2017-12-13

Authors

Karsten Xuereb
holds a PhD in Cultural Relations in the Mediterranean and a masters degree in European Cultural Policy and Management. Before being executive director of the Valletta 2018 Foundation (2011-17) he was cultural attaché at the Permanent Representation for Malta to the EU. He currently carries out research for the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage in Malta and is involved in preparations for the European Year of Cultural Heritage in 2018. He also lectures part-time in cultural policy and intercultural relations at the University of Malta.
Workshop report Network Brokering Intercultural Exchange

Intercultural Relations in Arts Management Practice

Key questions in international arts management, e.g. on the communication between individuals from different backgrounds or the role of arts managers in challenging contexts, were addressed by the group of highly-qualified and experienced participants at the fourth workshop of the Brokering Intercultural Exchange Network that took place at Goldsmiths University of the London, November 15 - 17, 2017.
Cultural crossroads
 
It was indeed very appropriate to host the seminar at Goldsmiths University of London, in the very lively and diverse borough of Lewisham, where Central African hair braiding shops share the road with Syrian cafés, Italian pizzerie, British pubs and the ubiquitous chains of convenience stores and coffee shops. The main building of the Goldsmiths campus is dedicated to Stuart Hall, an inspirational thinker and mover-and-shaker of cultural relations who has influenced many contemporary policy makers and practitioners. And Deptford Town Hall, the place where the seminar participants exchanged views over presentations and discussions , with its ornate, neo-classical structure is not only an architectural jewel of South London but also a contested space: its imperialistic undertones related to slavery and racism have recently attracted important self-criticism and controversy akin to other critical approaches towards monuments elsewhere in the UK, the US as well as South Africa. However, the discussions during the seminar overlay yet another layer of history, namely that of its relation to the conscription of young men from Lewisham for the First World War: while many flocked to Deptford Town Hall to enlist, others refused, and were called to the same building to explain why.
 
Theoretical underpinnings
 
Given such auspicious settings, the gathering of around twenty five researchers, professionals and Ph.D. students in arts management from all over the world exceeded expectations. The organising team of the two founders of the network Dr. Victoria Durrer from Queens University Belfast and Prof. Raphaela Henze from Heilbronn University, Germany as well as the host Dr. Carla Figueira of Goldsmiths set the ground for the exchanges to be had. A key issue that immediately caught participants attention and kept being referred to was the fluid relationship between varying terminology used in different places and times in order to address the levels of communication within, between and across cultural identities and groups. Therefore, clear reference points in what may otherwise be treacherous land were marked out in relation to the terms of intercultural, multicultural and transcultural dialogue.
 
A highlight of the seminar came in the form of a towering figure who helped participants to grapple with these definitions and clarify matters: Tariq Modood. As founding Director of the Bristol University Research Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship, Prof. Modood candidly admitted he was not sure what his contribution to a discussion on arts management would turn out to be. As with different ingredients which are carefully selected to contribute to a savoury and striking whole, his theoretical introduction drawing on political philosophy, sociology and public policy highlighted various instances of the development of liberal and neo-liberal thinking in relation to the public engagement of intellectuals in contemporary society, concluding with a detailed reflection on the Salman Rushdie affair thirty years ago.
 
Prof. Modood underpinned his presentation with references to Charles Taylor and Bhikhu Parekh, arguing that interculturalism communities that focus on the mutual respect, understanding, exchange and the creation of deep relationships between cultures and groups may criticise multiculturalism societies that contains several cultural or ethnic groups living alongside one another for not doing enough to move discussions on intercultural interaction forward, but fails short of being innovative itself. He showed how a broad perspective in assessing cultural change is needed, arguing that multiculturalism provides a macro perspective on matters opposed to a micro focus by interculturalism. He moved on to John Rawles in order to show how liberal theory seems to satisfy itself with placing individual processes of developing reason before a social exchange where meaning and understanding are achieved together in a process of joint-up thinking and participation.
 
The cultural case
 
Just when some of the participants may have felt they had had their full of social theory, Prof. Modood grounded his explanations with reflections upon the Rushdie case. Thereby, he ably exposed the reactions to the publication of The Satanic Verses held by different sides of the communities involved, connected them to the debates and policies addressing multiculturalism at the time, that he as an engaged public intellectual also contributed to .
 
One thing, which may have gone missing ironically, given the context of the seminar was the fundamental artistic nature triggering the whole case, apart from the strong social ramifications. Different people reacted to what is essentially a work of fiction and a work of art, at times without even having read it. Without needing to make a romantic argument for art for arts sake, it would be good to remember that art is a creative process, to be assessed on its own values and merits and engaged with as such; any other implications are to be seen in relation to this core element. This reflection recalls a very astute observation by Pius Knüsel, writing in one of the suggested texts in preparation for the seminar, who wrote:
 
The arts, be it music, theatre, literature, film, etc., are not made to unify people. On the contrary, art is much more about positioning, about highlighting differences and controversial positions. (p.106)
 
Context and meaning
 
Another highlight of the seminar was the very warm, personal and engaging sharing of ideas and expressions of theatre director Michael Walling. Referring to other various moments in time and space when culture acted as a lightning rod to peoples sensitivities and a gauge for beliefs and changing attitudes to change itself in representation and perception of ourselves through the arts, Mr Walling noted how meaning is closely related to context. He described how his artistic experience in collaboration with others made him observe that people relate to context in different and changing ways. These changes affect the development of meaning and the levels of communication and understanding between members of communities and between the communities themselves. References to production processes he was involved in such as CONSUMED as well as works such as Exhibit B by Brett Bailey and Howard Barkers In the Depths of Deep Love recalled texts such as Michael Kammens Visual Shock reflecting on controversial art in the US over the past decades. This provided an interesting background for two great politically-charged dramas staged in Londons West End over the seminar weekend: Oslo at the Harold Pinter, and The Ferryman at the Gielgud. In both cases, art, craft and life are enthralling as well as reflective in sometimes discomforting ways.
 
The contributions of Rose Fenton and Julia Rowntree, reflecting on their experience as founders of the London International Festival of Theatre (LIFT) and with other engagements on the international stage, also highlighted the importance of being sensitive to the diversity of cultural reference points. They thereby demonstrated how meaning is developed and shared in contexts of multicultural and international exchange. Mrs Rowntree stressed the value of curation and nurture in the hands of practitioners who want to engage with audiences by challenging them and being challenged in return. Similar reflections were made by Dr Lisa Gaupp on curators as gatekeepers and Gudrun Wallenböck of Hinterland Gallery on her experience as a curator in the Middle East.
 
While this overview is only selective and provides a cursory glance at the main topics under discussion, it hopefully provides a flavour of what went on as well as an indication of future topics in international arts management and upcoming actions of the Brokering Intercultural Exchange network.
 
See also: