts of arts/ cultural management wouldnt necessarily suit other regions of the world. This is an important finding regarding trainings and programs in arts/ cultural management organised by Western institutions for non-Western countries.

Working styles and strategies are be highly dependent on

  • the personality of each arts/ cultural manager including his/her specific educational background;
  • on institutional contexts in which someone works;
  • on the regions and countrys cultural traditions and significance of arts and culture in the society;
  • on the aims and concepts of cultural policy;
  • on the economic, social and political conditions of a country;
  • and very much on the specific local context.
The respondents of the online survey rated the individual mission and personality of an arts/ cultural manager as more influential than country specific influences like cultural policy and cultural traditions. Besides some general functions and structuring elements that have to be considered in most arts/ cultural management activities (like the formulating of specific goals, time management, budgeting), concepts and strategies need to be specific and adequate for distinct goals and framework conditions.

Nevertheless most of the experts stated that differences in arts/cultural management practises exist, having to do with regional or national cultural influences. For example

  • in the use of arts/ cultural management notions;
  • in communications style and methods;
  • in the level of flexibility, as well as work modes and work ethics;
  • and in the understanding of quality, hierarchies, transparency, and reporting.
Although the majority of the respondents reject the idea of a global arts/ cultural management with universal standardised tools, the experts see a certain dominance of strategies and instruments originating from the Anglo-American regions. This appears to be reinforced by the dominance of arts/ cultural management literature in English language, which is used by half of the respondents.

Also, in certain branches of the global cultural industries, like in the pop culture business and in international festival management with often very international staff, concepts of arts/ cultural management and leadership might be similar all over the world. It is argued by some experts that the dominance of Anglo-American management approaches as well as the dominance of the economically more potent Western cultural industries and the impact of Western cultural foreign policy might exert a kind of cultural soft power or post-colonialism against emerging and developing countries. At the same time, they might have a certain harmonising influence on the practice of arts/ cultural management.

Not understanding local contexts and ready made concepts as main challenges of international engagement

Central challenges concerning international cooperation in arts and culture mentioned are, besides the overall increase in effort and time when working in international teams, language barriers, legal problems, as well as different interests and a dominance of the financially more potent partner, often in combination with a eurocentristic or Western perspective. The quantitative survey showed that a lack of understanding about different regional or national contexts of partners as well as working with ready-made concepts and hierarchical relations between partners from richer or poorer countries are rated as more relevant than rather technical problems like administrative or language problems. This was mentioned even more often by respondents from developing countries.

New perspectives on ones own work, a better understanding of other countries, and the creation of an international partnering network were perceived as the most important positive effects of cooperation with foreign arts/ cultural managers in the quantitative survey. The experts further named the benefit of building bridges between politically antagonistic countries through cultural cooperation.

Open mindedness and ability to build trustful personal relations as main competences for international and intercultural management

Necessary competences in international arts/ cultural management include:

  • knowledge in foreign languages,
  • information on political and social conditions of partnering countries/ regions,
  • open mindedness regarding needs and differing approaches
  • high communication skills and intercultural competence, also in regard to building personal relations to cooperating partners.
The respondents of the online survey rated personal social competences like curiosity and open mindedness and intercultural competence even higher than language skills or knowledge about the behaviour rules in a certain country. Sensitive reflection, understanding, and acceptance of cultural differences without imposing one s own values were identified as key element for international work in arts and culture.

Factors of successful training programs in international cultural management

All experts agree on the fact that the potential of experience and knowledge gained in international training exceeds that of nationally limited arts/ cultural management education as it can offer a comparative perspective and show different approaches. However, concepts of international trainings need to go beyond theoretical or standardised instrumental training, taking into account that there is obviously no global standard set of arts/ cultural management concepts. It should include the practical collaboration of participants from different countries, and must provide time to reflect upon distinctions and differences.

Changes of arts/cultural management through internationalization

For large majorities of the respondents, positive effects of internationalisation like a wider range of arts/ cultural projects, the enrichment of the cultural sector by new approaches from other countries and an increased sensitivity for cultural diversity outweigh by far negative effects such as cultural mainstreaming. A Westernisation of culture seems to happen all in areas of popular culture, distributed by global creative enterprises. Despite the fact that digital globalisation allows contemporary products to become popular and attractive in different world regions alike, arts and culture are assumed to be deeply rooted in the local or regional background with historically grown traditions. At the same time, it is argued that a reflective cultural management can help to avoid multicultural parallel societies and contribute to intercultural and transcultural processes and a shared hybrid culture in which all cultural groups, while keeping a certain cultural identity, can recognise themselves and get involved.

Something that all experts acknowledge is that arts/ Cultural management is changing through internationalization. New modes of thinking and proceeding, new instruments and tools get woven into national concepts. The political dimension of arts/ cultural management increases as international communication through art and culture gains even more importance in times of war and crises, and therefore forces a stronger responsibility of the cultural sector as bridge maker. But this does not imply a worldwide harmonization and unification of cultures, neither in the sense of globalization nor hybridization. As responsibility of arts/ cultural management, the experts rather suggest empowering diversity, while at the same time looking for some common ground.


The results of this study reveal that arts/ cultural managers worldwide dont see globalization and homogenization in cultural management approaches as managing arts and culture always demands differentiated coping with local needs and conditions. Instead, they share certain values, missions and influences and rate influences from other countries as widening perspectives.

International exchange in arts/ cultural management illustrates different meanings and interpretations of arts and culture as well as different approaches, tools and methods for cultural work. It might also promote a deeper political understanding of cultural management. This is important as there are strong differences in the perception of arts/ cultural management as either cultural advocacy or arts administration, and in the disproportional relationship between Western countries and the global South.

Thus, international collaboration is experienced as rapid learning that fosters the often difficult, but necessary examination of differences in behaviour, leadership styles and of ways to evaluate arts and culture and their role in society. Thus, international exchange between arts/cultural managers can open up a third space (Bhabha) to enhance open-minded societies and to identify and develop common interests.

The increase of international relationships among creatives is fostering an intercultural professionalization of arts/ cultural management and promoting an expanded understanding of arts/ cultural management as a reflexive, cultural, social, and political practice with far-ranging functions and responsibilities. Arts/ cultural managers with international experience broaden the repertoire of practice in the field and can drawing from their international experiences become change makers within their national cultural systems as well as in international relations.

These results highly coincide with the observations from the workshop of the network Cultural Managers as Intercultural Brokers that took place in January 2017 at Heilbronn University, Germany. It showed that although most arts/ cultural managers share similar values, some still rarely scrutinise their own unconscious assumptions regarding e.g. international hierarchies of art forms, institutions or arts/ cultural management practices.
Comments (0)
There are no comments for this content yet.